If This Hall Could Speak

With audience numbers growing, Preservation Hall launches a new performance series.

Illustration by Tony Healey

Kimberley Singletary is the managing editor of Biz New Orleans magazine. A 20-year Southern California veteran, she has been surrounded by the film industry for most of her life.

 

Preservation Hall breaks all the norms of a popular music venue; It welcomes people to sit on floor cushions and benches, doesn’t serve alcohol — or any food or drink — and you won’t see a single amplifier or microphone anywhere.

“It’s like watching a show in someone’s living room,” said Ron Rona, who has served as Preservation Hall’s artistic director for the past 12 years.

This is one popular living room, however. Created as a haven for the preservation of New Orleans jazz, it’s hosted the genre’s greats — names like George Lewis and Sweet Emma Barrett. Almost 60 years later, Preservation Hall continues to run five, 45-minute performances a night, 355 nights a year. Audiences of often more than 100 people — from infants to nonagenarians who pay $20 each, or $40 to $50 if they want to be guaranteed a seat — pack into a sparse, small space that appears not to have changed, not only since the venue opened, but since the building was built in 1750.

While it may not be big on change in a lot of ways, however, Preservation Hall has its modern elements. It’s definitely embraced social media and is constantly reaching out to the world through its artists.

True to its name, the hall is all about sustaining the music and history that make New Orleans a one-of-a-kind destination, and a big part of that continues to be the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. For more than 50 years, the band has featured some of New Orleans’ best jazz musicians, and the seven-members of the current band are busier than ever.

“The band’s last two record have featured all original compositions and they’re currently out on a two-month tour of 30 cities,” Rona said. “They play Coachella. They play Bonaroo. They did a two-week “Tuba to Cuba” tour in 2015 and we filmed a documentary of the whole experience. Last year that was released and this year the soundtrack was released.”

Rona said from the beginning the success of Preservation Hall has relied on word of mouth, and that has only increased with the band’s recent efforts, the result of which has been felt back at their home base.

“We’ve really seen a lot of growth in our audience numbers in the past four to five years,” he said, adding that visitors are looking to hear more than just the music.
“If this hall could speak — we hear that a lot from people,” he said. “So, we decided to give people a chance to hear more of the musicians’ stories and call it exactly that.”

Instead of the typical 45-minute performance, If This Hall Could Speak performances run about an hour. Rona said the extra time “allows the artists to stretch out a bit.

“These artists aren’t just entertainers, they are pillars of the community and casual historians,” Rona said, adding that the musician’s share not just tales of playing for dignitaries and at famous funerals, but sometimes the stories behind the creation of a song and what it was like to grow up in New Orleans during various times in history.

“A lot of the groups we host are multi-generational, in fact we’re seeing the third generation of Preservation Hall artists come in now as those in their 70s and 80s are passing the tradition on,” said Rona. “They are an integral part of the history of New Orleans.”

If This Hall Could Speak launched Nov. 1 and performances are currently being held Fridays and Saturdays at 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. The ticket cost is the same as for a regular show, making this an inexpensive, unique and fun option for entertaining visiting family this holiday season.

For more information, visit PreservationHall.com