With the amount of film shooting around New Orleans these days, it’s not hard to imagine some people walking into Chickie Wah Wah and thinking perhaps they’d wandered onto a set. The Canal Street establishment looks typecast to play the funky New Orleans bar and music hall, yet it seems so out-of-the-box fresh, as if the set builders just finished sweeping up the last of their sawdust before the doors opened for the evening.
That impression is partly a tribute to the tight ship that owner Dale Triguero runs here, one that stands in gleaming contrast to the dank, fermented ambiance so common in New Orleans spaces where liquor gets splashed around and daylight only meagerly penetrates. It’s also a byproduct of a less-than-regular schedule that held sway here for its first few years. Chickie Wah Wah opened in 2006, taking over the former Canal Bus Stop, a pre-Katrina dive and occasional brass band venue. But Chickie Wah Wah was open only when bands were playing –– taking it out of rotation as a neighborhood bar possibility –– and its music itinerary seemed sporadic. There just weren’t all that many opportunities to weather and season the place.
That situation has changed dramatically, however, and as June begins Chickie Wah Wah boasts one of the most impressive regular music calendars around for fans of roots music.
Things kick off each Monday this month with an early 7 p.m. set by Spencer Bohren, the blues-folk guitarist. Every Tuesday, Anders Osborne leads a trio also featuring guitarist John Fohl and guitar/harmonica/accordion multi-tasker Jumping Johnny Sansone, starting at 8 p.m. Tex-Mex rockers and Jazz Fest favorites the Iguanas hold court on Wednesdays, again at 8 p.m., with their mix of party tunes and beautiful Jerry Garcia-esque ballads. Singer-songwriter Paul Sanchez plays Friday evenings, usually followed by a later set from different bands.
Even in the days of thin schedules, the shows at Chickie Wah Wah were always solid thanks to a few fundamentals that remain in play today. Prior to opening this place, Triguero was at the Old Point Bar, and if you’re familiar with the music-friendly wood-lined interior and intense sound board management there, you’ll recognize its favorable influence again at Chickie Wah Wah. The early start times for weekday shows are a nice change of pace for people who need to function early the next day, and a prohibition against indoor smoking is a breath of fresh air, too. Plus, the club is named for a Bobby Marchan song, and that’s just cool all on its own.
The dense décor is a collage of signs from defunct local businesses, collected artifacts and plenty of funky folk art, including the ubiquitous sign art of Simon Hardeveld, in this case reading “This is not that kind of place.”
Whatever it’s not, Chickie Wah Wah is shaping up to be a great place for live music, and one that’s bound to get a little more weathered as these bands and their fans put it through its paces.
Chickie Wah Wah
2828 Canal St., New Orleans, 504/304-4714