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Partying Off the Grounds at Jazz Fest Time

By now you probably know which days you’ll be hitting Jazz Fest, and the more organized out there might even have schedule “cubes” already circled for can’t-miss acts. But that’s only half the battle when it comes to planning our leisure time for the coming extended week. The town is about to explode with music and great musical happenings, and the official Jazz Fest schedule is only the beginning.

With so many far-flung New Orleans music fans in town and so many locals ready to party, the nights after Jazz Fest and the days in between Jazz Fest weekends are now jammed with shows and happenings.

The one I make sure to never miss is Chaz Fest, a homemade music festival held in the Bywater on the Wednesday between Jazz Fest weekends, April 28 this year. Named for washboard virtuoso Chaz Leary (pictured above at the 2008 Chaz Fest), the whole affair is held in a verdant and bafflingly large urban meadow hidden behind a row of St. Claude Avenue homes. Buy a ticket, proceed down an alley between the homes, and suddenly it feels as though you’ve emerged into a country picnic of alt rockers, street jazz players and roots musicians of all stripes, performing on two stages, sprawling on blankets and noshing snacks sold by vendors arrayed in titling tool sheds. The do-it-yourself vibe of the event is irresistibly charming, the Shangri-La setting is transporting, and the music is right in tune with the energy around New Orleans right now.

That same Wednesday between Jazz Fest weekends is always a big night for the seasonal Wednesday at the Square, a free concert series held at Lafayette Square in the CBD from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Long, tall Marcia Ball, the blues pianist, singer and Jazz Fest favorite, headlines the free concert next week, and local rock act MyNameIsJohnMichael opens.

But that’s next week. Before Jazz Fest even begins, the incredibly prolific nonprofit music producer, musician-support foundation and fan group known as the Threadheads launches a series of parties and concerts promoting its favorite local performers and raising money for its causes.
This is a group of Jazz Fest fanatics that first coalesced in chat rooms on the Jazz Fest Web site. Soon members began gathering in person each festival season for parties, often booking local bands to perform. But after Katrina, members wanted to do more for the city’s music community, and that impulse has eventually led to a startup record label and a charitable foundation supporting local music projects and related causes. The group formed Theadhead Records in 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 New Orleans musicians and this spring alone is has released eight more.

While the Threadhead tribes are gathered this season for Jazz Fest, they’re hosting a number of blowouts, and the public is invited. On Thursday, April 22, the group holds a free concert in the Botanical Gardens at City Park with a roster of some of great local artists who have cut albums with the nonprofit’s help. The lineup includes John Boutté, who performs the title song for the new HBO series Treme, and many others. This outdoor all-ages concert begins at 8:30 p.m. 

On Saturday, April 24, the group’s Rebuilding New Orleans Music Patron Party will be held in the penthouse of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. There will be food and drinks and music from Threadhead label artists, while proceeds from the $125 tickets benefit the nonprofit New Orleans Musicians Clinic. 

Next Tuesday, April 27, the annual Threadheads Party will be held at Deutsches Haus, the German cultural club and beer garden in Mid-City. Mardi Gras Indians and many other local performers are on tap, and the $70 ticket includes food and beer. Advance tickets are required. 

And if by the end of Jazz Fest you still haven’t soaked in enough local music, the great French Quarter music shop Louisiana Music Factory hosts Threadhead Records Day on Monday, May 3. Threadhead artists will perform in the store all day, beginning with Ingrid Lucia at 1 p.m. and closing with the Susan Cowsill Band, which takes the stage at 6 p.m.

Details on all Threadhead events this week are available here.

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