What New Orleans lacks in terms of size and number of venues, it more that makes up for with talent, enthusiasm, and authenticity. Perhaps no other club better captures the vibrancy and strength of the New Orleans music scene more than the widely renowned, locally cherished hall, the Maple Leaf.
Located in the Uptown, Carrollton neighborhood, the Maple Leaf, which opened its doors in 1971, has since claimed – and proudly – one of the richest legacies in the Big Easy. The bar, which sits near the middle of Oak Street, home to an eclectic collage of shops, galleries, and restaurants, calls out some of the Crescent City’s liveliest characters, many of whom just so happen to reside in the neighborhood. Like many of the city’s cultural institutions, much of the Maple Leaf’s mojo stems from the character of its locale and the spirit of the musicians who grace its stage. In terms of music, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a venue anywhere – and I mean anywhere – that rattles, night-in and night-out with the fervor of the Maple Leaf. It’s one of the few places in the city which offers live music seven days a week. And these aren’t just your run-of-the-mill concerts… These shows are epic, multi-set affairs which often stretch into the wee hours of the morning.
Much of the club’s lore and allure stems from its weekly residencies. From 1977-81 the flamboyant genius, James Booker (1939-83), one of the most tragic and unheralded figures of the modern era, held the chair behind the keys at The Leaf. His albums Spider on the Keys and Resurrection of the Bayou Maharajah were culled from recordings taken during this tenure and should be considered absolutes for New Orleans music lovers. Today, the Rebirth Brass Band’s weekly Tuesday night throwdowns are essentially a right of passage for NOLA aficionados. There’s simply no comparison to the lively rush which ensues when they kick up a second line. Also on The Leaf’s calendar is the Joe Krown Trio, which, in addition to Krown on organ, features urban blues legend Walter “Wolfman” Washington on guitar and vocals, and funkmaster Russell Batiste behind the kit. Their Sunday night soirees, which include a freshly boiled batch of crawfish (when in season), are hands-down my favorite weekly gigs in the city. Then again, there’s arguably no better way to start your week off than with Papa Grows Funk on Monday nights. This year, the group, which, coincidentally, formed at the Maple Leaf, celebrates their 10th year as a band, and judging by what I’ve seen from them lately, the party is just getting warmed up. Though less prominent, a favorite weekly for many locals is the Thursday night showcase, a free from jam session helmed by Johnny Vidacovich (drums), George Porter Jr. (bass), and June Yamagishi (guitar), or, more simply, The Trio. On the other three nights, several of the city’s best up-and-coming bands can be found honing their chops at The Leaf. Yet, as is the case whenever a band steps on to the Maple Leaf’s fabled stage, which bears a wooden cut-out of the great Booker, expect an incendiary spectacle.
8316 Oak St. / New Orleans, LA / 70118
CaptAbernathy // Groovescapes.com