Some of the most enduring concepts -- or let's say the best parties -- start out as jokes. Case in point: my landlady, who lives in an apartment above mine, threw a pre-Jazz Fest bash two weeks ago in honor of the band Journey. Journey videos were played nonstop, guests wore Journey costumes, and Steve Calandra and Bailey Smith of the Morning 40 Federation put together a Journey cover band that played (the same five) Journey songs in my yard all day. JourneyFest was a smashing success, and she's already planning to make it annual. Or for an example on a larger scale, the Burning Man Festival began as a group of friends cavorting semi-clad and burning things on a San Francisco beach. People can't be sober -- or at least serious -- when they think of these things.
That was the case when a triad of local semi-underground musicians (Mr. Quintron, Lefty Parker and another organizer who prefers to be known as "Chad" in the press) decided to put together a multi-day spring festival of Mid-South rock 'n' roll at the Circle Bar, the club that Parker manages and books. One close friend of theirs is leaving an unrewarding job after several years, and another's divorce is being finalized, and in the way that these things happen, a late night in a bar crystallized into a celebration of the two respective moments of liberation. It is also, semi-intentionally, another alt-fest response -- in the vein of NoizeFest, ChazFest and even the Ponderosa Stomp -- to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival's booking, which offers little room for harder or more experimental local rock. All of their favorite rock, punk and metal bands would play in a partially outdoor festival of carnivalesque ridiculousness that plays up every stereotypical association with the word "freedom," from imagery of soaring eagles and roaming wolves to suggestions that men not wear shirts and women attend braless. As the festival itself grew and extra days, acts and features were added, though, so did the concept.
"It probably also started from a love of '70s rock and early metal, which is all about freedom," says Chad. "But being on tour and going outside New Orleans and feeling restricted as far as my conduct went, and what I could get away with ... we're just so misunderstood outside our own city. So it's a celebration of all of the people who rebuilt their lives after the devastation of Katrina and a celebration of the freedom of living in New Orleans, which is probably the freest city in America."
Freedom Fest kicks off Wednesday night with the Bruisers, MC Trachiotomy and the poppy, psychedelic North Carolina act Birds of Avalon. Saturday night features free hot dogs, a weenie bite contest, New Orleans metal from the venerable Hawgjaw and a three-guitar and banjo hard rock attack from Memphis' True Sons of Thunder. Sunday will be an all-day blowout with eight local bands, including the Happy Talk Band, Black Rose Band, Quintron and Miss Pussycat, Miss Kitty Lynn singing country standards and Hairy Mountain, which plays searing glam-ish rock with occasional clog dancing. Sunday will also feature Freedom Awards, given to particularly freewheeling members of the local music scene, a crawfish boil, and King Louie One Man Band playing while in a dunk tank. Monday night closes out with the one-man experimental electronic act the Microshards and Texas' Yellow Fever.
The festival's location, outside of the fact that Chad and Quintron are close friends with Parker, is no accident. Chad emphasizes that the bar has been an anchor of the local rock scene for a solid seven years now, providing a home base for local rock acts without the draw for larger rooms that's essential for nurturing that small but solid scene.
"What I'd like people to take away from Freedom Fest is just how many talented bands play at the Circle Bar on a nightly basis -- lots of great stuff that's not second-line music or funk, but is still New Orleans music. The Circle Bar is also the freest place to have Freedom Fest, since both Ninth Ward and Uptown people come here, so it's kind of a neutral ground here on Lee Circle. I'd also like them to take away a T-shirt. Freedom isn't free," Chad says.
- Quintron and Miss Pussycat are planners and performers at Freedom Fest.