This month, visitors and locals can hear special holiday sets from world-class performers in one of the country’s oldest cathedrals. Ellis Marsalis kicked off a free holiday concert series hosted by the St. Louis Cathedral on Dec. 2. Nine concerts follow, with acts ranging from classical and Cajun to gospel and klezmer music.
Originally intended to drive visitors to New Orleans during a slow period for tourism, the Christmas New Orleans Style concert series is now in its 33rd year and has attracted a strong local following.
“It has evolved into this monthlong celebration,” said Emily Madero, president and CEO of French Quarter Festivals Inc. “Our mission is always to showcase the strength and diversity of Louisiana music and culture. You’re seeing world-class talent in a historic venue for free.”
The series is a partnership between French Quarter Festivals Inc., a nonprofit, and New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, an underwriting partner. The 2017 series brings holiday concert regulars (Marsalis, John Boutte, The Zion Harmonizers, Opera Creole) as well as a few newcomers.
“Beau Soleil is new (to the series); the whole Boutté family is debuting; Wendell Brunious is debuting, and Panorama Jazz Band is debuting,” said Greg Schatz, French Quarter Festivals Inc.'s entertainment manager. “There will be a good amount of variety there — we’re excited.”
Returning performers are looking forward to playing music for audiences of up to 900 people in the cathedral as well.
“We’ve been at the St. Louis Cathedral three or four times over the years — wonderful would be an umbrella word to cover it,” said Brazella Briscoe, president and managing director of the Zion Harmonizers.
“The way they designed things architecturally back (when the St. Louis Cathedral was built in 1727) was for projection without microphones,” said Givonna Joseph, artistic director of OperaCreole. “The sound in there is wonderful.”
Performers generally incorporate holiday music into their hourlong sets.
“Our concert is a mixture of music mostly by composers of color, with some traditional songs like (George) Handel’s Messiah,” said Joseph, who co-founded OperaCreole with her daughter Aria Mason. “We’ll have some songs in Louisiana Creole and one in Haitian Creole, and I’ll talk about our wonderful cultural traditions. St. Louis Cathedral is a beautiful, sacred place, but we try to make it not too stuffy or formal.”
“We always feature traditional four-point harmonies and a lot of a cappella singing,” Briscoe said. “(Our set) is a mixture of regular songs and some Christmas songs, like ‘Go Tell It on the Mountain.’”
Concerts start at 6 p.m. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., and visitors are encouraged to arrive on time. Madero expects approximately 10,000 people will attend a Christmas New Orleans series concert.
“It’s first come, first served, so the earlier you come, the better your options are for seats,” Schatz said.
Madero encourages audiences to stick around after the concert and enjoy the French Quarter in all its festive glory.
“You can see a great free concert and then enjoy a Reveillon dinner,” Madero and “You’re not going to get that anywhere else but New Orleans.”
6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 5
Javier Olondo (Latin)
6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 6,
Beau Soleil Trio avec Michael Doucet (Cajun)
6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7
Opera Creole (classical opera)
6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10
The Boutté Family (gospel)
6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 11,
Wendell Brunious (jazz)
6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 12
The Zion Harmonizers (gospel)
6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec.13
Panorama Jazz Band (jazz/world/klezmer)
6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 14
Davide Mariano (classical organ)
6 p.m. 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17
St. Louis Basilica Annual Christmas Concert (classical)