Spencer Bohren's annual winter concert at the Red Dragon Listening Room is a Baton Rouge tradition.
The New Orleans-based singer and storyteller's Red Dragon show is one of the rare solo shows he does these days. He’s been busy in recent years performing with an eclectic array of side projects, including the multigenerational Chilluns, and the Whippersnappers.
“But playing solo is the thread that runs through my entire career,” Bohren said. “I really like the folksy, storytelling thing that happens when I’m playing in a listening room like the Red Dragon."
Saturday at the Dragon, Bohren will move aside his vast repertoire of folk, blues, country and rock standards and focus on original songs.
“Because it’s such a songwriter venue,” he explained. “I’ve written lots of songs.”
A native of Wyoming, Bohren and his wife, Marilyn, moved to New Orleans from Colorado in 1975.
“We’d been on a nationwide quest to cover all the coasts of America,” Bohren said. “We came to New Orleans, and the city seduced us.”
Even before the couple’s coastal explorations, the fascinating things the Bohrens heard about New Orleans from one of the city’s stars, Dr. John, stirred their interest.
“My little trio opened for Dr. John in Colorado for a week,” Bohren said. “We heard about the Mardi Gras Indians and Professor Longhair in the radio interviews he did.”
After Bohren’s move to the Gulf Coast, he found a genuineness in New Orleans he hadn’t encountered on the West Coast.
“I’d been in bands in Los Angeles,” he said. “I’d toured all over the West. Even though I’d been in the music game, it wasn’t in my heart. I’m just a folk singer.”
Bohren moved to New Orleans shortly before the local rhythm-and-blues and roots music scene there reignited.
“There wasn’t much going on in 1975, but a renaissance was about to start,” he said. “I became part of that. The timing was perfect.”
Uptown music venue Tipitina’s, which opened in January 1977, played a role in the renaissance. Classic R&B performers and young musicians who’d been inspired by them shared Tipitina’s stage. Bohren’s Monday night residency at the New Orleans venue saw him on stage with musicians such as Aaron and Cyril Neville, the Meters’ George Porter Jr., and drummer Johnny Vidacovich.
“Tipitina’s was young, and a lot of hipsters were playing music,” Bohren said.
Eight years into the Bohrens’ first New Orleans residency, they left to travel the country with their children from 1983 to 1990. The gypsy lifestyle they led in a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air and Airstream travel trailer kept the family together while the singer toured.
“It was good,” he said. “But when we finished, we realized how hard we’d been working to keep it all on the road.”
In 1997, the Bohren family returned to New Orleans to stay. Performing has since become a family endeavor. Bohren’s band the Chilluns features his drumming son, Andre. The band also includes Darcy and Johnny Malone and their father, Dave Malone, of the Radiators, as well as guitarist Cranston Clements and his bassist daughter, Annie.
“We older guys don’t sing in the Chilluns,” Bohren said. “We’re the back line.”
Bohren also performs with the Whippersnappers, another multigenerational band featuring his son.
“It’s really fun to play with the Whippersnappers,” he said. “They love my songs.”
Another fan of Bohren's material is Chris Maxwell, owner of Red Dragon Listening Room.
"Spencer will play every year we do this," Maxwell said.
The love is mutual.
"I love Chris," Bohren said. "He's such a zealot. I wish there were more people like him."
SPENCER BOHREN/J.M. FRITZ
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Red Dragon Listening Room, 2401 Florida St., Baton Rouge
COST: $20, $30 VIP at brownpapertickets.com