Talk of the Town - August 2019
- story by Lisa Monti
Rachel Dangermond wanted 100 Men Hall to host a festival of some sort and she also knew that the Hall needed an annual fundraiser.
“But I didn’t want the traditional gala or festival,” she said. It had to be fun, funky and memorable. Soon, such an event was taking shape around James Booker, the flamboyant New Orleans piano genius who was raised by an aunt in Bay St. Louis.
Booker, who died in 1983, had played the Hall and with the St. Rose de Lima Gospel Choir. The inaugural Booker Festival will be held Aug. 30-31.
Dangermond, who bought the Hall a year ago and has created a string of successful events there, says the idea to celebrate James Booker’s life, music and connection to Bay St. Louis came together from a few different areas.
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Booker came up in a conversation with Floyd Moseley when he was having his portrait taken for the 100 Men Hall People Project. “He said that Booker used to play at St. Rose and after would come to Floyd's grandma’s house because she was the only one with a piano,” Dangermond said.
Seal also suggested Joe Krown for a piano tribute to Booker. Krown suggested Tom McDermott because he has a more extensive Booker repertoire.
Dangermond called her friend McDermott, well known for his playing and compositions, and he agreed to play. McDermott also suggested that Josh Paxton perform as well – the pianist’s unique style brought high praise from Dr. John.
With the piano tribute in place - along with a showing of “Bayou Maharajah,” Lily Keber’s definitive documentary on Booker - Dangermond added a gospel element to the festival lineup. The celebrated St. Rose Gospel Choir agreed to perform and will bring another local connection to Booker.
“It turns out some of the choir members remember Booker from back in the day when he played with the choir,” Dangermond said.
And when Mayor Mike Favre approved of primitive campsites on the Hall grounds, the festival was set for Labor Day weekend.
“It was one of those things,” Dangermond said. “When it’s right, it’s right.” Above all, she said, “I want it to be fun and funky.”
The camping option will give first time visitors an introduction to the area and benefit local merchants. “The festival itinerary is very loose and we’re hoping people who come for the weekend will go out to have breakfast and lunch and go shopping while they’re here,” Dangermond said.
While the idea behind Booker Fest is to raise funds annually to maintain and preserve 100 Men Hall, the goal also is to attract regional, national and international attention to the African American landmark and its history.
The festival will open at 8 p.m. Aug. 30 with the indoor screening of Bayou Maharajah. Food by Chef Chris Hayes from the Smoking Oyster in New Orleans will be available for purchase on both nights of the festival. Hayes was named the winning contestant on a Food Network show.
- On Aug. 31, the St. Rose Gospel Choir will perform on the Hall’s historic stage at 10 a.m. At 4 pm, there will be readings and talks by locals who knew Booker – including Ellis Anderson of the Shoofly Magazine, who worked with Booker in the French Quarter in the 1970s.
- The piano tribute with McDermott and Paxton begins at 5 pm. An outdoor screening of Bayou Maharajah will be at 8 pm.
- Closing out the festival will be a dance party headlined by Cuban percussionist Alexey Martí with Jorge Perez, Paolo Castanogli and Oscar Rossignoli.
- Admission for all events will be $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Wristbands will be given on arrival.
Primitive camping that allows (2) entry to all of the events is $75.
Contact Rachel at 100MenHall@gmail.com for details.
Purchase the camping ticket here.