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The Mermaid Lounge, revisited: “reunion” festival celebrates the New Orleans venue 

A two-day festival features bands and artists from the dive bar’s past

click to enlarge Quintron orchestrates a performance at The Mermaid Lounge.

Photo courtesy of Anthony DelRosario

Quintron orchestrates a performance at The Mermaid Lounge.

Anthony DelRosario booked more than 400 shows at the Mermaid Lounge, the dive bar and music venue on the edge of the Warehouse District that closed in 2004. For more than a decade, the venue — a century-old former po-boy shop on the narrow John Churchill Chase Street, now occupied by The Rusty Nail — served as an alternative concert hall, squeezing in crowds around the bar with bare stage spaces in the corners. From 1999 through 2004, DelRosario and his Turducken Productions booked more than 500 shows in New Orleans, with local bands filling opening slots several times a week.

  "The Mermaid was my home away from home," DelRosario says. "It was like family there. My friends hung out there, worked there. I spent hours and hours and hours there."

  DelRosario resurrects Turducken for Mermaid Lounge Reunion — A Festival at The Truck Farm Dec. 9 and 10 with bands and artists (all Mermaid regulars) including Rob Cambre, Chef Menteur, Egg Yolk Jubilee, The Geraniums, the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars, Royal Fingerbowl, Norco Lapalco and others.

  "With people moving here, I don't know if they know the history of independent music in New Orleans," DelRosario says. "Do they know what the Mermaid is?"

  Tuducken's show history reads like a chronology of rising independent artists from the late 1990s to mid 2000. DelRosario booked Smog with Joanna Newsom (with Silent Cinema opening), Stars of the Lid, Animal Collective, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor with Labradford, with Godspeed band members filling most of the bar. The Mermaid also hosted Cat Power, who started reading a newspaper during her set, and Jim White, who played for only the bar staff before Hurricane Georges made landfall in 1998. Turducken booked dozens more shows at venues around the city, including Elliott Smith at the Howlin' Wolf in 1999, Bratmobile at El Matador in 2002 and Arcade Fire opening for The Unicorns at One Eyed Jacks in 2004.

  The Mermaid was fertile ground for a growing local scene of independent rock bands (Hotchkiss, Silent Cinema, Testaverde, Rotary Downs) and a beloved nucleus in a pre-Hurricane Katrina scene. DelRosario typically got to the bar at 9 p.m. with a pot of black beans and rice and a dirt-cheap case of Schaefer Beer for the bands.

  "The Mermaid shows always started late," he says. "A lot of bands were expecting to get there early to soundcheck. I was like, 'Well, you can get there at 9.'"

  The PA soundboard was mounted on the wall around the corner from the bar, "so the person running sound couldn't see the stage," DelRosario says, laughing. Crowds often spilled into the backyard if it was too busy, loud or hot. During a brief period without air-conditioning inside the bar, Warren Ellis' Dirty Three kicked open the doors.

  During Halloween and Mardi Gras, DelRosario also produced annual Masked Balls starting in 1996, with local bands dressing up as and performing songs as Brian Eno, Prince, Joy Division, The Ramones and Kraftwerk, among others. There also were weekend-long festivals, art markets, a one-off elaborate Glenn Branca tribute, fundraisers and album release parties.

  In 1999, Turducken released a compilation record featuring several New Orleans garage and punk bands (Ramparts, Leopolds, Persuaders, Royal Pendletons, Darkest Hour, Famous Monsters and MacGillicuddys), recorded live over several nights at the Mermaid in 1998. (DelRosario modeled the album artwork after the 1980 New Orleans punk compilation N.O. Experience Necessary on Oblique Records.)

  Bartenders from the Mermaid also will bartend the reunion festival, and there's food from Juan's Flying Burrito, Sugar Park, Two Girls One Shuck and Gianna Chachere.

  "It crossed so many varieties of people, so many cross sections of art scenes, music scenes, and all kinds of crowds mingled together," he says.

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