'American Routes' presented live at the Civic Theatre

Michael Doucet, founder of BeauSoleil

We who are fortunate enough to live in New Orleans already know we’ve got something pretty special, but at the Civic Theatre on Tuesday, April 29, Nick Spitzer, host of “American Routes” radio, will share a kaleidoscope of local music with a live audience for eventual national broadcast. Interspersing short conversations with musical performances, “American Routes Live!” will present indigenous music from “country-tinged” gospel to Delta blues, Trad jazz to Louisiana Cajun.

“I don’t think you can beat the Gulf Coast with New Orleans as its epicenter,” Spitzer said. "This region, including the Mississippi Delta, has more diversity and has exerted more influence over American music than any other place," the Tulane anthropology professor and folklorist continued.

Tuesday’s live performances will air nationally on public radio on the Fourth of July.

Sandwiched between the two Jazz Fest weekends, the event held at the recently restored Civic Theatre (510 O’Keefe St.) will provide a more intimate introduction to homegrown music for locals, festival attendees, and radio listeners.

“Here’s what the Third Coast offers,” Spitzer proclaimed.

The show will feature clarinetist Dr. Michael White leading his hot, seven-piece Original Liberty Jazz Band with marches, hymns and blues, as well as Louisiana-born vocalist Topsy Chapman, who has sung for presidents and royalty. Fiddler Michael Doucet and his Cajun group Beausoleil will play two-steps and waltzes, while Little Freddie King strums the Mississippi Delta blues.

Dr. Michael White and Michael Doucet are both National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellows, recognized for embodying the nation’s highest artistic excellence.

“It is very rare for traditional jazz at the virtuoso level to be paired with Louisiana Cajun at the virtuoso level,” Spitzer remarked.

The Electrifying Crown Seekers from New Orleans’ West Bank will showcase a cappella sacred music as well as 1950s and ‘60s sanctified sound. Pianist Tom McDermott will be filling in the gaps with his own interpretations of New Orleans jazz.

“For years, friends in Louisiana and listeners nationwide have asked us for more live ‘American Routes’ shows. This is a way to get that going and join the Broadway South theater scene with the news from Lake Pontchartrain,” Spitzer said.

“American Routes” has done only two other live shows – one in 2007 for Minnesota Public Radio and a sold-out show last year at Rock ‘n Bowl. The Civic performance is its first in a theatrical setting and a rare opportunity to experience the breadth and depth of Gulf Coast music.

“American Routes” is a weekly, two-hour public radio program produced in New Orleans in collaboration with Tulane University. In its 15th year, it shares the musical and cultural threads of American music. The show, which is also streamed online, reaches nearly a million listeners on more than 268 radio stations.

“American Routes Live!” is supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional support comes from Louisiana Entertainment, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, WWNO-FM, Offbeat and Basin Street Records.

Tickets are $25-75 and available online or at the box office the day of the show. For information on a pre-show artists’ reception, call 504-862-3660.

Mary Rickard has been a regular contributor to the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the New Orleans Advocate, as well as newspapers and wire services in other locales. Feel free to send her comments or critiques at [email protected]