When New Orleans Airlift reached out to local artists and musicians for a limited capacity concert series at its Music Box Village, a common thread started to appear: Almost everybody had spent a lot of time during the coronavirus pandemic-related shutdowns coming up with new ways of interacting and creating, says Airlift co-founder Jay Pennington.
“Not necessarily the live-streaming, sort of business angle of communicating as artists,” Pennington says, “but the internal work that comes from hibernation and rethinking life in this crazy time — which is not a moment New Orleans people get a lot of. Deep introspection isn’t our strong suit. We’re social and out in the world.”
Music Box Village, the musical architecture installation space in Bywater, resumed outdoor music performances when it reopened Nov. 6 for “Sonic Remedies,” a three-weekend series of shows — a rare occurrence in the coronavirus pandemic era. The space normally could accommodate 1,200 people but is limiting tickets to 100 and enforcing COVID-19 guidelines, such as physical distancing, face coverings, contact tracing and advance online ticketing.
The upcoming second weekend, Nov. 13-15, opens Friday with two performances of “Pleasure and Ease,” a concert by cellist Spirit McIntyre and vocalist Ron Ragin focused on the act of healing. Doors open at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.
On Saturday, musician and owner of New Orleans’s most infectious smile, Joshua Starkman, will host “Have a Great Day! Live,” a musical and variety talk show with singers Mark-Anthony Thomas and Gabrielle Cavassa, electronic musician MoPodna (serving as house DJ) and special guest puppet Esmerelda. Doors are at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.
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And at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Sunday, bounce and soul artist HaSizzle will take you to “Church of Twerk” with a show featuring DJ Rockie and vocalists Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph, Rahim Glaspy and Kayla Jasmine.
“Everyone has taken the title of the series to heart,” Pennington says. Many of the programs in the series have some connection to healing through performance or uplifting audiences during what has been a traumatic year.
“‘Sonic Remedies,’ the title, really has been a guiding light for so many people through this as well,” Pennington says.
Music Box Village’s first weekend lineup featured performances by Michot’s Melody Makers with Leyla McCalla, Black Magic Drumline and Hellen Gillet with Mike Dillon. The final “Sonic Remedies” weekend features Meschiya Lake on Nov. 27; Ben Jaffe with fellow Preservation Hall musicians on Nov. 28; and Lonnie Holley on Nov. 29.
General admission tickets are $15, and there is an option to purchase a “Pay It Forward” ticket at a $30, $60 or $100 level, which helps support Music Box Village and the musicians. A limited number of free tickets also are available for every performance.
When the coronavirus pandemic set in, the Music Box Village went into stasis like everything else, Pennington says. Normally, the outdoor art installation slows down programming for the summer months, so the break initially wasn’t too disruptive. But as the pandemic stretched on, already meager financial relief — like the federal unemployment benefit — vanished for local artists and New Orleans Airlift employees. A couple of months ago, the arts organizationbegan to consider how it could safely reopen Music Box Village and step back into its own role as a host for musicians and artists.
And like it has with musicians, 2020 gave New Orleans Airlift time to reflect on itself.
“We just had our 10-year anniversary last year, so we were already in a mode of questioning what our purpose and function and meaning is,” Pennington says. “But I think, with George Floyd, with this new civil rights moment, with COVID, the questions just become deeper and more profound. You have to be more open to self-scrutiny.”
Separate from Music Box Village, New Orleans Airlift also is working on several granted projects that will start next year, Pennington adds.