Louisiana Music at South by Southwest

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MARCH 20, Austin, TX — New Orleans used the substantial platform of the South By Southwest music industry conference for the first showing of its new initiatives in promoting Louisiana music and generating tourism, post-Katrina.

Scott Aiges, who resigned as head of the mayor's office for music business development on October 5, organized Louisiana's presence at the event as the first official act of his new nonprofit organization, the Louisiana Music Export Office. Members of the Louisiana delegation at the conference included Basin Street records, offBeat magazine and the Ponderosa Stomp, as well as multiple Louisiana agents, recording studios, equipment manufacturers and artists.

Half of the $65,000 budget for the weekend was provided by the Louisiana State Office of Culture, Recreation and Tourism; the rest was ponied up by Hibernia Bank, Putumayo World Music and Southern Comfort. The Louisiana Music Export Office has been retained by the state as a consultant on music business development, and was instrumental in the lobbying effort to pass the new sound recording tax credit incentives.

Events over the course of the weekend included an "industry networking" crawfish boil; a showcase of Ponderosa Stomp acts — including Li'l Band O'Gold, Barbara Lynn and Classie Ballou and the Family Band — at the Continental club; a large trade booth at the Austin Convention Center and an outdoor showcase at the prestigious outdoor festival venue Town Lake Shores.

The Town Lake Event featured the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk and Allen Toussaint, among others. All proceeds from the $5 suggested donation went to the New Orleans Musicians Clinic. The Hot 8 Brass Band also drew crowds marching and parading in the streets of Austin.

At a panel on the state of Louisiana music post-Katrina, Cyril Neville, Scott Aiges, Jan Ramsey (publisher of offBeat magazine), Keith Spera (music writer for the Times-Picayune) and Allen Toussaint debated issues including revitalizing tourism and creating a supportive city atmosphere to lure musicians home permanently.

Participants in the weekend's events had mixed responses to the SXSW initiative. The initiative was modeled on national cultural export agencies' common marketing efforts to draw attention to their indigenous music, with the aim of encouraging both tourism and lucrative international festival bookings for their local acts. Cyril Neville, who has relocated permanently to Austin, had little faith in the state's plans, worrying that the interests of musicians themselves were being bypassed.

Mark Samuels, head of Basin Street Records, voiced concerns that the need to rebuild the neighborhoods that organically generated many New Orleans bands would be ignored in favor of a focus on tourism.

Ira Padnos, director of the Ponderosa Stomp, was pleased with the attention his acts drew at South by Southwest; however, he said, he had already planned and funded a showcase at the 2006 event and linked with the Louisiana delegation as an afterthought.

Roger Lewis of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band enjoyed the exposure and the opportunity to play with old friends, though he felt the export office's efforts would have little effect on his band's career. The band elected to record their new album, due out in early 2007, in Austin and Los Angeles, and not to take advantage of the new tax credits.

For more on Louisiana at South by Southwest, read this article in Gambit Weekly.

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