A Party You Can Play At
It started, as so many things in New Orleans do, with a casual conversation between two friends. Yuri Velez, a musician from NYC, was touring and looking for a place to play in New Orleans. He was having a hard time booking something. So his friend Stephanie Kourtesis offered to host a house show at her shotgun in the Irish Channel. Now this is not a new or novel idea. Artists and their friends throw house parties all the time, all around the world. We go to them as often as we can. There’s always good entertainment and cheap drinks. Then every once in a while these house shows are so successful, so magical, that they transform the house into something it wasn’t intended to be.
Stephanie recruited her friend Kristy Duhamel, a local singer/songwriter, to do a set with Yuri and his band Oh You Devil! And local comic Bobby Frilot signed on to emcee the event. Stephanie’s two roommates were down. Who doesn’t like hosting a party? And she wasn’t too worried about neighbors complaining. This is New Orleans. People are pretty used to hearing live music randomly dispersed throughout the city. But then, by the end of the show, something significant had clearly happened. A switch had been flipped.
People didn’t just have a good time. They loved it. Raved about it. Begged for more. Kristy wanted to play a show with her full band, The Tintypes. Bobby talked about doing comedy shows. One of Stephanie’s neighbors came to the party and said he wanted to cook food if they did another show. That first conversation between Stephanie and Yuri led to two more, four more, eight more, 16. And a house party a few blocks from the river in the Irish Channel was transformed into an alternative venue.
Ok. I may have romanticised that story a bit. At the time, Stephanie was working at a bar with Greg Boitel, who has worked with musicians as a manager, roadie, promoter, etc. The idea of an alternative venue already had been planted in their minds. But that first magical event made it a reality. A reality that is still evolving and that they are still figuring out, event by event.
Once Stephanie and Greg made that transformative leap, from two friends who throw house shows to two friends who run an alternative venue, a lot of question marks popped up. Of course the first was: Money? Charge a cover? Let the musicians ask for tips? Sell drinks? A Shotgun Near You has tried every method imaginable and has realized there is no silver bullet. It’s risky to charge a cover or sell drinks without a permit from the city. But then, asking for donations from patrons to cover overhead doesn’t always leave much left for the artists. It’s this conundrum that forces alternative venues at some point to either call it quits or graduate into an official avenue.
Finding artists to fill a venue is not really a problem in a town like New Orleans. Besides the huge pool of local talent, our city is a must-stop destination for touring musicians. Stephanie got A Shotgun Near You listed on just a handful of websites, such as DIY.org, Gambit, WWOZ and All-Ages Movement Project, and within a couple months of their first show, musicians who they didn’t know were asking about booking. But that step forward brought a series of questions. How do we pick and choose who plays and who doesn’t? How many shows will people come to in a month at a venue like this? How many shows can we throw without making our roommates and neighbors feel put out?
New Orleans is a very DIY city. The people say laissez les bon temps rouler, and the city government is usually cool with that. So most small venues work under the belief that if neighbors aren’t complaining and there aren’t large amounts of money and booze being exchanged, keep on playing. A Shotgun Near You did get one noise complaint last winter, when they hosted My So Called Dance Party, but that stemmed from the fact that they let the party go through the night. They haven’t allowed shows to go that late since, and so haven’t had any problems from neighbors. But the question still lingers: How long can an alternative venue operate under the radar before somebody forces the issue of permitting?
A Year And Counting
A Shotgun Near You had its 1 year birthday on March 20. They’ve learned a lot and they have a lot of accomplishments under their belts. They’ve managed to navigate the problems that plague unofficial venues and continuously expand their pool of patrons and artists. Stephanie and Greg have talked about expanding beyond the current location, but agree that it needs to happen naturally, in its own time.
Operating an alternative venue is just like any other aspect of living in New Orleans. You know that at some point a disaster may force you out. The city might shut you down for not having a permit; your neighbors might try to shut you down for being too loud; your landlord might kick you out. The shadow of disaster looms over us all the time. But then that’s life, isn’t it?
Until that day, laissez les bon temps rouler.
A Shotgun Near You’s next event will be an Open Mic Comedy Show, on Monday, April 16th @ 9pm. There next music show will feature the trip hop group No Clouds.
Matthew Sheard of 1239 Congress writes bimonthly for NolaVie.