What began as a social network of people from around the world sharing a passion for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival has morphed within the last few years into an engine of financial support to keep local musicians recording new material. Called Threadheads, the group helps a broad range of New Orleans artists, and with Jazz Fest 2010 approaching, it’s gearing up for its busiest, most productive season ever.
The group coalesced in chat rooms on the Jazz Fest Web site, www.nojazzfest.com, and soon far-flung members began gathering in person each festival season for parties, often booking local bands to perform. After Katrina, however, members wanted to do more for the city’s music community, and that impulse has eventually led to a start-up record label and a charitable foundation supporting local music projects and related causes.
“Jazz Fest is still what brings us together, but there’s so much communication now throughout the year that there’s always something going on,” says Chris Joseph, a Los Angeles-based environmental consultant who’s a lead Threadheads organizer.
The group formed Theadhead Records in May 2007 as a volunteer-run label funded by contributions collected from a pool of about 250 active Threadhead members. In its first two years, the label put out 10 albums by different New Orleans musicians, but this spring alone it has eight more albums scheduled for release in time for Jazz Fest. Artists represented range from sousaphone virtuoso Matt Perrine to singer/songwriter Susan Cowsill to soul vocalist John Boutte, whose previously unrecorded work with Paul Sanchez helped inspire the first Threadhead project.
Unlike some other fan-funded recording initiatives that make straight-out donations, Threadhead funds are loans to cover studio time and CD production that musicians must repay, plus 10 percent of the initial investment. The principal is returned to Threadhead investors and the added funds are donated to the New Orleans Musicians Clinic or other charities. Threadhead members don’t get any monetary return from their contributions, and the musicians retain control of the artistic process and have ownership of their songs and recordings.
“For the musicians, it means they’re able to keep making albums. They’re not going to get rich from this, but they’re making a living,” says Joseph. “For our part, we get to help contribute to the renewal and rebuilding efforts in New Orleans.”
For information about releases and local Threadhead events, see www.threadheadrecords.com.