Music Box Village kicks off its season this weekend with a full schedule of events, including live music, drag brunch and more. Music Box also announced a seasonal concert schedule, immersive events and the unveiling of two new "houses" that define the architecture of the music installations.
The opening celebrations come at a time when the organization is in flux, as organizers turn a one-time DIY art project into a legacy institution.
"How did you go from a DIY art project to an almost overwhelming business?" asked Delaney Martin, who co-founded Music Box Village with husband and wife Taylor Lee Shepherd and Jay Pennington.
Many of the opening weekend events will be headlined by local musicians. GIVERS' Tif Lamson joined Lost Bayou Ramblers' Aaron Boudreaux, Sabine McCalla and Jonny Campos for an hour of home improvement on Friday, September 16 at 7:00 p.m. After that, DJ Heelturn headlined the dance party at 8 p.m. , and participants can create their own music with the houses.
On Saturday, September 17, Orlando Primo from Majek Fingers Drumming School will lead a free children's band from 1 p.m. Musicians Andy Page and Trenton O'Neill serve as musical guides to help guests engage with the sounds of the house. Saturday evening at opening time in the village.
Tarah Cards, Laveau Contraire, Maxxx Lovewell and Cucci Licci are hosting a drag brunch on Sunday, September 18th starting at 11am. Latin food for lunch at Waska Pop-up is served a la carte and has a full bar.
Visitors will notice some improvements in the village. Some houses were moved, some were placed as balconies on the second floor. Organizers are managing to add new homes to the village while maintaining the town center and event space. Outside the conservatory, Music Box is adding a two-room building that will be used for an artist training and residency program, as well as exhibition space.
Organizers say the increase reflects changes that began before the pandemic in how Music Box operated and the upcoming 10-year anniversary.
"The early years of the jukebox were fast and furious. People are excited; we earn money. We are preparing the program for the season, but it is difficult to move forward. It becomes more of a space than an art project," says Martin. "In 2019, I started writing a grant to bring this ship back. They allowed us to pay for the show and we're proud of that, but you can't be a musician in space for two weeks or do this kind of deep social work."
The original Music Box Village was located on the Pennington property on Piety Street, and much of the material for the original house came from a dilapidated Creole cottage there. A non-profit project of the New Orleans Airlift, the Music Box has gone through several iterations and moved to its current location in 2016.
The space is still used as a venue for concerts and private events, including weddings. However, the organizers want the program to be based on long-term projects and more substantial partnerships with other organizations. They want more musicians and artists to use and interact with the house instead of performing in front of it.
Martin is using the pause during the pandemic to apply for and secure major grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Louisiana Department of the Arts and other foundations. The grant funds the Resonance residency, which began last year. Artist and musician Lonnie Holly has come to the village to work on a new house and host a concert this March.
The current project shows a long-term vision. Liberation Vibrations presents a new home opening on October 8 and an immersive cultural event with dance, percussion, visual and sound installations and more. The roots of the program go back two years, when the Gates Foundation pledged a fund. Project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The pandemic disrupted those plans, but Music Box organizers saw who they could work with on a local Congolese project.
The partners of the project are the Amistad Research Center and the Monique Moss Third Eye Theater. Amistad is preparing a series of panel discussions called "Colorful Conversations," and three of them will be held at the George and Joyce Wayne Jazz and Heritage Center starting Wednesday, September 14. You'll discover the Louisiana slave rebellion of 1811, Congolese connections, and more. This causes a liberating vibrational event.
Moss brought in master Congolese drummer and healer Papa Titos Sompa, and project participants included Houma Nation basket maker Janie Verrett Laster and wood carver Ivy Billiot.
The process is multifaceted and patient, developing and building relationships over time. It was created to add depth to the programming and make the Music Box a legacy New Orleans institution.
As Music Box looks to the future, there has also been a change in management. Pennington resigned to focus more on personal projects. Leah Hennessy, who served as executive creative producer, is also the show's curator. And New Orleans Airlift, which operates in New Orleans, will hire a CEO to replace Martin.
"It's good to give birth to something and then let it be a teenager and grow," says Martin. "We are in a similar situation. How can we put this special thing in someone else's hands? We solved it."
For more information and tickets to the event, visit musicboxvillage.com.