Springtime, and more specifically Jazz Fest time, is when we customarily see the Threadheads. This group, named for the “threads” in online music chat rooms where its members first coalesced, is a convivial confederation of people from all walks of life and from across the world who are united by their passion for New Orleans music. Jazz Fest is like the gathering of the tribes for them here in the Crescent City.
More recently, though, the Threadhead name has emerged as a constant, year-round touchstone for New Orleans music fans and for musicians themselves. Threadhead members organized their own volunteer-run record label, which since 2007 has produced new albums by an impressive roster of New Orleans-based performers, including many favorites of the local club circuit. Look at the music listings along Frenchmen Street on any given night and you’ll likely find at least one performer on the docket with a Threadhead album to his or her credit.
This Saturday, Jan. 29, the Threadhead krewe will unveil an ambitious new project, and they’re hosting a free public party to celebrate and introduce the endeavor.
The event is billed as a listening party for the release of the album Nine Lives, A Musical Adaptation, Volume 1. Written by local singer-songwriter Paul Sanchez and screenwriter Colman deKay, the album is based on the 2009 book Nine Lives, which is an oral history of New Orleans between the bookends of hurricanes Betsy and Katrina, as told by nine residents and as interpreted by the book’s author, journalist Dan Baum. The Nine Lives album is envisioned as the forerunner to a musical based on the book, and its 24 tracks include contributions from a long list of New Orleans musical luminaries and others, from Allen Toussaint and Irma Thomas to comedian/commentator Harry Shearer and Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
The listening party for the project begins at 8 p.m. on Saturday at Kajun’s Pub, a scrappy, colorful dive on the edge of the Marigny. Its owner is one of the people profiled in the book Nine Lives. Admission to the party is free, and there will be food and drink available for sale.
Since forming its record label, the Threadheads have put out more than 25 albums by New Orleans musicians and raised some $300,000 to do it. Stores that carry recordings from local artists are now full of new Threadhead-label work, and at my house these albums are on heavy rotation. It’s all been made possible through collaboration between artists and fans, through the trust built there and through the simple generosity and foresight of those who want to bring their favorite local performers to a wider audience.
The release of Nine Lives, A Musical Adaptation, Volume 1, represents a new chapter for these Threadhead efforts. The group’s lead organizer, Los Angeles-based environmental consultant Chris Joseph, has founded a new, related label called Mystery Street Records. Like the original Threadhead Records this is a fan-supported venture that will return most of the profits for album sales to the respective artists behind them. Mystery Street will try to bring more investors in to further the label’s reach, however, and it also intends to work with artists from outside the New Orleans area. The Nine Lives album is a Mystery Street project. The new label has also scheduled a Feb. 1 release of a project called Sounds of New Orleans: Frenchmen Street, which features songs from artists you might hear performing in the various venues of Frenchmen Street, including Sanchez, John Boutte, Shamarr Allen and Alex McMurray.
While the most famous New Orleans performers tour widely and play top venues, it’s the robust trove of talent playing at our local clubs and music halls week to week that contributes so much to this city’s nightlife and its everyday musical culture. Threadheads, and now Mystery Street Records, are doing a lot to support and promote these people. I’m grateful for that, and excited for what they will cook up next.