At the end of N. Rampart Street off Poland Avenue behind a patchwork metal fence a few hundred feet from the levee, an innovative new music and art venue is putting down roots. The Music Box Village is essentially a cluster of shanties, miniature houses, and innovative twists on other architectural forms with built-in music-making capabilities. And after five years of roving, pop-up iterations peppered with orchestral “music box” performances, the sonic village is ready to open its doors and welcome visitors to its first real home.
The village will host regular open exploration hours as well as weekend performances by Sunpie Barnes, Tank and the Bangas, the Lost Bayou Ramblers and Gogol Bordello (schedule below).
Maintaining Its Roving Roots
As the programming continues with music, talks and education projects over the course of the next two months, the space and structures within it will transform, too.
“Frankly, the whole season is going to be a bit of an install, and then every season it’ll change,” says Delaney Martin, the artistic director and cofounder of the arts collective New Orleans Airlift, which created the Music Box Village.
She’s seated beneath a shady tree canopy in the village space beside Jay Pennington, Airlift’s External Affairs Director and the organization’s other co-founder. The pair launched New Orleans Airlift in 2008 as a way to keep local artists working and developing new audiences following Hurricane Katrina.
“This first season will be particularly rough around the edges,” Martin continues.
“Each week you come back we might have done more on our brick pathways, stuff like that. But in general, the way we are approaching this project is that it’s an ongoing experiment in musical architecture and we’ll have ongoing residencies for artists, inventors, architects — and the landscape of the city will grow and change.”
When the village opened for a pair of preview concerts earlier this fall, visitors watched Quintron conduct a collection of musicians drawn from around the world (via the touring OneBeat Festival) and New Orleans. Audience members reclined on blankets and lawn chairs on the village’s sand-based floor as the artists wove together a musical story featuring Middle Eastern-tinged harmonies that fed rock-based solo performances and New Orleans bounce segments. Structures like a large water tower and a swinging throne-like orb outfitted with shake-able metal buzzed whirled and cooed beneath alternating voices and music styles.
Opening weekend audiences will see and hear an almost entirely new installation of musical houses.
“It’s very much to be seen as a living artwork over here, both in the way we treat the musicians coming in – like, it’s a real orchestra with real instruments — but also the instruments themselves,” Martin says. “It’s an evolving town.”
The Music Box Village project itself has evolved since it first opened in Bywater in 2011, too. At a time when so many houses across the city remained uninhabitable, making it difficult for musicians to return home, that first village felt like both a monument to certain aspects of what the city had lost in 2005 and a reminder that new life can almost spring from decimation.
Later, when the roving village popped up in a far-flung corner of City Park, the musical houses almost seemed to have sprung up organically amid marsh grasses, trickling water and centuries-old oak trees.
Those elements, along with some new ones, seem to have inspired the village’s permanent home, which had been a metal fabrication plant for 46 years before New Orleans Airlift bought the land and the metal business. That meant they also got tools and cranes that have allowed them to build their fence and move houses in and out of the warehouse that sits next to the installation.
While the space still bears the industrial Ninth Ward vibe, New Orleans Airlift is working with a landscape artist who’s in the process of designing what Martin called a “Louisiana forest” outside the village fence, complete with a meadow and native shrubs and grasses.
“We really want it to be an educational and transporting experience,” Martin said. “The pathways [will] come from the parking lot, and go through our little wooded zone which we’re going to make more fabulous, so that by the time you come in, you’ve hopefully been transported.”
Other ideas and plans for the future include summer camps for kids interested in learning how to play the instruments as well as how to create and maintain their own musical architecture.
“We see it hopefully as a good thing for our community to grow with,” Martin says, tossing out other ideas like a NOCCA-focused weekend.
With a sly smile, Pennington adds, “maybe now we can get Bjork.”
Never say never.
Visit New Orleans Airlift for details and ticketing info.
Oct. 28-Oct. 30, 12-5 p.m.: Hands-on exploration time for all ages.
Oct. 28, 7 p.m.: Kyp Malone, Okolona, and Erin Durant perform one night only on a combined USA tour
Oct. 31, 6-10 p.m.: Nightmare on Grunch Street: A Haunting of the Music Box
Nov. 4-5, 6:30 and 8:30 p.m.: Sunpie Barnes, the Louisiana Sunspots & L’Union Creole with Dédé Saint-Prix and Seguenon
Nov. 18, 6:30 p.m.: Tank & the Bangas ft. Big Freedia
Dec. 2-3: Lost Bayou Ramblers with special guests including Rickie Lee Jones, Langhorne Slim, and Spider Stacy of the Pogues
Dec. 9-10: Gogol Bordello
PUBLIC HOURS THROUGH 2016:
Thursday to Sunday December 15-18
Thursday to Friday December 22-23,
Closed Christmas Eve/Christmas Day
Thursday to Sunday December 29-January 1,
Open New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day
General admission is $12; Louisiana residents (with valid ID) can enter for $5. Admission for kids ages 5-18 is $5, and kids 5 and younger are free.