Vineyard Gumbo

For the love of New Orleans

Posted July 13, 2006

This week the Island community will get a soul infusion as Vineyard Gumbo unfolds across the Vineyard. The week-long celebration of New Orleans culture will give Martha's Vineyard the opportunity to savor the cuisine, music, art, and culture of the great American city that continues to struggle in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Coordinating the ambitious event are local artist Steve Lohman, known for his wire sculptures, and his brother, Jon Lohman, a former New Orleans school teacher who now is director of the Virginia Folklife Program. The Lohman brothers have assembled a remarkable roster of luminaries from the New Orleans creative scene. The event will commence on July 18 at the Tabernacle when the Treme Brass Band, one of New Orleans's most celebrated musical outfits, will lead a "Second Line" parade from the Tabernacle to Union Chapel. There, Nick Spitzer, host of National Public Radio's "American Routes," will offer a keynote address on the importance of New Orleans in American history and culture. As the week progresses, participants can enjoy dining with James Beard Award-winning chefs Leah Chase (the 83-year old "Queen of Cajun Cuisine") and Frank Brigsten, attend an authentic New Orleans crawfish boil, explore an art exhibit by Justin Lundgren titled "Greetings from New Orleans," attend a screening of the film "Post-Katrina" to learn about restoration efforts in the city, listen to Jazz pianist Henry Butler, and move to the funk beats of Galactic, a group the New York Times claims provides "the most danceable music on earth."

Steve Lohman in Mardi Gras garb: Photo by Jon Lohman
Steve Lohman in Mardi Gras garb. Photo by Jon Lohman

Love in action

For the Lohman brothers, the festival culminates a lifetime love affair with the Crescent City. Steve, a metal sculptor, and Jon, a folklore scholar, have made numerous pilgrimages to New Orleans over the last two decades to savor its rich and complex culture.

"There's no place like New Orleans," says Steve, who has showed his original artwork in numerous galleries in the city. "I love New Orleans more than any city on the planet and was heartbroken by what happened. I was even more heartbroken by what's happened since."

In the initial planning stages, the Lohman brothers had more modest aspirations. Perhaps they'd host a private party and fly up a New Orleans chef to cater it. Then, as the project began picking up steam, they found themselves transporting 30 people from New Orleans to Martha's Vineyard along with cooking gear, musical instruments, fresh iced crawfish, and other accouterments of the Big Easy. As the project evolved, the brothers decided to expose as large a segment of the local population as possible to New Orleans culture.

New Orleans piano legend Henry Butler
New Orleans piano legend Henry Butler is a featured festival performer.

"New Orleans is this remarkable place and you can't understand it unless you've been there," says Steve. "That's why I'm trying so hard to bring these people up, to give the people on Martha's Vineyard a real taste of what it's like."

At least half of the events are free of charge; others have admission fees in a range of prices, which will make it possible for everyone to take part. All proceeds raised by Vineyard Gumbo will go to several New Orleans charities. Beneficiaries will include The New Orleans Musicians Fund, The New Orleans Restaurant Fund, and a special fund to restore Leah Chase's landmark restaurant, Dooky Chase. Sponsorship by the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation and the Viking Range stove company have helped transport personnel and equipment from New Orleans to Martha's Vineyard for the gala festival.

The Tremè Brass Band
The Tremè Brass Band will keep the festival rocking.

In addition to raising badly needed funds to preserve New Orleans culture, Steve Lohman says the event has a dual mission of keeping New Orleans in the forefront of everyone's minds. "A lot of people in America have short memories or have been misinformed. They think New Orleans is rebuilding and everything's okay; people are drinking on Bourbon Street again so everything must be fine. That's not the case. New Orleans is in a critical situation right now. The decisions that are being made right now are going to affect that city forever."

Whether Vineyarders celebrate Vineyard Gumbo with authentic Cajun cuisine, marching in a line band through the streets of Oak Bluffs, viewing a documentary film and listening to the panel discussion afterwards, or dancing to the funk rhythms of Galactic, they're certain to get a taste of what makes New Orleans an American cultural treasure.

Jon Lohman: Photo by Steve Lohman
Jon Lohman, ready for Mardi Gras. Photo by Steve Lohman.

For Mr. Lohman, the festival's ultimate goal is simple.

"I want people to go away with a love of New Orleans and a concern for this city."

Vineyard Gumbo Events

Tuesday, July 18

Traditional New Orleans Second Line Parade, 6 pm, Tabernacle, Campground, Oak Bluffs. Free. Led by The Tremé Brass Band, winners of the 2006 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Award. Free.

Opening Ceremonies, 8 pm, Union Chapel, Kennebec Ave., Oak Bluffs. Key Note Speaker, Nick Spitzer, Director of NPR's American Routes radio show from New Orleans will present a multi-media show "Rebuilding the Land of Dreams with Music." Donations accepted.

New Orleans: Photo by Steve Lohman
A New Orleans neighborhood, shut down after Hurricane Katrina hit. Photo by Steve Lohman

Festival Opening Party Buffet, 9 pm, Oyster Bar, Circuit Ave., Oak Bluffs. Music by the Tremé Brass Band and featuring a collaborative New Orleans buffet, prepared by our visiting celebrity chefs: James Beard Award-winners Leah Chase and Frank Brigtsen, and Corbin Evans (formerly of Bayona, now executive chef at Savvy Gourmet), and Poppy Tooker of the New Orleans Slow Food Consortium, along with Alex Washut, Oyster Bar chef. $45 in advance; $55 at the door

Wednesday, July 19

Cooking Demonstration, 11 am, LeRoux at Home, Main St., Vineyard Haven. Frank Brigtsen, winner of the 2006 James Beard Award. Free.

New Orleans Crawfish Boil, 4 pm, Lola's, Beach Rd., Oak Bluffs. Prepared by Leah Chase, the "Queen of Creole Cuisine." Net proceeds to benefit the rebuilding of historic and beloved New Orleans restaurant, Dooky Chase. Music by the Tremé Brass Band. $75 in advance

Nick Spitzer of NPR's "American Routes,": Photo by Steve Lohman
Nick Spitzer of NPR's "American Routes," keynote speaker for the Vineyard Gumbo festival.

Thursday, July 20

Cooking Demonstration, 11 am, LeRoux at Home, Main St., Vineyard Haven. Corbin Evans and Darin Nesbit. Free.

Artist's Reception, 5 pm, e'kaya Gallery, State Road, Vineyard Haven. New Orleans artist Justin Lundgren will exhibit his recent project "Greetings from New Orleans." Free.

Gala New Orleans Jazz Dinner, 7 pm, Atria, Main St., Edgartown. Prepared in collaboration by our visiting celebrity chefs, Leah Chase, Corbin Evans, Darin Nesbit and Poppy Tooker; with music by the incomparable New Orleans piano player Henry Butler. $500 in advance.

Jazz in the Brick Cellar, 10 pm, Atria, Main St., Edgartown. New Orleans All Star Jazz Jam Session. $20 at the door.

Friday, July 21

Cooking Demonstration, 11 am, LeRoux at Home, Main St., Vineyard Haven Leah Chase and Poppy Tooker. Free.

Panel Discussion and Film, 2 pm, Island Theater, Circuit Ave., Oak Bluffs. "Post Katrina; The Role of Traditional Culture in the Recovery of New Orleans." Donation accepted.

Henry Butler Concert, 7 pm, Old Whaling Church, Main St., Edgartown. New Orleans piano legend. $25 in advance.

Saturday, July 22

Jazz Brunch, 10 am, Cornerway, Chilmark. A la carte menu created and prepared by visiting New Orleans chefs, Leah Chase, Corbin Evans, Darin Nesbit and Poppy Tooker, along with Cornerway's Caribbean chef Deon Thomas. Live jazz. Call 508-693-4839 for ticket price.

Galactic Concert, 9 pm, Outerland, Airport Rd., Edgartown. New Orleans Premier Funk Band. $25 tickets in advance. Call Outerland box office at 508-693-1137 ext 11.

For full information on the Vineyard Gumbo festival, visit vineyardgumbo.com.

Julian Wise is a frequent contributor to The Times, specializing in music, film, and the performing arts.