Cutting Edge" might be a misnomer, at least in part, for the music conference taking place at the Renaissance Arts Hotel and the Contemporary Arts Center in the Warehouse District this week. The conference showcases up-and-coming acts, to be sure, and is dedicated in part to networking and skill-sharing workshops that will give newbies a leg up in the business. However, considering the hit that New Orleans' roots music culture took from the post-Katrina exodus of talent and the tailspin that most institutions that preserve and nurture indigenous Gulf Coast sounds were thrown into, it's the conference's appendix Roots Music Gathering that's probably the most relevant to New Orleans' needs. And the most well-timed part, happening as it is on the week just before Aug. 29, the Katrina-versary.
The official focus of the Roots Music Gathering is survival -- kind of an alarming word for official paperwork, but definitely apropos. And the organizers of the conference have definitely chosen the right people to speak to the issue. The list of names represented on the Roots Music Gathering's panels should probably some day be carved into marble and set up in Congo Square to memorialize the efforts of the exhausted individuals and organizations that provided the crutch for New Orleans music to limp along on during this strange and difficult year.
There are three major panels that comprise the Gathering; the opening panel on survival, the "Roots Music Tradition Bearers -- Post Hurricane Conversation," and the "Roots Music Preservation and Presentation" discussion, which gathers folklorists and preservationists from throughout the Gulf South and mid-South region. All the groups represented there are notable for the in-the-trenches, on-the-ground nature of the panelists: representatives from the local Mystic Knights of the Mau Mau, Clarksdale's excellent Delta Blues Museum, Memphis' Folk Alliance, the Coalition for the Ozarks Living Traditions and others. Dr. Bruce Raeburn, director of the luckily unflooded Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University, will be showing a slide presentation of lost musical artifacts, which is probably guaranteed to be very depressing. The opening survival panel is staffed by some folks who know a lot about it, including Jordan Hirsch of the New Orleans Musicians Hurricane Relief Fund, Mark Fowler of the Tipitina's Foundation, Jim Pate of New Orleans Habitat for Humanity and James Morris, a psychiatric social worker with the New Orleans Musicians clinic -- all of whom have been working on housing, finance and mental-health issues with New Orleans musicians for the better part of the year. The panels are also interspersed with oral histories -- Sunday morning brings WWOZ DJs and jazz historians David Kunian and Tom Morgan interviewing, respectively, Baton Rouge bluesman Tabby Thomas and gospel singer Lois Dejean. Dejean will also appear on the tradition bearer's panel, which is another pretty great accomplishment of casting; on that panel are Cherice Harrison-Nelson, whose post-K efforts have done a great deal to hold Mardi Gras Indian tribes together, and Armand "Sheik" Richardson, who helped form the Arabi Wrecking Krewe, the all-volunteer group that has single-handedly gutted more than 80 musicians' homes since last fall. Yes, it's possible that I'm gushing a bit here, but it's important to drive it home that this is an excellent opportunity to hear the stories from the front lines from people who really do know what they're talking about which, in the post-Katrina world of conflicting messages, press releases and news media fanfare, is rare. If you'd like to know what's going on with New Orleans roots music since the storm, go to this event.
As for the cutting part of the edge, musicians and filmmakers just starting out will probably find the entertainment law and business panels edifying -- there's all kinds of stuff, from "Ethics In Film and Television," to "Acquisition of Literary Rights." For the layman, though, the New Works showcase, featuring, they say, more than 500 artists in 19 showcases at nine venues around town, is the other side of the roots coin -- this is the new blood coming out of the city, and it's very encouraging that that's happening at all. Apparently the American Federation of Musicians is hosting a battle of the bands, as well, the winner of which will get studio time at Piety Street Studios. There are a few representatives from out of town, but the bill of acts is pleasantly New Orleans-heavy; good bets on the local front include the experimental jazz noises of Rob Cambre on Thursday the 24th at the Big Top; the sludgy stoner-rock of the Hazard County Girls at the Howlin' Wolf the same night; the garage rock of Memphis' Grown Up Wrongs at Tucker's on Saturday the 26th, and a showcase of all-Latin bands from Miami at the Big Top on Friday the 25th.
The Cutting Edge Music Business Conference takes place Thursday - Sunday, Aug. 2427, at different venues around town. Visit www.jass.com/cuttingedge for registration and details.
- Chip Wilson will perform at the Cutting Edge Music Conference.