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Music to Our Ears

By Melanie Moffett
In Center Block
Mar 31st, 2014
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New Orleans-based Tipitina’s Foundation has a new outpost in Monroe
article by Michael DeVault

Live music in northeast Louisiana has a new champion with an old name, now that New Orleans-based Tipitina’s Foundation has a permanent outpost in Monroe. Tipitina’s held its first event, a Sunday Music Workshop, in March at Harvey’s Dance Hall. The one-day event was geared toward student musicians, and for one area stalwart of the live music scene, it represented a hopeful future.

“Anybody who’s been around for a while can see the decline in interest in live music,” said professional musician Toby Traylor, who recalls when Louisville Avenue was home to more than 15 live-music venues. Over the years, Traylor has watched those venues close or transition to recorded music. “Now, I can think of only two regular venues.”

Fostering live music throughout Louisiana strikes right to the core of Tipitina’s Foundation’s mission–to preserve Louisiana’s music culture. That vision began 36 years ago, when Tipitina’s Music Club was founded. A change in ownership inspired the formation of a non-profit organization dedicated to live music in all of its forms. Tipitina’s programs manager Emily Menard was on hand for the March workshop, the first Tipitina’s event in northeastern Louisiana.

“As the foundation has grown over the years, we’ve tried to branch out more and more. So we’re really starting to fulfill the mition of the foundation, which is to go out into the whole state and not just New Orleans,” Menard said. Each month, Tipitina’s will partner with professional musicians to hold the workshops. During the workshops, student musicians from around the area will be given the opportunity to play in a professional setting, to gain experience in a “real world” setting versus in a music classroom. The first event was small by design and drew just a handful of student musicians. But Traylor says they got a lot out of the experience.

“For the kids who showed up, it made a huge impact,” Traylor said. “They were book-learned musicians and this was all about improvisation.” In other words, the students took part in playing music not from a sheet before them, but based on what they were hearing from the other musicians. In live performance, many times it’s about reading cues.

“For them to join a session about making up music as you go, it was a real eye opener,” Traylor said. “For someone who is interested in music, this has the potential to really grab them.”

That’s kind of the point, according to Monroe musician Tyler Faulk, who organized the Sunday workshop. Live music performance is an interest student musicians usually develop young. That’s what happened to Faulk, at least, who grew up playing in a band in high school. Today, things are different. “When I was in high school, there was the coffee house, there were venues where we could go and play live music,” Faulk said. “There aren’t venues like that now.”

Faulk decided to get involved with the Sunday Music Workshops after seeing one of the events while on a trip. “I went down to New Orleans to see one of their workshops there and fell in love with the program. So, I wanted to bring it up here, get it going and rocking.”

Faulk expects the programs will continue to mushroom as word travels through the local music community. Not only will more students take part, but professionals are reaching out, too. “We’re in for the long haul. We’ll do this until they tell us to leave,” Faulk said. Right now, the future of Tipitina’s in the area looks pretty bright. The foundation recently opened a music co-op on Olive Street in Monroe. Co-op mannager Jimmie Bryant II has been working to secure musician-members and to raise awareness of the Tipitina’s facility in the heart of Monroe. For $15 a month, members gain access to the facility, to recording equipment and state-of-the-art software, and even support services.

“They have access to our legal aid program, the Ella Project, to help with contract review, to help our members with legal matters,” Bryant said. Currently, he’s overseeing the completion of the facility, which at over 20,000 square feet affords ample space for performers to work. Two single-room studios are equipped with iMac computers. Also, one of the studios includes a video workstation. Plans ultimately call for a third recording studio and rehearsal space. Bryant is hopeful the facility will spur the development of more musical talent in the region.

“Also, it’s about working with community officials to provide local musicians with opportunities to play and to genuinely enrich the local music scene wherever there’s a co-op,” Bryant said. Menard added that Tipitina’s presence in Monroe was a necessary component in a growing arsenal of facilities statewide.

“We realized to really cover the state, we needed to be in northeast Louisiana,” Menard said. “Monroe came to mind. We’re in seven cities now.”

    For more information about the Tipitina’s Foundation co-op or the Sunday music workshops, drop a line to monroe@tipitinas.com.