Joe Krown is understandably disappointed. The popular piano, keyboard and Hammond B-3 organ player has been a fixture on the New Orleans music scene for more than a decade, and he's played and recorded with blues legend Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown since 1992. He has a new album, Livin' Large, and he'd really like to play Jazz Fest this year. But he isn't.
'I know from having done Jazz Fest that doing it, especially every year, lends a certain credibility; out-of-town talent buyers take you more seriously,' says Krown. 'Not being in Jazz Fest this year -- it's definitely going to, I wouldn't say hurt, but it's definitely going to stunt the growth of my crowds, especially with releasing a new record.'
The multitudes that gather for Jazz Fest aren't all simply music lovers; many are involved in the music business around the world, which makes a date at the Fair Grounds potentially lucrative. It's with an eye to that opportunity to perform in front of festival organizers, convention planners and the like that Scott Aiges, director of music business development for the mayor's office, conceived of The Mayor's Office Festival -- MO Fest. The third annual two-day outdoor festival at the Hibernia Pavilion in Woldenberg Park showcases 16 local acts, only three of whom are also appearing at Jazz Fest, as a way to expose more local musicians to the opportunities generated by the music industry's attention to New Orleans during Jazz Fest.
'The idea is not to create an alternative to Jazz Fest,' says Aiges. 'Jazz Fest is fabulous, and we love it. It's a festival like any other, and they can only do so much. MO Fest is our effort to create additional economic development and attempt to leverage the impact of Jazz Fest. When I was managing bands, my bands would come offstage at Jazz Fest and a festival promoter from Switzerland or Germany would be there saying, 'You're terrific, you must play my festival.' So we'd go and make a lot of money and come back and spend it in New Orleans. And my goal with MO Fest is to make that transaction happen more often.'
According to Aiges, the plan seems to be working. A survey of last year's MO Fest performers indicated that one-third of the acts received paying gig or other positive opportunity as a direct result of playing MO Fest. That wasn't necessarily the case for Hot Club of New Orleans, but clarinet player Christopher Kohl is philosophical about it.
'There was a survey we took after playing MO Fest last year, where they asked us if we'd had any opportunities that came directly from having played MO Fest,' he says. 'Not really. But Jazz Fest is fun, MO Fest is fun. If you don't play Jazz Fest, you play MO Fest. MO Fest is a really good thing because Jazz Fest simply cannot book every single band in existence.'
This year's bookings at MO Fest are intriguingly varied, with the surf-rock Dr. A Go-Go, a showcase of hip-hop artists on Media Darling Records -- just off the road from touring with Galactic -- alongside mainstays Tin Men. Musicians also appear appreciative of this year's emphasis on collaboration at MO' Fest. Monday's schedule includes a trombone summit, while Tuesday night ends with Krown, John Gros, David Torkanowsky, Willie Tee, Rich Vogel and Robert Walter as a part of a two-hour tribute to the Hammond B-3.
'That sprang from a few different needs,' says Aiges. 'I was trying to find ways to have the event benefit as many people as possible, plus we had a need to do a few things that were special, that you couldn't see anywhere else. Trombone players may all know each other, but they don't gig together. And how often do you have three B-3 players onstage?'
Another unusual pairing is country/bluegrass duo Jeff & Vida joined for the first time by Theresa Andersson on violin. 'These kinds of things end up just being one more reason for people to go out and see music,' says Jeff Burke of Jeff & Vida, who met Andersson for the first time last week. 'And there's so many totally different styles in New Orleans, with what we play being comparatively rare, so things like this help us feel like we're all in it together.' Krown, who helped put together the B-3 summit lineup, is excited by the response from other organ players. "It's totally great," he says. "Someone like Willie Tee, I've only sat in his audience, I've never had a conversation with the man, and now we've made this really nice connection. And there's no big budget, but everyone was still like, 'Count me in.' We didn't even have to go beyond the first eight people on our list. There are a few other guys we would have liked to get in on this, but we don't have room for everyone."
- Keyboardist Joe Krown helped assemble a Hammond B-3 'summit' for this year's MO Fest and found lots of local artists wanted to participate. 'Everyone was like, 'Count me in,'' Krown says. 'We didn't even have to go beyond the first eight people on our list.'