BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Mardi Gras celebrations in the Queen City will be different this year due to COVID-19 restrictions- but The Big Easy in Buffalo is making sure that there will still be live music to enjoy.
They’re hosting a live-streamed version of their 14th Annual Mardi Gras Jam this Saturday starting at 5:30 p.m. on The Big Easy in Buffalo Facebook page.
The event usually showcases multiple acts from New Orleans, but this year, it will feature local acts Ten Cent Howl and the Buffalo Brass Machine.
Each band will play its own set, and then they will play a set together, said Tod Kniazuk, artistic and executive director of The Big Easy in Buffalo.
On Tuesday, they’ll post a special virtual show with performances from five New Orleans groups- John “Papa” Gros Band, Joe Krown, Josh Paxton, Marc Stone, and the Storyville Stompers Brass Band.
“So one way or another, we’re bringing the Big Easy back to Buffalo, even if it’s virtually,” Kniazuk said.
The Big Easy in Buffalo is a non-profit organization that brings musicians and groups from New Orleans and Louisiana to Buffalo for free or low-cost performances, as well to help mentor student musicians. Local acts are often tapped to open these shows, and the New Orleans musicians provide some mentorship for them as well, Kniazuk added.
Many of the bands The Big Easy brings in are smaller acts- and the group works with a number of venues throughout the city to find the perfect spot for them to play.
“When we say ‘New Orleans-style music’, that can be anything,” Kniazuk said. “Americana, Cajun, zydeco, brass band, funk, rock, bounce- there are so many kinds of New Orleans music and Louisiana music.”
The organization was started in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when many New Orleans-based musicians were suddenly without gigs after clubs closed.
“We were having a national conversation about why New Orleans music and culture is important,” Kniazuk said. “Musicians didn’t have gigs, they were going on tour because there were no clubs open at home at the time.”
Due to the pandemic, The Big Easy in Buffalo hasn’t been able to bring in acts from New Orleans- but they’ve shifted to helping bands at home.
“Our Buffalo bands had all their shows canceled- we would have worked with them as openers anyway, so we said, ‘let’s do a local series’,” Kniazuk said. “It’s kind of a really good reflection of our mission- it all started to make sure people had work when they needed it, and we continued that.”
Bands are guaranteed a paycheck from the livestreamed events, and there is also an option for viewers watching the stream to tip the band, Kniazuk added.
“It’s been wonderful,” he said. “The few performances we were able to have live audiences for, they showed up. A few of the live streams have gotten thousands of views- it’s opened the bands up to new audiences.”
The Big Easy in Buffalo has other livestream shows coming up as well- they’re listed here.
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April 3 – The Buffalo Touch
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Kaley Lynch is a digital reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2017. See more of her work here.