Hit the Pavement

Mobile website A Closer Walk uses today’s technology to tell yesterday’s stories.

As a tourism columnist, I am frequently asked for travel advice. The thing I say the most (besides “tip generously”) is to plan as much walking as you can into your trip. For visitors to New Orleans, this is especially true. The character of our city and the characters who inhabit it are best encountered on foot.

On this front, I’m happy to report that two of my favorite things have now come together. A Closer Walk (ACW) is a mobile-optimized website that tells the story of New Orleans’ musical and cultural history. The project is a collaboration of WWOZ, the Ponderosa Stomp Foundation, Bent Media, ePrime Media and Randy Fertel. Thirty-four genres of music are represented on the interactive site, with locations mapped throughout the city for self-generated tours.

“This project is a natural extension of WWOZ’s mission to be a worldwide voice, archive and flag-bearer of New Orleans culture and musical heritage,” said Arthur Cohen, director of content at WWOZ and acting general manager during the project’s execution. “’OZ has always looked to use new technology to help people, whether natives or tourists, experience and understand the roots of our region’s music and culture. The beauty of A Closer Walk is that it has value as a walking tour, an armchair tour or a learning tool. Its audio, film, photos and links let you go deeper when you want.”

ACW was launched in June and Cohen said the response has already been enthusiastic. The initial rollout focused on locals as the primary community served but now tourists are taking advantage, both while they’re in New Orleans and even when they return home.

With so many entities at the production table, there was some deliberating around what to call the site.

“Ultimately, the great Mahalia Jackson hymn was chosen,” said Brad Brewster, founder and president of Bent Media and board member for the Ponderosa Stomp Foundation.

Brewster said the team is especially proud that the website includes multiple genres.

“All music in New Orleans is related and connected by traditions,” he said. “Neighborhoods continue to create music across multiple generations. It’s been interesting plotting out those locations. We’ve barely scratched the surface.”

Currently there are 79 different locations on the site, each with its own carefully curated page that includes history and images, and often song clips and videos. The goal is to reach 300 locations for NOLA’s Tricentennial.

“The amount of information and research we did at all levels of the development was deep and rich,” said Kevin McCaffrey, award-winning documentary filmmaker, researcher, writer and owner of e/Prime Media. “Aimee Bussells, project manager, Jordan Hirsch, who finalized the whole edit ultimately, and myself tried to provide an experience that could bring a far-flung audience closer to our New Orleans insiders’ sense of place, but also renew a local’s fascination with our musical heritage. I think we really accomplished that.”

The site is incredibly easy and fun to use. Whether on a smart phone or computer, you’ll be entertained for hours. Places can be filtered not only by musical genre, but also by neighborhood, role, time period and location type. You want to find a funeral home started in the 19th century that buried and second lined countless jazz, brass band and funk musicians? They got that.

Perhaps my favorite, though, is the Lagniappe section, where culturally influential dances get their own pages. Something that continues to set New Orleans apart from other U.S. cities is the prevalence of dancing at live music shows, events and down the street. Though the days of the quadrille are long past, elements of many old dances can still be seen today. A dissertation could surely be written on the seductive connections of the tango and the twerk.

Explore A Closer Walk for yourself at acloserwalknola.com.

Jennifer Gibson Schecter was once a tourist in New Orleans herself and is now proud to call NOLA home. She also writes the Wednesday Tourism Blog on BizNewOrleans.com.