Who's Steppin It UP? A 'Seal of Approval' for Ogden After Hours
Last week I announced the new Empower Musicians, Seal of Approval advocacy initiative of Sweet Home New Orleans. This Thursday, Sweet Home will acknowledge the Ogden Museum of Southern Art for its "best business" practices as a music presenter.
For locals in the know, the beloved “Ogden After Hours” series may be one of the best-kept secrets of our music scene. As part of the Ogden’s mission to “broaden the knowledge, understanding and appreciation” of the cultural life of the South, this gem of the Warehouse District one block from Lee Circle, has celebrated regional music nearly every Thursday for nearly 10 years.
The Ogden’s music component was developed by their music curator, Libra LaGrone. As a local musician, I am certain that I am not alone to think that this latest accolade her series has earned is well-deserved. She will officially be presented the Seal of Approval by Sweet Home New Orleans immediately before this Thursday’s 6 p.m. show, which will feature guitarist, songwriter Colin Lake.
The title of "music curator" is interesting in itself because of how it frames music presenters in New Orleans as integral to the preservation of culture. For many of our venue operators, this curatorial role may not come as naturally as it has to LaGrone, who has synthesized all of her passions into a vision for the Ogden’s music. Her academic background in history inspired the educational component of a mid-concert presentation/interview contextualizing the performances. It’s a unique touch, especially for those of us who share her love for learning about our artists as well as hearing them play.
LaGrone attributes her marketing and music production acumen to her pre-not-for-profit work, when she worked with Jack Groetsch, founder of the Howlin’ Wolf. Jack and his wife Leslie, who are now restaurateurs in Asheville, North Carolina, taught LaGrone a sensitivity to the needs of musicians. Performers at the Ogden have proper contracts, parking, and access to royalties for the original songs they perform because of Ogden’s relationship with PRO’s (performing rights organizations) such as ASCAP and BMI. Artists even get a meal courtesy of Ms. Linda Green, who serves up her signature Ya-Ka-Mein at the Thursday shows. LaGrone views it as a simple philosophy, “If your talent is happy, their performances will make your public happy.”
I should note that the museum’s foyer, Stephen Goldring Hall, wasn’t designed for a performance space. Mostly hard surfaces and a ceiling that goes up to the museum’s fifth floor, it can sound a bit cavernous, like the lobby of a European railway station or old bank building. Consequently, the space favors groups that are mostly acoustic and don’t use drums or amplification. There are actually only about 50 physical seats for the show, most of the audience stands or circulates throughout the space. This is by design to intentionally encourage engagement of the museum. In fact, locals should be aware that they can visit the museum free on Thursdays before the show.
In the end, even though Ogden is not a conventional venue, LaGrone thinks it is important to recognize the niche it fills. "After Hours" is early, all-ages, smoke-free, and focuses on artists who have something to contribute relevant to our regional culture, even when they aren’t known as "headline" acts. For example, she told me that she is very enthusiastic about finally getting Brian Quezergue, son of prominent producer and arranger Wardell Quezergue, to present his own project this July.
Personally, I agree with the humble LaGrone, who finds the Seal of Approval “flattering.” She believes that all music presenters who share a love for our city’s culture can learn from one another. For the sustained survival and evolution of our music, diversity in the cultural landscape is essential. Join me Thursday to celebrate the positive, musician-friendly practices of Ogden’s After-Hour concert series.
Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and a founding member of Nola Art House Music. Click here for his performance schedule. He writes “Riffing on the Tradition” for NolaVie.
Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and advocates for the cultural workforce. Click here for his performance schedule. He writes MAC-Notes for NolaVie. Email him with your comments about cultural issues, particularly in the music world, at [email protected]