Quintron makes music with the weather – to forget the pain of lymphoma (The Guardian. May 2015).

The humidity peaks in the dark nightclub packed with hundreds of excited, drunk bodies, when New Orleans one-man-band Quintron turns the key on his “Drum Buddy”, lighting it up like a miniature aurora borealis.

One of several esoteric instruments Quintron has invented over the last 20 years,the Drum Buddy begins to spin beside his humming Hammond organ, emitting percussive analog bleeps and bloops.

With a magician’s grace, Q’s long hands manipulate the strange glowing totem, stretching the sawtooth notes. The crowd remains transfixed, focused on the Drum Buddy until the stage lights blast on, unveiling his puppeteer wife Miss Pussycat beside him, shaking her maracas in a hand-sewn, anthropomorphic dress. Quintron’s drum machine beat and the room’s barometric pressure drop simultaneously, and condensation gathers on the floor as dancing erupts.

This is what New Orleans music legends Mr Quintron and Miss Pussycat were born to do.

But their skies darkened in 2013 when, on the verge of a 40-city US tour, Quintron (born Robert Rolston) was diagnosed with stage-four lymphoma. He and Miss Pussycat quietly cancelled their tour, explaining why to as few people as possible.

“To be totally honest,” admits Quintron from his home in New Orleans’s Ninth Ward, “I did another tour after I found out in the window before the chemo started. I brought all my friends to just forget everything. I didn’t give myself time to feel something. We called it the ‘Isle of Denial’ tour,” he says, appropriating the nickname given to the tiny area of New Orleans that didn’t flood in Katrina. “I had to cancel the last night, the Nashville gig, because I felt too sick. Not to sound heroic, but I played until I was about to die.”

The couple would perform just two or three more shows over the next year, including a cameo on David Simon’s HBO Katrina drama, Treme.

Miss Pussycat

Miss Pussycat.

Instead of lying in bed during his mandatory downtime, Quintron found solace in the creation of a new invention: the 7ft-tall Weather Warlock, a synthesizer that reads the outside temperature, wind, sunlight and rain, and reinterprets it as droning, oscillating “music”.

“I wanted its sounds to be mostly beautiful,” says Q, who sculpted the sound palette partly for his own therapeutic purposes. “When I first built it, it was screeching horror, white noise static, sharp-edged oscillations. I slowly worked it into what I wanted it to be: harmonious sounds. But I do still have some ugly ones – lightning would be one of those. And sometimes before sunset it emits some atonal surprising things.” CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST OF THE PIECE AT The Guardian…

Or check out the Weather Warlock band at a church in Holy Cross, 9th Ward, New Orleans, LA: 

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Mad Mike, the homeless blogger who became a millionaire overnight (The Guardian. March 2015).

Missing the Austin ditch in which he’d slept most nights for the last two years, Mike Wille curled up on the front lawn of the large house his mother had just left him via her suicide note. Her death meant that Mike – known to fans of his street music and his homelessness blog, The Ground Score, as Mad Mike the Hippy Bum – would soon be a millionaire. Mad Mike worried that, given his love of drink and drugs, he could not survive such a lifestyle shift.

At birth, Mike’s left leg was shorter than his right by an inch, with no defined calf muscle and an under-formed foot sans big toe. When I visited his mother’s former home near New Orleans recently, he showed me a box of family papers he’d unearthed regarding the lengthening of his leg by the famous doctor Gavriil Ilizarov, who invented the procedure.

Still, the bum leg helped Mike nurture a negative outlook that, once he became teenager, fractured his relationship with his already volatile parents. “My mother was a fairly erratic person. Sometimes extremely benevolent and generous, other times scathingly cruel,” Mike told me. “When I was in the seventh grade, she tried to kill herself in front of me because I got a D in history and I said I didn’t care. Later we found her passed out in the garage with the car running and my dad freaked out, showing more emotion than I’d ever seen out of him.

“Things came to a head when I was 17 and had a fist fight with my dad, causing him to have me arrested. This was my first time in jail,” says Wille, who immediately moved out of his house. Mike has more recently written exquisitely about subsequent trips to jail (most for public intoxication) at The Ground Score:

Immediately upon entering, one of the prisoners, a skinny guy about my age, walked up to me, looked me in the eyes, extended his hand, and in a welcoming voice said, “Hi. My name is “John.” Now I knew I was in luck. Not only had I stumbled upon a harmonious pod, but also one which contained at least one smart inmate. If you ever go to jail, I recommend doing just what he did, and greet any unfamiliar inmate coming into your living space in exactly this way (almost any). You can learn a lot from a guy by presenting him with the option of civility.

I gave this gentlemen amongst the despondent a firm handshake and said, “Hey man. I’m Mike.” Over the next two nights I ate, slept, watched TV, read a book about Marlon Brando, and talked to John. A decent conversation is hard to find in jail, and I could tell he hadn’t had one in a while. As for me, it had probably been even longer. In this town, the only class of people less worthy of respect than prisoners, are the homeless.

Thanks to his blog, Mike received fan mail from Scotland, New Zealand, Latvia and the Ukraine. To a homeless bum, this meant everything.

Mike the homeless blogger
photograph: Jonathan Traviesa

Mike’s deceased mother’s house, a nicely appointed junior McMansion 45 minutes east of New Orleans, represents the first roof over Mike’s head in four years. Mad Mike spent the last 15 years blowing back and forth from Texas to his home state of Louisiana, surfing both couches and park benches.

I met him in New Orleans where he played music in the French Quarter – songs like I Love the Devil and Money For Drugs, which he’d specially designed to make shocked tourists pause. “But after I got them to stop I’d get them to listen to a more substantial song,” Mike clarifies, “usually getting them to tip more money or buy an album in the process.”

Wille, now 36, first played music on the street in Austin at the age of 19, and he ended up spending his last two years in a ditch there because it does not snow and the attitude is fairly liberal. That, and there are drugs on the ground, everywhere. “The main reason Austin is such an ideal place for ground scoring is that it’s a college town with a heavy drinking culture. Drunk young people love to buy drugs, but they aren’t always the best at holding on to them,” Mike explains. “So not a day went by that I didn’t find a few nugs and a pack of cigarettes.”

Highly intelligent, Mike could probably hold a job despite his handicap. He was not, however, what they call in New Orleans a “fauxbeaux”— one of those grungy traveler kids who begs for change even though they have a safety net.

Mad Mike chose homelessness, feeling cast out from normal society. Since it was technically his choice, Mike held onto a strict rule against ever bothering anyone, even for a cigarette. “As a homeless person I always tried to be self-sufficient and not reliant on others,” he says. “Partly because I’d found in the past that others are not always all that reliable. Also, I don’t like it when strangers come up and ask me for things, and can only assume other people feel the same way.”

As a result, Mad Mike became a highly skilled scavenger. During an early trip to Houston, he found $700 atop a toilet paper dispenser in the bus stop bathroom.Another time he found what he estimated to be $500 worth of crack cocaine, which he intended to sell but instead smoked with his musical partner Ray Bongin a single evening. Soon after, he sniffed out a bottle of Dom Pérignon 2005 from behind a restaurant’s dumpster.

His mother gave him his first laptop. They’d reconciled somewhat in the years since Mike’s 48-year-old oilman father died of cancer in 2001, leaving his mom a rich widow. She and Mike occasionally bonded by getting drunk together, but most of these hang sessions devolved into brutal, raging arguments. She gifted him the computer, unaware that any drug Mike found, whether or not he recognized the plant or powder, Mike would ingest and write about on his blog.

Mike daily sat outside on the back steps of an Austin coffeeshop with Wi-Fi, blasting out touching and hilarious stories; as such, he possibly was the world’s first homeless blogger. His direct, pathos-driven diary entries smirked along with what most would consider an extremely rough life. Mad Mike’s economy of words and life of hardship even reminded some of Bukowski.

With his writing, he was able to provoke in readers an empathy for homelessness that most Americans do not regularly feel. And to accomplish that, he gave deeply of himself. “I mean, what did I have to lose by telling everybody everything about my life?” Mike asked me as he sat on the throne behind his brand new DW drum-kit, and lit a cigarette in what was once his mother’s living room. CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST OF THIS PIECE AT The Guardian…

Or watch this video of Mad Mike playing “I Just Want Yr Booty” under the bridge: 

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Dillard’s AfroAmerican Arts Fest, a precursor to Jazz Fest? (Louisiana Weekly. April 2015).

Beginning in February 1968, before “Negro History Week” eventually became Black History Month, the Dillard University group African Americans for Progress helmed the “Afro-American Arts Festival,” featuring various well-known and underground Black artists of all different mediums and genres. Some say Dillard’s AAA event inspired the Jazz and Heritage Fest, founded in 1970.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” says John Kennedy, the Assistant Archivist at Dillard who, fascinated by the AAA festival and why it went extinct, dug up yearbooks detailing the annual event. “It was basically the same thing Jazz Fest is now. It was a wide range of famous people from actors to singers, the prominent poets and cooks of that time. There wasn’t another major arts festival that drew in prominent Black artists of all types.”

Before Jazz Fest, there was the Afro-American Arts Festival

Carl Baloney, now a mortician in LaPlace, was a founding member of African Americans for progress in 1967. “I remember during college, we were mandated to go to church, and then after church they’d have entertainment for us, all paid by the Lyceum board. They’d have us watching some glee club or something from the North East, about 20 white boys trying to sing negro spirituals! We were like, ‘What the hell? This is our money being wasted. We need to bring in artists that represent us. Why can’t we get someone like Cannonball Adderly?’ We brought in everyone from Amiri Baraka, LeRoi Jones IV, Maulana Karenga who started Kwanzaa. We had local artists too: Earl Turbinton, Lady BJ, Tambourine and Fan was there with the Indians, and Danny Barker led a second-line around the campus.” CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST OF THE PIECE AT Louisiana Weekly…

Or get down to the Staple Singers’ singin’ “Slippery People”: 

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New Orleans goes smoke-free: a breath of fresh air or a blow to its character? (The Guardian)

As of today, you can no longer legally smoke a cigarette inside a bar in the world’s drinking capital, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Perhaps you gasped upon reaching the very end of that sentence. City after city have dealt Big Tobacco the harsh blow of banning indoor smoking. But other cities don’t lure in tourist dollars by aggressively advertising a “do watcha wanna”, laissez les bon temps rouler, attitude. An indoor smoking ban here – which also forbids “vaping” – will reap consequences as unique as New Orleans’s cultural ecosystem itself.

“You just opened up a can of whupass on lots of neighbors in the city,” says Nick Scramuzza, one of three owners of Lost Love Lounge in New Orleans’s Marigny neighborhood. Scramuzza doesn’t look forward to the new noise complaints he’ll receive when half of his customers end up spending their time five feet outside his door (the legally mandated distance) enjoying that holy trinity of smoking, drinking and carrying on. Nor is he necessarily in favor of the government bossing everyone around in such a sweeping manner. “But I wake up with a hangover just from working around the smoke,” Scramuzza shrugs. “So I’m excited about the ban.”

As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, New Orleans city government has, since Hurricane Katrina, begun trying to prune some of its cultural shrubbery, turning down the volume a bit. Abetted by uptight neighborhood groups, the city has begun policing bars and nightclubs more strictly, while at the same time fighting a protracted battle to implement a new “noise ordinance” (read: music ordinance) while also debating an impending Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance for the entire city that, to some residents’ dismay, creates more permissive music laws in some instances.

“This is just the wrong time for them to have pursued something like this,” rails William Walker, another of Lost Love Lounge’s owners who, for reasons of personal choice and personal inconvenience, hates the anti-smoking law. “Forcing people outside the bar to smoke is going to exacerbate the tension that’s already there. And when they look to fix that problem, what they will say is ‘no go-cups’, which the neighborhood groups are already working on …”

Lost Love Lounge lives in a relatively quiet residential-seeming neighborhood – as do many of New Orleans’s best bars and some of its live music spots. This neighborly coexistence is a big part of what makes New Orleans different, and charming like some alcoholic Sesame Street. Recently though, this unique social contract has become unacceptable for those they call nimbys (Not In My Backyard), and the fate of New Orleans’s musical personality feels at stake. CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST AT The Guardian…

Or watch this video of the SMOKING Time Jazz Club playing on Royal Street: 

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City Park’s Big Bass Rodeo (NewOrleans.me. March 2015).

Many New Orleans locals don’t realize how great the freshwater fishing is in their very own City Park. Back in 1976, a 12-year-old caught a 52-pound buffalo fish – the largest fish ever caught in City Park lagoons. Just before Katrina in 2005, a junior at Jesuit High School landed a giant 44-pound Blue Catfish. Then in 2013, the park’s largemouth bass record was broken twice in one year, with two monsters each over nine pounds.

Current City Park largemouth record-holder Tim Zissis has been catching bass in the park, as well as in Bayou St John, since 1979. “I’ve caught trout, redfish, flounder and sheepshead in that bayou,” he attests. “I have a crab from that bayou in my refrigerator so big I thought it was a world record. Everything grows bigger there, I think because there’s no pressure – not many people fish there, they just don’t know how great it is.”

City Park’s many miles of fishable shoreline have healed up nicely since Katrina flooded the area with around eight-feet of polluted water. Over the last decade, organizations like LSU, UNO and the La. Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries have worked hard to restore life to the lagoons and bayous, which have been stocked several times over, and are now teeming with many fish species. All of these improvements add up to make this year’s City Park Big Bass Rodeo on March 28, 2015, the biggest and best in the contest’s long, storied history

Established in 1946, City Park’s Big Bass Rodeo is the oldest freshwater fishing tournament in the country, and has now grown to include its second ever Boats on the Bayou division. The park recently took on upkeep of Bayou St. John from the New Orleans Levee Board following a bayou wetland restoration and dredging project that created increased water flow from Lake Pontchartrain. CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST OF THE PIECE AT NewOrleans.Me…

Or watch this unaffiliated rando landing a lunker in said park:

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Six female Cajun and Creole musicians (May 2015. Acadiana Living).

 At the age of 18, musician Jamie Lynn Fontenot was overtaken by the desire to learn Cajun French. “My grandparents, Mary ‘Mimi’ Fontenot and John ‘Toe’ Fontenot, from Opelousas are great, really strong Cajun speakers,” says Fontenot from her home in Lafayette. “My siblings and I wanted them to teach us Cajun French, so she would play me all these old Cajun vinyl records, and she’d tell me the stories the singers were telling in the songs. I remember she bought me this Canray Fontenot record – a really great old-timey Cajun fiddle player – and I started learning French through the songs.”

Christine Balfa’s father Dewey Balfa, who led Mamou band the Balfa Brothers, was once surprised by his 8-year-old daughter’s desire to play Cajun music. “He was one of nine children, and six were boys. Five out of the six played music, and three toured as the Balfa Brothers … playing dances, then national and international concerts to aid the revival of different types of American folk music,” says Christine Balfa. “I heard it my whole life; it was a part of my upbringing. I heard such great music, not just from my family but from the people they played with: international musicians dad had met on the road, he’d invite them back home to jam … So I was exposed to different kinds of music, people and cultures, and that really shaped my music and who I am in a lot of different ways.” 

Louisiana historian Ann Savoy began the Grammy-nominated Magnolia Sisters traditional Cajun singing group with partner Jane Vidrine (guitar, fiddle, vocals) specifically to explore the feminine side of Cajun music. “It had a lot to do with proving that women can play music, too,” says Savoy, who has played music since the age of 10. “Cajun music and music in general is such a male-dominated field, we wanted to say ‘We can play a kicking dance too!’”


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2 pieces: Poet Bill Lavender & Faubourg Marigny Art and Books (FAB) (NewOrleans.me. May 2015).

Click on the titles to read the entireties of the articles…

Poet Bill Lavender and his Lavender Ink press: Maybe your poet friends haven’t told you yet, but April is National Poetry Month. The East Bank Regional Library in Metairie (4747 West Napoleon Ave) invited New Orleans poet and publisher Bill Lavender to populate their calendar with weekly poetry events throughout April. Lavender’s own book imprint, Lavender Ink, founded in 1995, has published almost all the readers at all of the library’s upcoming events. “I started Lavender Ink because I thought there was not an outlet in New Orleans for the Southern avant-garde- really, there were not any outlets for the southern avant-garde,” explains Lavender, who serves as the imprint’s director, editor-in-chief, and sole-proprietor. “All the avant-garde imprints operated out of the north,” he says, “and they were not really interested in the southern idiom.”

Faubourg Marigny Art and Books : remains the funkiest spot on all of Frenchmen Street. Just outside you’ll find an impressive collection of antique postcards, decades-old Mardi Gras baubles and posters, an old cordless telephone, a black, Hello Kitty baseball hat, and a photo-smart printer, still in its box. Also there are books – strewn about in a way that makes them tough to catalog but fascinating to sift through.

That’s just outside the shop.

The joke goes that, inside, Otis Fennell usually sells hard-to-find books – though these days he keeps things a little better organized. “That’s a major change for me; I have it cataloged for the first time to sharpen the focus on the books I have to make it easier for people to find and buy them,” chuckles Fennell, who theoretically knows where in his store you can find everything from the latest New Orleans titles (a sharply up-to-date collection), to your favorite early edition classic literature, your favorite 70s coffee table photography book, or your favorite 80s gay magazines.

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