The 100 Men Hall hosts its fourth annual Booker Fest to celebrate the musical genius of James Booker on Friday, September 1 thru Sunday, September 3, 2023. The festival is Bay Saint Louis’s own music festival with top musicians and performers, food, libations and a drag brunch!
- by Rachel Dangermond
James Carroll Booker III (December 17, 1939 – November 8, 1983) was a rhythm and blues keyboardist born in New Orleans. He was raised by his aunt in Bay St. Louis, attended St. Rose de Lima and learned classical piano. Booker's unique style combined rhythm and blues with jazz standards.
Booker was influenced by his church and Baptist minister parents and grandparents, who played piano. Booker was a child prodigy who loved classical music (especially Bach), and part of his amazing skill lay in an ability to blend a Rachmaninoff tune with a rolling blues piano riff.
Musician Dr. John described Booker as “the best Black, gay, one-eyed, junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced.”
The gifted artist played on the historic stage of 100 Men Hall and throughout the Bay. Labor Day Weekend in Bay Saint Louis is BOOKER FEST weekend, and this year it will include a New Orleans piano night with the Joe Krown Trio; a morning gospel tribute by the acclaimed St. Rose de Lima choir; a Booker piano tribute led by New Orleans pianist and Booker interpreter extraordinaire Josh Paxton along with Debbie Davis; Tulane poet Karisma Price; a Blues takeover with Ghalia Volt; followed by Lucious Spiller and his band. Big Boyz BBQ is in the house on Friday and Saturday with Hogs for a Cause winner Rodney Beal dishing out his delicious food for purchase. Booker Fest weekend ends with an outrageous drag brunch featuring food by Big Bertha’s Kitchen and Catering and DRAG EXTRAVAGANZA by Miss Catastrophe, Zamareyah Dawn, Latonia Love and Misty Bordeaux. Sound and production by Jesse Loya. Early bird ticket purchasers will enjoy a free screening of Lily Keber’s acclaimed documentary on Booker, Bayou Maharajah, on Friday, August 25, at 7:00 pm.
Rachel Dangermond, owner of 100 Men Hall, credits the support of multiple sponsors for Booker Fest’s success, “The 100 Men Hall is grateful to our longtime major sponsor, the Silver Slipper Casino, with additional sponsorship from Mississippi Gulf Coast National Heritage Area, Coldwell Banker Alfonso Realty, H. T. White Family Foundation, Cathead Distillery, Ann Madden Photography, Dirty Coast, with additional donations by Hollywood Casino and Shoofly Magazine. Their support makes it possible to bring this much talent in one weekend to our small coastal town.”
Opening the event on Friday night will be the Joe Krown Trio – Krown is a resident of New Orleans with a home in Pass Christian. He is a New Orleans-styled piano and Hammond B-3 player. He has played the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage every year since 2001 and the French Quarter Festival every year since 1998. From September 1996 to June 2001, Joe held the Traditional Piano Night slot at the Maple Leaf Bar in New Orleans, which was once occupied by James Booker. After the untimely passing of the legendary great Allen Toussaint in November 2015, Joe was selected to fill the maestro's chair by playing piano with Toussaint's band backing up greats like Bonnie Raitt, Aaron Neville, Irma Thomas, Dr. John and more at the 2016 New Orleans Jazz Fest, Hollywood Bowl, Midsummer swing at Lincoln Center, and more. He has played the WWOZ Piano Night every year since 1996 and has been the producer of Piano Night since 2017. He has led a trio with Walter “Wolfman” Washington since 2007. Krown has toured with Mavis Staples, Allen Toussaint, North Mississippi All-Stars, Charlie Musselwhite and many more and toured in over 50 countries as either a member of the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown Band, or as the featured artist. Listen: https://youtu.be/D51r62xINJg.
Saturday’s lineup includes:
St. Rose de Lima Gospel Choir - Considered the best Southern Gospel choir in the region, the St. Rose de Lima choir was already a Bay Saint Louis institution when James Booker played there. Several members sang when Booker played piano in the choir. The choir has been featured in the gospel tent at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Josh Paxton - In a city known for its piano players, Josh Paxton stands out from the crowd. By combining New Orleans’s deep piano traditions with modern jazz twists, classical technique, and a funky rhythmic drive, he creates a unique and memorable style that led Dr. John to describe him as “[freakin’] blessed.” Josh moved from his native Ohio to New Orleans in his early 20s to study with jazz patriarch Ellis Marsalis. After earning his degree, he quickly found himself in demand as a solo performer and sideman, playing solo sets at festivals in and out of town and touring and recording with such diverse acts as the Wild Magnolias, Li’l Queenie, the Cosmic Krewe, Maria Muldaur, and Bruce Hornsby. In addition, by doing the first written transcriptions of the music of piano legends Professor Longhair and James Booker, he solidified his reputation as a serious scholar of the city’s musical heritage. Listen: https://youtu.be/Q-Kj8ySDv1M.
Debbie Davis – “Debbie Davis is generally recognized as possessing one of the most beautiful voices in a city filled with talented singers. Her warm, full voice illuminates the nooks and crannies of these songs with an emotional resonance that reminds listeners of such mistresses of restrained passion as Astrud Gilberto and Betty Carter. She’s also capable of letting that big voice carry her into mainstream pop territory, where her saucy delivery is more reminiscent of numerous big band vocalists and the great Cass Elliot. Every gesture is priceless.” John Swenson, Offbeat Magazine.
Karisma Price - Karisma Price is an assistant professor of English at Tulane University. A poet, screenwriter, and media artist, she is also the author of I’m Always So Serious (Sarabande Books, 2023). Her work has appeared in publications including Poetry, Indiana Review, Four Way Review, wildness, and Adroit Journal. She is a Cave Canem Fellow, was a finalist for the 2019 Manchester Poetry Prize, and was awarded the 2020 J. Howard and Barbara M. J. Wood Prize from the Poetry Foundation. A native New Orleanian, she holds an MFA in poetry from New York University, where she was a Writers in the Public Schools Fellow.
Ghalia Volt – Ghalia Vauthier, known professionally as Ghalia Volt, is a Belgian blues rock singer, guitarist, drummer and songwriter. She has been involved in the release of five albums since 2016, including Mississippi Blend released on Ruf Records. It peaked at number three on the Billboard Top Blues Albums Chart. If you have yet to enjoy the great fortune of a Ghalia Volt performance, do come and witness her new One-Woman-Band Show. Influenced by the Delta and Hill Country blues, she crafts an innovative fusion that strikes a balance between traditional and progressive blues.
Lucious Spiller - A gifted singer/songwriter, Lucious Spiller is an International Blues Challenge award winner and has been featured in the documentary film, Moonshine and Mojo Hands. He has frequented the KFFA “King Biscuit Time” radio show, performed on the Thacker Mountain Radio Hour, been featured on National Public Radio (NPR) and helped begin the inaugural Americana Blues Triangle tour. Lucious has inspired, influenced, instructed, and encouraged many up and coming blues artists such as Seth Freeman, Christone "Kingfish" Ingram, Zack Bramhall, Heather Crosse, and Akeem Kemp.
Sunday will feature the 100 Men Hall’s favorite and most talented drag queens - Miss Catastrophe Nicole Knight, Zamareyah Dawn, Misty Bordeaux Knight, and Latonia Love. Booker loved to dress up in flamboyant costumes and often wore a wig. He would joke or flirt with a guy in the audience while playing. He would engage in lengthy dialogues with the audience – or lecture or even scold it. He was a consummate performer, cross-dresser, and musical genius.
In his 20s, Booker worked with the touring bands of B.B. King and Aretha Franklin. In 1970, mysterious trouble led Booker to lose his left eye; afterwards he began to don an iconic eye patch. Attendees will be able to purchase Booker Fest merch, including a signed, limited-edition poster, Booker Fest eye patches created by artist Ann Madden, and other merchandise.
Food will be available for purchase all weekend. Friday and Saturday stars Big Boyz BBQ, while Sunday’s brunch will star Big Bertha’s Kitchen and Catering. In addition to the purchase of non-alcoholic beverages, fest attendees can purchase Cathead Vodka specialty cocktail Booker Bliss, plus Lazy Magnolia and other beer, wine, and spirits (pints) set ups at the 100 Men Hall bar.
Tickets for each of the weekend events as well as a wrist band allowing entry to ALL events can be purchased online at a discounted rate and will be available at Will Call throughout the weekend. Tickets and wristbands purchased at the door during the event will be priced higher and based on availability.
The historic 100 Men Hall is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization (Hundred Members Debating Benevolent Association), supported by tax deductible donations. Additional information about the venue’s history and other activities can be found on the100menhall.com or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
View photos from 2022 Booker Fest here
Booker Fest Schedule
Friday, Sept. 1 – $30 (or $85 Tin Pass)
7:00 – 9:00 pm
Joe Krown Trio
Food by Big Boyz BBQ
Saturday, Sept. 2 – $60 (or $85 Tin Pass)
11:00 am – 12:00 pm
St. Rose Gospel Choir
on 100 Men Hall’s historic stage
12:30 – 2:00 pm
Booker piano tribute performed by New Orleans greats
Josh Paxton and Debbie Davis
2:30 – 3:30 pm
Poetry by Karisma Price
4:00 – 6:00 pm
Blues-rock with Ghalia Volt
6:30 – 8:30 pm
Lucious Spiller and Band
Food by Big Boyz BBQ
Sunday, Sept. 3 – $30 (or $85 Tin Pass)
10:00 am – 1:00 pm
Booker Drag Brunch with
Catastrophe, Zamareyah, Latonia & Misty
Food by Big Bertha's Kitchen and Catering
Booker Fest Weekend Tin Pass - $85
Wristband allows entry to ALL events - $85 in advance here - price higher at the door
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