On the new NOLA HipHop Archive (VICE. January 2015).

From Louis Armstrong to James Booker, New Orleans is known for celebrating its musical legends with much more gusto after those legends have moved away or died. We won’t likely change the airport to “Soulja Slim International” for another 100 years, and other New Orleans rappers probably won’t even get their due after death—or they weren’t going to, until the NOLA Hip-Hop and Bounce Archive debuted last month.

PhD student Holly Hobbs, who moved to New Orleans from Missouri in 2008, began compiling the archive in 2012 in conjunction with the Amistad Research Center as part of her still-in-progress dissertation on the ways that artists have used music to reconstitute community after Hurricane Katrina. “I knew I was going to be doing a lot of interviews… it seemed silly to only have them in my dissertation and book,” says Hobbs. “I have a background in documentary film, so I started doing videotaped interviews.”

Hobbs has so far collected 40 hour-long video interviews with New Orleans rappers—from the big stars (Mannie Fresh, Mystikal), to the obscure but important artists (T.T. Tucker, 10th Ward Buck), to the newer gay bounce legends like Katie Red and Nicky Da B. “I’m also very passionate about kids being able to access this information,” says Hobbs. “Kids may not read my book, but they will go online and watch interviews of people they look up to, learn something from them, and maybe even write papers about them for school.”

Hobbs also brought on a consultant, New Orleans rapper Truth Universal, who for many years hosted the city’s first weekly hip-hop open mic night, Grassroots. Truth is also a member of positive rap advocacy groups like Hip-Hop for Hope, and is one of very few rap artists to regularly perform at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. A New Orleans native, Truth’s music is densely lyrical and socially conscious in a way not often associated with New Orleans rap. Once Hobbs invited him onboard, Truth brought on another consultant—rapper Nesby Phips.

The NOLA Hip-Hop and Bounce Archive’s second component includes the 50-plus interviews and personal photos that comprised the “Where They At” exhibit of bounce rap lore created by writer Alison Fensterstock and photographer Aubrey Edwards for the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in 2010.

After over two years of gathering oral histories, photographs, and funding (from the Jazz and Heritage Foundation, Music Rising, the New Orleans Gulf South Center, and a successful Kickstarter campaign), the NOLA Hip-Hop Archive is now live at the Amistad Research Center, the nation’s oldest and largest independent archive specializing in the histories of African Americans and other ethnic minorities. Hobbs says that Amistad plans an eventual physical museum space for the NOLA Hip-Hop Archive. For now, it only exists online and within a computer at the Amistad Research Center, where visitors can access the files.

I spoke to Holly Hobbs and Truth Universal about the NOLA Hip-Hop and Bounce Archive and what it means for the past and future of New Orleans rap. CLICK HERE to read the Q&A at Vice.com…

Or check out this song from Nesby Phips and Curren$y:

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The 3rd man to ever swim across Lake Pontchartrain (NewOrleans.me. January 2015).

Wednesday night turned into Thursday morning on June 12th as Matthew Moseley continued swimming toward the Mandeville bank of Lake Pontchartrain. In between, on either side of sunset, upon the support boat, a band led by Papa Mali churned out a blues soundtrack for the 47-year-old Moseley, who would soon join a short list of swimmers to ever cross all of the lake’s 25 miles.

Moseley grew up in Lafayette, a member of his high school swimming team. After college he worked at Commander’s Palace restaurant for a number of years. He currently lives in Boulder, Colorado, where he helms the communications and media firm that served as family spokesperson at gonzo writer Hunter Thompson’s funeral. Moseley still regularly visits New Orleans to see family and friends. And to swim Lake Pontchartrain.

“When I was here for Jazz Fest in 2006, we heard that the lake had been cleaned up by the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF),” remembers Moseley, “and we said ‘Let’s go swim.’ We swam ten miles, with my good friend Coco Robicheaux in the support boat.” Robicheaux though, did not play music, says Moseley: “He was making Bloody Marys out of Pontchartrain water.” CLICK HERE to read the rest of the piece at NewOrleans.me…

Or check out this trailer for the documentary “Dancing In the Water.”:

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Tipitina’s Foundation helps music thrive statewide (MyNewOrleans.com. January 2015).

For over 10 years, New Orleans musicians both young and old have been granted access to the recording studios, classes and other musical resources of the Tipitina’s Foundation. The Foundation has improved the lives and careers of local musicians, including John Michael Bradford, Joe Dicen and Trombone Shorty. In recent years, the Tipitina’s Foundation has expanded its network to reach musicians and aspiring musicians in Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Alexandria, Shreveport and Monroe.

“The expansion is the biggest thing that’s happened for us in 10 years,” says Tipitina’s co-op manager Steve McCloud. “We now we have the opportunity to bring instruments, performances and internship programs to cities outside of New Orleans.”

The nightclub Tipitina’s first opened up in New Orleans in 1977 as a permanent musical residency for pianist Professor Longhair. The club fell into financial troubles in the early 1980s and declared bankruptcy. In 1996, attorney and real estate developer Roland Von Kurnatowski, who’d had success turning the old Fontainebleau Hotel into band practice spaces, purchased and revived Tipitina’s. “The club now more or less breaks even,” Von Kurnatowski told Garden and Gun magazine. CLICK HERE to read the rest of the article at MyNewOrleans.com.

Or just check this video of the Stooges Brass band, sponsored by the Tip’s Foundation: 

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The Wonders of Pontchartrain Landing (NewOrleans.me. December 2014).

I could not find a link to the article online, so here is the article in its entirety…

The Pontchartrain Landing RV park sprawls on the other side of a lot of ugly nothingness. Driving down France Road out to the Landing in Gentilly takes you past many dead industrial remnants that make you wonder if you’re on the correct track—or if you picked the right place to park your RV for the week. And yet, all day every day, two 24-passenger Pontchartrain Landing busses drive busses full of guests past this industrial wasteland, to and from the French Quarter.

Now-retired yacht captain Scott Shank, who lives in Virgin Islands, saw promise in the property when he stuck there long ago, en route to transporting then-governor Edwin Edwards. “My partner saw prime real estate” says Nate Gaarder, one of three investors in PontchartrainLanding, whose few living neighbors include Seabrook Marine, Zinc Storage and Trinity Yachts which, despite appearances, still produces multi-million dollar boats. “Where Scott’s from in North Carolina and Florida,” says Gaarder, originally from South Dakota, “finding waterfront property is like finding gold.” Pontchartrain Landing’s third investor, Leigh Bock, also serves as the general contractor and construction expert in the three men’s attempt to turn this ugliness into “the new West End,” as Gaarder calls it.

As of today, only 18 of the park’s 40 acres—which stretch from France Rd. to the Sebring Bridge—have been developed. Gaarder shows off 40 boats slips, 600 feet of dock, three permanently moored houseboats (each sleep six at around $300 per night), and a new, still-growing cluster of modern modular apartments.

Pontchartrain Landing sits on an unnamed former barge harbor, offset from Lake Pontchartrain proper. Until the surrounding area comes back to life, Gaarder and company own what feels like a casually private resort. “Everything around here is dead industry, so you don’t have the noise of the city,” Gaarder says. “So it’s just really peaceful.”

Or rather, it’s peaceful until there is football. This quaint/odd park has evolved into a hot football party spot. “They found us!” says Gaarder, who did not plan on catering to sports fans. Before every game of any importance, Pontchartrain Landing fills up like a tailgate party. “Until half the people go off to the game,” says Gaarder, “and the other half stay here.”

For those without tickets, the party then shifts to the cavernous Lighthouse Bar. The bar hosts live music six nights a week, but it exists primarily for the massive television that disrupts the view out the window of a small, sweet pool and a big burbling waterfall. With the Sugar Bowl just a few days away, the park has 180 sites sold, despite having developed only 120 real sites. An undeveloped overflow lot will hold the extra guests.

Pontchartrain Landing opened officially in 2007 as a mere 30 camping sites, rented or donated at the time to those visiting New Orleans to help with Katrina recovery. “We had no amenities out here at all,” recalls Gaarder. “It was just a gravel parking lot full of first responders, nurses, people working in debris removal.”

These days the Landing caters to a leisure clientele, but also to “new locals,” such as folks from the film industry. “Lots of people from Hollywood stay out here when they’re working on feature films,” says Gaarder, pointing to the RV of stuntman. “Nicholas Cage’s Yacht was tied up here for three months. Kathy Bates rented the Presidential Site for three months.” Gaarder himself seems amused that anyone would rent an RV site for almost three-grand a month: “The Presidential Site is a hunk of gravel just like the others. But it has a little cabana built in the front with granite countertops, a grill, a sink, a refrigerator, and a two person hot tub,” says Gaarder. “An attorney once reserved this spot for $2500 a month for two years straight. He only used it one week each month.”

On our tour I spot license plates from Ark, FLA, Minn. One guest who did not wish to be named said that he and over a dozen others have lived at Pontchartrain Landing for years now.

“I’ve been here for three months on business. It’s a good place to stay, nice people—and that’s why people stay at campgrounds,” said Stacy Finley from Gulf Shores, while playing video poker in a room off the Lighthouse Bar. “It’s a good time! It’s more of a social place, it doesn’t get that crazy here. Well, every once in a while…”

Pontchartrain Landing has been successful beyond Gaarder’s hopes, and he and his partners are already executing some big expansions on the property. “First we went after the hardest demographic to capture, which is the people from thousands of miles away, from around the world,” Gaarder says. “Now we’re regrouping and going after the locals.”

Or take this YouTube tour of Pontchartrain Landing…

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Two articles from Louisiana Weekly (December 2014).

Two of my recent Louisiana Weekly pieces. Click on the headlines to read the full articles:

1) Dillard University announces addition of medical physics program:

Ranked as a top producer of African Americans with bachelor’s degrees in physics (says the American Institute of Physics, 2012) and among the top 50 colleges whose graduates earn doctorates in the sciences (National Science Foundation, 2013), Dillard University will now offer its own Medical Physics concentration, under the school’s physics and pre-engineering program.

“To my knowledge, Dillard is the only private four-year college in the state to offer a concentration in medical physics,” says Dillard physics professor Dr. Abdalla Darwish.

2) Wells Fargo funds skilled learning initiative for African-American males

On Wednesday, December 10, Mayor Mitch Landrieu joined representatives of Wells Fargo banks at the New Orleans East Hospital to accept a $500,000 workforce grant on behalf of the City of New Orleans.

The money will go to help unemployed and underemployed locals find training and jobs in two specific industries: infrastructure and healthcare.

“The mayor’s economic strategy is being piloted in two sectors: infrastructure and healthcare,” says Ashleigh Gardere, executive director of the Network for Economic Opportunity. “Our investor, Wells Fargo, wanted to emphasize those longterm career pathways and bring more African-American males into those sectors.”

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Another Algiers Ferry Rant + First Fridays on the Point (December 2014. NewOrleans.me)

This weekend, Algiers Point hosts holiday events on both Friday and Saturday nights. Saturday night will be given over to the famous Algiers bonfires, which will be lit at 8:30pm at the Algiers Point Ferry Landing, with music beginning at 5pm.

But today, we’re focusing on First Friday on the Point. A pub crawl/neighborhood get together/mini-festival of sorts, the monthly event encourages East Bank dwellers to to ride the ferry over and party at Algiers’ Dry Dock Cafe, Crown and Anchor English Pub, the Vine and Dine wine bar, and the Old Point Bar, among other local businesses.

The Dec 5 holiday edition of First Fridays will feature live music at five different venues all within walking distance of each other, plus an Artist Market, several groups of neighborhood Christmas carolers, and a kids concert performed by Algiers Point’s own Confetti Park Players band.

All this Algiers boostering has its roots in the West Bank’s sense of isolation from the city. To understand First Friday on the Point, it’s important to understand the relationship between Algiers, the Mississippi and the ferry that crosses the river.

The Algiers ferry opened as a public service in 1827. For almost 170 years, the ferry was funded by tax payer dollars, until in 1994 it was decided the ferry would draw funding from temporary tolls collected on the Crescent City Connection bridge – despite the fact bridge tolls were set to expire in 2012.

In 2013, the citizens of Orleans Parish defeated, by an almost 80-percent margin, government attempt to continue the bridge tolls beyond the initially agreed upon date. Locals spoke loud and clear: they wanted their tax money to pay for their ferry once again, as it almost always had. CLICK HERE to read the rest of the article at NewOrleans.me…

Or take this virtual ride on the Algiers Ferry: 

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[LONG VERSION] On the Death of Jonah Bascle, comedian, filmmaker, activist, rabble rouser. (Vice. December 2014).

CLICK HERE to read the official version of this eulogy/obit at VICE. The following is an extended version of the VICE obit, meant for Jonah’s friends and family.

*

New Orleanians shed a tear this week upon the death of 28-year-old Jonah Bascle, local artist, comedian, filmmaker, activist and rabble-rouser. Jonah also happened to roll in a wheelchair due to muscular dystrophy, which began attacking Jonah when he was ten years old. jonah for mayor button I felt anxious and melancholic, rolling up in front of the old three-story house occupied still by Jonah’s parents, Sue and Jimmy Ford, and their surviving sons Frankie Ford (20), and Jonah’s brother by Sue’s ex Barry Bascle, Jesse Bascle (29). Jesse also lives with muscular dystrophy, and drives the same Quantum model wheelchair Jonah did. On the street outside sat the family’s two huge European-style Sprinter vans, big enough to stand up in, or haul two 375-pound wheelchairs plus your mom and dad’s band equipment. In their driveway sat the giant pink and black Mardi Gras float that Sue and Jimmy ride each year as Pink Slip, the first rock band to ever play in the traditional, big parade routes. I sat for a minute in my running truck, not looking forward to going in and talking to Jonah’s two young brothers about the most depressing thing they’ve ever had to face. But when I turned the engine off, the loud drums and distorted bass blasting from the big house’s front practice room put my heart at ease.

Jonah Bascle attended high school at New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA), which boasts graduates from Harry Connick Jr. to a Marsalis brother or two. Jonah spent those days at Math and Science charter high school, before being transported to NOCCA after lunch to study visual art. He later switched to filmmaking. Neither Jonah nor Jesse opted to finish high school, but no one had to worry whether the boys would get an education. “Jonah taught himself everything he could,” says Frankie Ford. “Near the end he got really into the cosmos, and learned everything about black holes, and Stephen Hawking.”

Being funny was always important to Jonah. When Sue first brought Jimmy Ford home to the kids in 1993, they liked him enough, but Jonah had a serious question for his mother: “Do you think he’s funnier than me?” Jonah didn’t roll onstage at his first official comedy gig until mere weeks before Katrina’s flood filled his family’s Uptown house in 2005. After Katrina, Jesse and Jonah were mandated to live in Lafayette because their bodies couldn’t handle New Orleans’s overabundance of post-flood mold. “One night in Lafayette we were watching TV, and Jonah got really mad at me for laughing at this comedian he thought wasn’t funny,” remembers Jesse. “I mean, just really mad because I was enjoying something he thought was stupid. He yelled at me, ‘I could do that!’ And I said, ‘You’re not doing it though.’ And he went into his room and slammed the door…and started writing jokes.”

“You know, if you have sex with a person in a wheelchair, you get a tax break,” was one of Jonah’s better ones. Another more Andy Kaufman-esque conceptual piece involved Jonah rolling up to the stage and struggling to adjust the microphone, as if he just couldn’t manage. Beforehand, a friend would set a small table on stage topped with a glass of water so that Jonah’s wheelchair could bump the table over, and he’d bumble and stumble trying to fix it. Inevitably, sympathetic audience members would stand and approach Jonah to help. “No, no! I can do it!” Jonah would shout, and continue to simulate pitiful struggling. Sometimes people howled with laughter. Just as often, no even one caught on that he was acting out a concept. Either way, Jonah, Jesse, Frankie, Jimmy and Sue found it hilarious every time.

Jonah’s comedy didn’t fixate on his wheelchair, however. He peppered the handicap jokes in artfully—though he almost always closed his stand-up sets with, “I started taking Ambien because I heard it makes you walk in your sleep.” Jonah’s doctor didn’t laugh at that joke during Jonah’s recent last days in the hospital. In his weakened state but still smiling, Jonah, air tube down his throat, scrawled on a piece of paper for the doctor, “It’s a good joke, you just don’t get it.” It's a good joke you just don't get it In the years after Katrina, New Orleans hosted maybe one weekly open-mic standup comedy night–until a small band of local comics including Jonah began building a real comedy scene. Jonah helped establish and produced the “Comedy Catastrophe” night at the Lost Love Lounge in Marigny. These days, New Orleans is a minor comedy mecca, where amateurs choose from tons of clubs and event nights to practice their jokes. Most recently, Louis CK, Hannibal Buress and Zach Galifianakis have at various times done weekslong impromptu runs in New Orleans, presumably working on standup specials that they will later share with millions. They all followed in Jonah’s wheelchair.

Though Jonah Bascle would prefer to be known as a creative and artistic force, he got more press—tons of press, really—for advocating in extreme but thoughtful ways for wheelchair access, mostly in places where it was already mandated under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Jonah could have sued many establishments to make his point, but instead he and his family spent many hours building and painting wheelchair ramps personalized to each of Jonah’s favorite bars and comedy clubs. The “Ramp It Up” project, as it was officially known, served as a precursor to Jonah’s mayoral run in 2010 on a wheelchair advocacy platform, and under the slogan, “I Will Stand Up For You!” ramp outside the kingpin bar

Jonah’s most widely covered advocacy stunt involved the brothers parking their wheelchairs across both lanes of tracks on St Charles, stopping the streetcar for four hours. The RTA, which runs the streetcar, suggested the police not arrest Jesse and Jonah, but the city didn’t have a wheelchair accessible car anyway, nor was the jail equipped either; the boys would have been detained in a hospital room. The St. Charles line became Jonah’s primary target because it connected his Uptown home with almost every major neighborhood in the city, and thus every New Orleans comedy club. “Essentially he couldn’t get to what he felt was his job,” says Jesse. The wheelchairs’ batteries can take them in a six-mile radius of the brothers’ house. Jonah was fully capable of getting himself beyond that by himself—if only the St Charles streetcar had wheelchair lifts. In the last days of Jonah’s life, mayor Mitch Landrieu awarded Jonah a proclamation for his artistic contribution and his wheelchair advocacy. Neither the mayor nor the city have done anything else to honor Jonah’s wishes though. “We’re gonna bring Jonah’s ashes for a ride on the St Charles streetcar,” Jimmy joked to me in the darkest days after Jonah’s death, “since he never got to ride it his whole life.”

Because of Jonah, the city did mandate one single taxi with a wheelchair lift. “But I’ve never gotten it to actually come get me,” attests Jonah Bascle, chuckling because his life has been full of such bullshit. “I tried when Jonah was in the hospital. It was two hours late when they called me and said ‘it’s gonna be a while.’ It just never came.” Jonah had the bright idea to sign Jimmy Ford’s big Sprinter vans up to drive for Uber! But Uber rejected the Sprinters as “too old,” built as they were in 2004. Before Jesse told me all this, I’d never really considered how many people like Jonah and Jesse must be out there, raring to go out and live normal lives, but stuck at home because the city won’t do its job. Jonah’s handicap did not define him though. It merely added a layer of meaningfulness to all the great contributions he made. The Ford/Bascle household has always been one of the happiest I’ve ever witnessed.

Sue remarried to Jimmy Ford in 1993. Frankie was born very soon after. Jesse and Jonah—huge football fans like everyone in their house–were healthy and playing sports up until the ages of 8 or 9. “We would play sports with the kids in the neighborhood, but eventually it got to be unfair,” says Jesse Bascle. “So we just continued playing sports, just the two of us. That made it more fair.” In 2007, doctors installed a pacemaker and defibrillator in Jonah’s chest. Wheelchairs became necessary when the boys were 18 and wanted to attend college, Jesse at University of Lafayette, and Jonah at UNO for one year. Jimmy recalls with love how, “I just had a regular van at the time, and even just going for a trip to the store, we’d have to take the backs seat out, then you gotta lift two 375 pound wheelchairs in, then carry the boys and put em in the front seats. Everywhere you go, it was like moving a circus.” Though the family was forced to rebuild their house after Katrina (construction is still ongoing), the flood also provided them with insurance money to put toward buying the Sprinter vans that changed their lives.

And life was pretty good, until six weeks before this Thanksgiving Jonah’s heart began to weaken. At the hospital, Jonah’s health seemed to improve, but not the doctors’ attitudes and predictions. This might have served as a grim scene for some families but the Ford/Bascle clan’s wild charm took over Jonah’s whole floor. “Especially over Thanksgiving man, Jonah’s room, it was like a rave was going on,” brags Jimmy. “We had loud music, and they let us have a little bar and we were making cocktails for everyone. We should have charged admission to Jonah’s room.” Jimmy has traditionally served the family’s not insubstantial housewife role, while Sue is always away working her ass off as an artist in the Louisiana’s bustling film industry. Sue’s boss let her leave work and build props in Jonah’s hospital room: a replica “quiver,” like what Native Americans kept arrows in. During Jonah’s last days, Sue finally told him that he was funnier than Jimmy. After Thanksgiving, Jonah chose to take his breathing tube out, and signed a “do not resuscitate” order.

“He knew he couldn’t just live forever in the hospital. And he knew that if you want a miracle, you have to…” Jimmy trails off.

While over at their house—honored to have been let inside their family bubble at all–I  didn’t even try and talk to Sue Ford. She came home from work during our interview and walked through the kitchen without looking up. As the father of two girls myself, Sue is a parenting idol of mine, and I didn’t need to feel that sadness emanating her in person to know that a mother’s pain always runs deepest. But the rest of the family was happy to talk about Jonah. Despite that Jesse has lost his shadow, he and Frankie and I had a genuinely “fun” time talking about it all—because this is how they are. And this is how Jonah was. Jimmy Ford gets super happy describing the elaborate nature of Jonah’s upcoming jazz funeral, this December 28. And so I left the Ford/Bascle house feeling mostly uplifted, almost happy—because despite the tragic loss of Jonah, his surviving family remains the opposite of torn apart. Even in the face of such loss, they remain a perfect family.

(I didn’t have a picture that included Frankie, sorry Frankie.) jonah, jimmy, sue, jesse (everyone but frankie)

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