This is the time of year when it feels safe to start counting our blessings. Summer is done for another year, the peak of hurricane season has passed and all the fun of the holidays and festivals ahead beckons. While we’re counting blessings, here’s another one for the list: the extraordinary access this city affords to some living legends of American music.

One of them is Irma Thomas, and tonight, amid what’s shaping up to be gorgeous early autumn weather, she’ll take the stage in the CBD at an event that amounts to a giant, outdoor happy hour from 5 to 7:30 p.m.

The event is part of the Harvest the Music series, which hosts weekly concerts in Lafayette Square. It’s the fall answer to the Wednesday at the Square series held in the downtown park each spring, and it follows essentially the same format. Admission is free, and the public supports the event in that easy manner we all know so well – simply buying drinks and food from vendors at the site. Proceeds benefit the Second Harvest Food Bank.

Free concerts and small festivals of this sort are something of a way of life in New Orleans, but that doesn’t mean we should take them for granted, especially not when the event showcases someone of the caliber of Irma Thomas. Aretha Franklin is known as the Queen of Soul but Irma Thomas holds the title “Soul Queen of New Orleans,” and in this town that is as deep and true a term of endearment as possible.

When it comes to blues and soul, she is, quite simply, the real deal.  A native of Pontchatoula, she started singing in her church choir at a young age and even auditioned for a record label as a young teen. But before the age of 20 she was already the mother of four children and working as a waitress in a New Orleans music club called the Pimlico. She wasn’t hired there as a singer, but she took the stage occasionally anyway, sitting in with the house band and a certain R&B legend named Tommy Ridgley. Record deals followed, and a lifelong career in music was underway.

Others may do numbers like “Breakaway,” “It’s Raining” and “Ruler of My Heart,” but it’s the voice of Irma Thomas that comes to mind when those titles come up. “Time Is On My Side” was a huge hit for the Rolling Stones, but hear Irma Thomas sing it once – and really listen to those lyrics – and then decide whose song it is.

Irma Thomas made 70 this year. If you haven’t seen her perform for a while, rest assured that her star still shines brightly and she remains a vital part of the New Orleans music scene. As recently as 2008 she put out the aptly-named album “Simply Grand,” with the Soul Queen paired up with a dream team roster of piano players including Dr. John, Marcia Ball, Ellis Marsalis, Tom McDermott, Jon Cleary, Norah Jones, David Torkanowsky, John Medeski, Davell Crawford, Henry Butler and David Egan. If you’re only familiar with Irma’s vintage hits, give that album a listen and it will be clear why such an amazing collection of piano greats where eager to collaborate with her.

Warming things up tonight on the Harvest the Music stage is Soul Project, a funk band that’s a regular on the Frenchmen Street circuit. 

The Harvest the Music Series continues each week through Nov. 2. Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue play next week, Oct. 12, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Jon Cleary share the stage on Oct. 19. See the full schedule here.