Dirty Dozen Brass Band [Courtesy Dirty Dozen Brass Band]

NOLA Funk Fest Announces The Louisiana Music & Heritage Experience

07:00 October 17, 2023
By: Sabrina Stone

New Orleans' newest festival is comin' in hot and loud. They will be taking over the New Orleans Jazz Museum grounds and the surrounding areas from October 20-22 with food, drinks, symposiums, vendors, artists, a museum exhibit, and, of course, tons of music.

Big Sam's Funky Nation [Gustavo Escanelle]

NOLA Funk Fest 2023

The lineup is dripping with Louisiana royalty, including the one and only Irma Thomas, George Porter Jr., Leo Nocentelli, Stanton Moore, the New Orleans Suspects with Maggie Koerner, Big Sam's Funky Nation, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Erica Falls, Boukou Groove, Mark Mullins, Tribal Gold, Bucktown Allstars, and several bands from members of the revered Neville and Batiste clans. Guest artists Ghost-Note and Eric Krasno will be jamming with locals and there will be plenty of surprises.

NOLA Funk Fest aims to fill the October void left by Voodoo Music + Arts Experience with this explosion of musical talent plus live painting and great vibes. What's most exciting is that this isn't planned to be just a one-time event. It's about what came before and what's to follow. It's a presentation of the musicians who have created and perpetuated the heart and soul of funk music, a genre that is essential to our city's history, and while funk is the thread, that thread will be pulled towards R&B, Mardi Gras Indian music, rock, experimental jazz, gospel, and big band.

It also serves as an announcement for the Louisiana Music & Heritage Experience, an enormous arts museum, created along the same vein as Cleveland's Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Seattle's Museum of Pop Culture, and Memphis' Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Set to be built across from the New Orleans Convention Center, at 120k square feet, projecting 700k+ visitors a year, and planning for a 2027 launch date. The new museum aims to memorialize decades of Louisiana's musical history while weaving in our current culture.

Christopher Beary, the Developer and Board Chair for the Louisiana Music & Heritage Experience offered some sneak peaks of what we can expect from the future institution.

"It won't be your typical museum where you go look at things on a wall and read some text next to it. It's gonna be interactive. We're going to be the first music museum that integrates live music performances into the actual experience. We're designing a stage where [performances] will occur from 10 in the morning until 5 or 6 o'clock at night. It will mean a new style of education in the museum arena and the employment of a significant amount of New Orleans musicians. The mission here is to allow our musicians to be the tellers and the beneficiaries of this [presentation] of our music culture."

Beary is the ultimate social entrepreneur, having founded six local non-profits, including the Funky Uncle Live, an offshoot from his position as Captain of the Funky Uncles in the Krewe of Tucks, which he cites as inspiring the NOLA Funk Fest and starting the original conversations about the museum.

"The Funky Uncle Lounge is a rolling soundstage that's designed to bring music to Mardi Gras crowds with studio quality sound, so an amplified band can sound right during a parade. It serves the dual purpose of being a portable stage for charity events around town with live music. When COVID occurred, we did live shows and interviews from the float every single week, even during Hurricane Ida, for two full years. Creating this archive of interviews and performances got us thinking about grabbing and institutionalizing this musical legacy and putting it out in a way that inspires and educates. [In those two years,] we raised over a million dollars and helped over 900 musicians and gig workers with grants."

Beary is joined, on the Advisory Board and Board of Directors, by a who's who of heavy hitters in every relevant field. PJ Morton, Irma Thomas, and Adonis Rose are on the team and everyone has had a part in steering this enormous dream ship.

Irma Thomas [Gustavo Escanelle]

"Reid Wick, our Grammy chapter representative, and I had been talking about the project. He said, 'You've got to bring Bob Santelli in.' He's been heavily involved with every major music museum. Then Don Marshall, the executive Director of Jazz Fest suggested that we roll out other types of programming that we are going to feature at the museum, like oral histories with music sprinkled into them (we call them symposiums). We're having two of those [at Funk Fest]. It'll showcase who we are and what we do."

Funk Fest's Symposiums are called "The Bridge Between Jazz & Blues and R&B, Rock & Roll and Funk." One features Earl King on Saturday, October 21, the other features Dave Bartholomew on Sunday, October 22. They feature family members of the artists, historians, guest musicians, and the backing band each day will be George Porter and the Runnin Pardners. The symposiums will pair with the exhibit inside the museum called, "I Found My Thrill: The Music and Artistry of Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew."

The Louisiana Music & Heritage Experience won't be exclusively focused on funk. It will cover ever genre that ever came out of Louisiana, from blues to zydeco, hip hop to Cajun music, rock 'n' roll to gospel, but when asked why this festival is focused on funk, Beary excitedly explained that "funk is the genre out of which we're born. The Funky Uncle series is what bore our whole idea (even though that wasn't exclusively funk either). Funk is a very New Orleans genre. There is this idea that the bridge to the modern genres of music (funk included) comes from jazz and blues on the one hand, then R&B and rock 'n' roll on the other side, so we're trying to feature and highlight those bridge builders in the Dave Bartholomew and Fats Domino exhibit—a 2,500 square foot exhibit curated by Bob [Santelli], that will [open with the Funk Fest], stay at the Jazz Museum for 6 months, then move to all of the museums around Louisiana."

Celebrating the Louisiana Music & Heritage Experience at NOLA Funk Fest

This wildly ambitious project seems well on its way, with the location chosen and funding started, a dream team of creatives assembled, a solid mission in place, and a huge party to kick it all off. NOLA Funk Fest is going to be a celebration, and, it's safe to say, it will be the first of many.

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