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Blake Pontchartrain: Roy Orbison at Audubon Zoo 

A brief history of Roy Orbison in New Orleans

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Hey Blake,

A guest sent us a photo of this poster from a Roy Orbison concert at the Audubon Zoo. Unfortunately we can't seem to find a record of the year. Can you help? It looks like it was a fantastic show!

Chimene Grant
Vice President of Marketing
Audubon Nature Institute

Dear Chimene,

  Fans who turned out for that Roy Orbison concert at the Audubon Zoo probably had no idea it would be among the musician's last performances. His May 22, 1988 concert at the zoo with Three Dog Night came just seven months before his death Dec. 6, 1988 at age 52.

  Orbison's show was advertised in The Times-Picayune as part of a "Rhythm and Zoos" concert series to inaugurate the zoo's Hibernia Bank Pavilion, which was built in 1983 and remodeled in 1988. Among the acts playing there in the 1980s were James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, The Beach Boys and The Bangles. The pavilion (now the Capital One Stage) also is the setting for Irma Thomas' annual Mother's Day concert.

  Orbison's first local appearance likely was a 1956 concert at the Municipal Auditorium, which came months after he signed with the legendary Sun Records label. The show featured Johnny Cash and Johnny "Battle of New Orleans" Horton. Orbison also made an August 1962 appearance at Pontchartrain Beach.

  He did two shows in January 1982 at Richie's 3-D club in Kenner. Reviewing the show in The Times-Picayune, Bunny Matthews called the singer, his dark clothes and sunglasses "eccentric" and said "he smiled a bit, strummed the guitar and slipped into a trance." Still, Matthews wrote, "Orbison's singing is as rich as chocolate mousse." In 1983, Orbison kicked off a three-year run at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. In 1984, 2,250 people boarded the riverboat President to see him perform a Jazz Fest night concert. In 1987, he performed at the opening of the Hard Rock Cafe on Decatur Street. The next year, in addition to playing the zoo, he rode in the Endymion parade and performed at the krewe's Extravaganza at the Superdome. Endymion had other star power that year, with grand marshals Dolly Parton, Heather Locklear, Smokey Robinson, Gloria Estefan and Bud Light beer mascot Spuds MacKenzie.

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