Jazz Fest is New Orleans' and Louisiana's annual statement to the rest of the world that the depth, diversity and quality of our live music scene is unmatched. But for locals involved in the business of music, Jazz Fest inevitably raises an age-old question: why can't our local music industry compete with music business hubs such as New York, Nashville and Los Angeles?
Just as Louisiana's reputation for unsavory politics has damaged the state's ability to attract new businesses, New Orleans' music industry is often unfairly perceived as having a laissez-faire attitude detrimental to conducting business. When former Cox Communications CEO Ray Nagin came out of nowhere to win the last mayoral election in a landslide, trumpeting business initiatives and a pledge to end patronage as his platform, New Orleans' music business community embraced a new ally in its mission to bring Louisiana and New Orleans music to the rest of the world.
One of Nagin's key hires -- Scott Aiges, director of music business development -- knows New Orleans' music business struggles well, as a former music writer for The Times-Picayune, manager of bands such as Astral Project and the Continental Drifters, and managing director of the failed LMNOP music business conference. Now one of Aiges' major initiatives is ready to take flight: the Mo' Fest, showcasing a number of local up-and-comers and headliners at Woldenberg Park between Jazz Fest weekends, on Monday, April 28, and Tuesday, April 29.
"We're not just doing this for the sake of creating another festival or event, because Louisiana has plenty of festivals," says Aiges. "The rationale for Mo' Fest is to create additional showcase opportunities for New Orleans' musical artists at a time when the global music community is focused on New Orleans."
For the inaugural Mo' Fest, Aiges has assembled an impressive musical lineup. On Monday, April 28, the roster includes gospel band Revelation, rising retro-jazz vocalist Linnzi Zaorski & Delta Royale, neo-soul vocalist Kelly Love Jones, saxophonist Rebecca Barry's funk band Bust, fiery vocalist Juanita Brooks, and headliner the Charmaine Neville Band featuring Reggie Houston and Amasa Miller. On Tuesday, April 28, look for gospel ensemble the Friendly Travelers, an all-star clarinet jam featuring Evan Christopher, Tim Laughlin and more, creative jazz outfit Naked on the Floor, new R&B vocalist Josephine Mills, the horn-driven sound of Big Sam's Funky Nation, and headliner Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen.
Besides that roster's unquestioned musical talent, Aiges used the artists' professionalism as a main factor in their bookings. "I need to be confident, especially in this first year, that if a festival promoter from Germany taps one of these artists on the shoulder when they come off stage and says they want to book them, that the artist won't flake out. They need to be able to follow up with the promoter in a timely fashion, have decent press materials, and be able to make a deal."
The line-up has generated some criticism for including acts (four, to be exact) that already have Jazz Fest gigs. And the argument can be made that headliners Neville and Cleary don't necessarily need the additional exposure. Aiges says their inclusion is essential.
"They were booked for the same reason Quint Davis books Sting or Dave Matthews at Jazz Fest: you need headliners who can draw people," says Aiges. "An artist of the stature of Charmaine or Jon is already going to have a Jazz Fest gig. And in the case of Kelly Love Jones and Big Sam's Funky Nation, who also have Jazz Fest gigs, we really felt strongly about them."
Most importantly, Aiges hopes Mo' Fest sends a message that New Orleans' sleepy business reputation is a thing of the past. "We're trying to send the message that New Orleans is open for business," says Aiges. "We're having a music industry hospitality suite at the Fair Grounds, and Mo' Fest is a Mayor's Office showcase for musicians, so we hope the message seeps in to industry folks, often who are here on vacation time, that they need to bring their checkbooks. We want them to sign our artists to their labels, sign them to their booking agencies, and know that we have world-class recordings studios. For years, senior A&R people come for Jazz Fest because they have a client at the Fest, and they've been coming for 10 years, but when they do, they don't have their business hat on. We want them to remember that they can still party, but they can network, too."
- Big Sam's Funky Nation is one of the bands showcasing at this year's inaugural Mo' Fest, sponsored by the New Orleans Mayor's Office.