Photographer and filmmaker Danny Clinch's initial response to Preservation Hall was the same as many visitors.
"Man it's tight in here," he says. "But I didn't want to change the vibe of the place by over-lighting it. I'd rather shoot what's there."
Keeping it simple was not going to be easy, because he, Ben Jaffe, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the rock band My Morning Jacket were collaborating on a midnight concert, which was packed with fans. The result is the concert documentary Live at Preservation Hall: Louisiana Fairytale, a gorgeous hour-long portrait of the two bands almost completely unrehearsed show. While the bands had been on tour together, My Morning Jacket had not performed its own songs acoustically, and the film captures the two bands just hours before the show working out a few songs they would perform jointly for the first time.
Louisiana Fairytale gets its third public screening at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art's Films at the O series this weekend. Also screening are Harry Shearer's The Big Uneasy, about the Hurricane Katrina levee failures, and God's Architects, about Louisiana folk artists.
The Lousiana Fairytale screening coincides with the end of the Ogden's exhibit commemorating Preservation Hall's 50th anniversary, which closes Sunday. The film includes some documentary information about the hall, but its primary focus is on the collaboration between the two bands. There also is some footage from My Morning Jacket's set at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival that weekend, when the Preservation Hall Jazz Band joined in for the last several songs. The bands played "St. James Infirmary," Ernie K-Doe's "Mother-in-Law" and My Morning Jacket's "Highly Suspicious." The film features acoustic versions of those at the Hall, and if anyone who caught the Jazz Fest set was left wondering why Jim James sometimes sang into a red megaphone, it's explained in the film. The relic belonged to Sweet Emma Barrett, pianist and leader of the first Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
My Morning Jacket first worked with the Preservation Hall band when they collaborated on "Louisiana Fairytale" for Preservation: An Album to Benefit Preservation Hall, but there were several local connections that are reflected in this film. James had come to New Orleans several times following Hurricane Katrina to assist in relief efforts, and that's how he became familiar with local R&B legends and songs, including Ernie K-Doe and Al "Carnival Time" Johnson (who also made a guest appearance at the 2010 Jazz Fest set). Clinch knew the band and Ben Jaffe (who co-produced the film) separately, and he had done a photoshoot with the Dave Matthews Band in Preservation Hall's courtyard in 2009. When My Morning Jacket was set to play Jazz Fest, Jaffe and Clinch together hatched the idea of filming the evening concert, and everyone quickly agreed. A minimal amount of planning went into the show and filming it, but the result is a remarkable documentary.
"It was an epic moment," Clinch says. "What I love about the film is that you feel like you're in the room."