"GREETINGS ALL BRASS BAND LOVERS," reads a Facebook post by Save Our Brass Culture Foundation. "WE WERE THE ONLY FESTIVAL LAST YEAR AND WERE BACK." It's an all-caps announcement that reads like a hype man stirring up excitement over social media. In a year that has most festivals quietly working out their postponement dates, this year's Brass Fest will be virtual. But clearly, it'll still be loud as ever.
The New Orleans Original Brass Festival, which will be taking place as Brass Fest in the Bubble on March 13 at 11 a.m., turns three this year. Tickets are on sale now and headliners include DJ Action Jackson, Shamarr Allen, Big Chief Romeo, Big 6, Jack Brass Band, Epic Funk, Sporty's, Pinettes, and Nightcrawlers. But of course, those names are just the tip of the iceberg.
Ticket buying audiences are given two choices at check out: a $5-dollar General Admission option that gets them Virtual Festival entry and a $100 Joieful VIP Experience, which comes with onsite attendance. For the latter, tickets are limited as event capacity continues to be low in the ongoing effort to keep COVID-19 from spreading.
As with years before, Brass Fest's goal is to pay each musical performer and raise money for brass band culture. "This year," the Save Our Brass Culture Foundation's website reads, "we want to raise enough money to make this a free event so our culture is accessible to all." While Brass Fest right now requires payment, by making the event stream over the Internet, anyone can attend no matter the distance. Eliminating the boundaries of space is one step towards accessibility into this window of New Orleans culture.
Save Our Brass was founded by Ersel Bogan III in 2019. Having a festival solely dedicated brass bands just made sense. "Every festival has brass bands in it, but we don't have our own festival," Bogan told NOLA.com.
The foundation itself was formed by brass band members, for brass band members. Their mission is to provide a host of services such as "creating jobs for musicians; hosting and producing events; finding instruments for our youth and teaching the musical tradition; and sponsoring scholarships for our graduating musicians." On the more surprising side is the foundation's broader frame of interest in helping the brass musician community, which includes educating members on business skills, assisting with mental/physical health care, supporting economic investments, and educating on home-buying and real estate, as well as providing financial assistance. During the pandemic, Save Our Brass provided emergency assistance to more than 80 local musicians.
Additionally, Save Our Brass was moved by the recent loss of Keith "Wolf" Anderson and establish the "Wolf Fund" because of it. This fund addresses "the financial need to find a final resting place for our musicians. The Save Our Brass Foundation is committed to raising funds to ensure our musicians' families do not bear the financial burden during their time of loss."
That collective spirit shines through in the foundation's promotion for this year's festival. In late January, the non-profit began posting digital posters of the upcoming event. In the first poster, the year 2021 is front and center. A surgical mask hides in plain sight inside the writing, but it's easy to miss. The eye is drawn to the background images of people laughing and dancing. "IT'S VIRTUAL…" reads the copy coasting up the left side of the poster, but the eye is still focused on the people, laughing and dancing like the before times.
The 2021 Brass Fest has a promotional video that shows the Armstrong Park arch, legs dancing on the stone pavement, a man in a Saints jacket showing his cigar to the camera, purple wristbands going on arms, palm trees, balls of dough getting thrown into the fryer, a little girl running circles. It is the kind of video that shows a version of a festival that feels impossible still. And yet, watching the promo doesn't feel like a false advertisement. Instead, it reminds us of the importance of celebrating—albeit safely and virtually.
To purchase tickets for the March 13 festival, visit Save Our Brass Culture Foundation's website.