In the Biz: Jazzin’ on the River

Riverboat Louis Armstrong is New Orleans’ newest luxury concert and event venue
Illustration by Tony Healey

The Paddlewheeler Creole Queen officially welcomed a younger, yet larger, brother on Dec. 14 with the commission of Riverboat Louis Armstrong. Docked one behind the other just adjacent to the Hilton Riverside and The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk, the siblings offer a unique setting for events ranging from weddings, to conventions, to private parties for any occasion. One is just a lot larger, and newer, than the other.

“We’ve been hosting on the Paddlewheeler for 36 years now,” said Warren Reuther, president and CEO of Hospitality Enterprises, which also the Jean Lafitte Swamp Tours and City Sightseeing buses. “We’ve been tremendously successful, but the fact is the tourism industry here just keeps growing. Fifty-two years ago, there were 10,000 hotel rooms in the city. Now there are 52,000 rooms and another 40 or so hotels on the drawing board. You do the numbers.”

With the addition of Riverboat Louis Armstrong, Reuther has quadrupled his event capacity: The Creole Queen holds approximately 1,000 passengers, while Louis Armstrong can accommodate 3,000 across four decks, making it one of the largest riverboats in the region.

More than just a business move, however, speaking with Reuther it’s clear the New Orleans native has a real love for the city’s most famed musician that he wanted to express in his own special way.

“When Louis Armstrong was 14 years old — too young to play in bars — he would jump on a boat as a deck hand and play out on the water,” said Reuther. “He was actually discovered at the age of 18 while playing on a boat in St. Louis…To have a history like this city has, to have the river right here and to have a guy like Louis Armstrong — why not put it all together?”

The idea was there, but the right boat did not prove easy to find. After a two-year search, Reuther found a casino boat in Evansville, Indiana called the City of Evansville that had been in operation since 1995. The boat was sent to the Conrad Shipyard in Morgan City, Louisiana in Nov. 2017 where it took a year to convert it into an entertainment boat. The newly named Riverboat Louis Armstrong was then brought to Buck Kreihs in Algiers for its final upgrades.

If you don’t have an event, there are plans at the moment to have at least one opportunity a week for the general public to board the new riverboat.

“We’re thinking a gospel jazz brunch on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” said Reuther. Armstrong’s music will undoubtedly be a part of the festivities, and passengers can also visit the boat’s third level where a foundation room celebrates Satchmo’s musical legacy with various items and historic photos.

According to Reuther, Riverboat Louis Armstrong is already off to a strong start.

“ESPN has chartered the boat for three days during the College Football Playoff National Championship, so they’ll be there docked at Woldenberg Park,” he said. “That’s really exciting.”

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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.