Gambit: WWOZ launches seven days of Festing in Place and free night of Groove Gala music

"WWOZ fans Fest in Place" photo by Ryan Hodgson-RigsbeeWWOZ fans Fest in Place photo by Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee

August 31, 2020 by Will Coviello

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival gave the term “cubes” a local meaning. The release of the hour-by-hour, stage-by-stage schedule of the festival invites a lot of scrutiny and fussing. When the festival was canceled this year, WWOZ offered the virtual substitute “Festing in Place,” inviting people to celebrate remotely while listening to recordings of past Jazz Fest sets. The cube release brought the same rituals of joy and grief, as fans discussed the merits of chosen artists, and some grumbled about a few “TBA” slots: The announcement of a Bruce Springsteen set was delayed while the station confirmed it had the rights to air the music, says WWOZ director Beth Arroyo Utterback.

For Labor Day, OZ is launching another seven days of Festing in Place, this time broadcasting archived shows and recordings over two weekends. The cubes were released Aug. 28, and OZ content director David Ankers drew from a wide array of artists, recording locations and decades. The cubes bend time as start times are approximate. He also has planned “secret sets” — or short interludes too brief to fit on the printed schedule.

Programming features recordings from French Quarter Festival, the Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival and other events the station has broadcast live. There also are sets from local clubs, so while some fans can reminisce, others may get their first chance to hear a live show by James Booker at the Maple Leaf Bar or Professor Longhair at Tipitina’s. There also are vintage Tipitina’s shows by Parliament Funkadelic, the Wild Magnolias and Wild Tchoupitoulas Mardi Gras Indians.

OZ is including encore presentations of two sets from the first Festing in Place. Stevie Wonder joined Ella Fitzgerald at the festival in 1977, and that legendary performance will run late in the morning Saturday, Sept. 5. The Fats Domino performance from 2001 also will be rebroadcast on Friday, Sept. 4.

To unearth rare recordings, Ankers reached out to local organizations, including the New Orleans Jazz Museum and the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University, which is directed by ethnomusicologist Melissa Weber, who OZ fans also know as DJ Soul Sister. She’s helped search its catalog of recordings.

Rare recordings include Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet performing at the Municipal Auditorium in 1945. Another discovery came during Ankers’ review of tapes. He recognized Dr. John sitting in with Allen Toussaint during one of the radio station’s annual Piano Night fundraisers. That airs late afternoon Friday, Sept. 4.

Recordings cover an array of local music, and there is plenty of music by past legends, such as Pete Fountain, Al Hirt, Louis Prima and singer and OZ personality Ernie K-Doe. There also are themed days and showcases, such as the focus on funk on Sept. 11 and a night of music by John Boutte, Lillian Boutte and Tricia Boutte on Labor Day.

Kicking off events is the station’s annual Groove Gala, which is a free online event this year. Hosted by John Goodman and Norman Robinson, it features pre-recorded sets by Irma Thomas, Tank and the Bangas, Kermit Ruffins, Samantha Fish, John Boutte and others. There’s a patron party hour for sponsors and patrons at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3. The Groove programming is at 7 p.m. and will be replayed through the night on the station’s YouTube page. The gala previews the station’s 40th anniversary. Beginning Oct. 26, OZ will begin a 40-day countdown with special programs daily until its birthday.

Festing in Place runs from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday through Monday, Sept. 4-7, and Friday through Sunday, Sept. 11-13. Tune in to WWOZ 90.7 FM or wwoz.org.

Read the original Gambit article here.