Nov 2, 201109:04 AM
New Orleans Finest Nightlife
Partying for Preservation Hall
Photo by Ian McNulty
In the long list of great things about New Orleans, one has to be the way that even attractions and activities that sit high on the typical visitor’s checklist can still be so rewarding for locals to experience too. I think that’s because these things have such enduring authenticity, despite their high and frequent use in the tourism trade.
Doing that “tourist in your hometown” thing here can mean learning about Creole history on a house tour, getting covered with powdered sugar at Café du Monde, exploring the building where the Louisiana Purchase was signed and perhaps even (maybe, hopefully) celebrating a Saints win with drinks in a historic courtyard originally built for an 18th century Spanish theater.
Also on that list should be a visit to Preservation Hall, a venue that is to traditional New Orleans jazz what Galatoire’s is to traditional New Orleans cuisine.
The Hall turns 50 this year, and to commemorate that milestone the Louisiana State Museum is hosting a major exhibition at its Old U.S. Mint property. The exhibition, "Preservation Hall at 50," opens this Friday night, Nov. 4, with a gala featuring performances by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the Rebirth Brass Band, plus drinks and food from local restaurants and caterers. "Preservation Hall at 50" opens to the public on Saturday, Nov. 5 at 10 a.m.
The gala itself doubles as a preview for a new music performance space the Louisiana State Museum has developed inside the Mint in partnership with the National Park Service. That performance space is scheduled to debut on Nov. 12, and it’s part of a long-range plan to establish the Mint as a center for Louisiana music and music history.
Most of all, though, Friday’s gala promises to be a celebration of Preservation Hall, of what it’s meant to New Orleans and of the jazz heritage New Orleans shares with the world.
There’s something in the spare, timeless ambiance of the Hall, in its patina of history, that has proven enthralling for music lovers since the fabled venue opened in 1961. There's no bar, no air-conditioning, no restroom and no seats beyond floor mats and a few slim benches that look as though they were lifted from a rustic chapel. At most venues, these would count as limitations, but here it seems to put the audience very close to the performers and helps rivet their attention.
The history of the Hall goes much deeper than its physical home of course. Much of that history was told movingly in Tom Sancton’s memoir, Song for My Fathers, which documents a young man’s coming of age and discovery of jazz at a pivotal time for the generational exchange of the music. And many other stories of the Hall are still evolving, as Eve Abrams and Shannon Brinkman share in their beautifully-done new book Preservation Hall. In fact, Brinkman’s photos and Abrams’ audio documentaries are part of the "Preservation Hall at 50" show.
The patron party ($300 per person) starts at 6:30 p.m., while the general admission gala ($50 per person) starts at 8 p.m. in the grounds of the US Mint. Buy tickets online here.
Even if you can’t make Friday’s event at the Mint, a landmark anniversary like this is a reminder for all those who haven’t visited the Hall in a while to put it back in rotation. The Hall will be closed Friday night for the gala, but check out the weekly schedule, pick a show date and plan a visit.