Co-producers the Rev. Ben Wisdom and his partner, Little Luna, probably should get credit just for pulling off the debut of the Snake Oil Festival in 2015.
It was a massive undertaking that featured 70 performers over three days at the Howlin’ Wolf last June. If there was any disappointment, it might have been the attendance on the third and final day.
But those 200 or so fans who were in attendance, they recalled, were on their feet with many dancing in the aisles as the featured music act, Dr. Sick, whipped them into a frenzy.
“I met many people from other states who had heard about this festival and came specifically for this event — not to perform, just to watch,” Little Luna said. “Which kinda blew my mind.”
Despite the Sunday fall-off, the debut drew about 1,000 fans, leaving room for improvement in 2016.
One change? Move the weekend back so that Sunday doesn’t fall on Father’s Day, Wisdom pointed out.
Building on 2015’s strong foundation, the Snake Oil Festival hopes to be bigger, better and even more twisted as it presents a full complement of what is referred to as the variety arts — a hodgepodge of New Orleans and touring burlesque, circus arts and circus sideshow acts all spread out over three nights.
The producers are sticking with the same thematic structure as last year, but with headliners for each night instead of just on Saturday.
Friday’s “Carnival at the Crossroads” will highlight such popular sideshow performers as sword-swallowers, aerialists, human blockheads and glass walkers. The headliner: the hilarious Mab Just Mab, a Washington, D.C., sideshow performer (and a hit from last year) who blends human blockhead and clown-like movements with pure comedy.
Saturday’s “Hoochie Coochie Babylon,” featuring co-headliners Karolina Lux, of Portland, Oregon; and Marlo Marquise, of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Emcee is Vinsantos, of New Orleans Drag Workshop fame.
Sunday’s “Unholy River Revival” is a mock tent revival, emceed by Wisdom in his Elmer Gantry-meets-Jimmy Swaggart persona overseeing music, dance and mayhem. The soundtrack once again will be provided by Dr. Sick and his band, along with the St. Cecilia Asylum Chorus.
Lectures and workshops focusing on everything from vaudeville history to performance instruction will fill the daytime hours.
“Each show,” Wisdom said, “breathes with a life all its own.”
Both producers see the Snake Oil Festival as a way for New Orleans to plant its flag as one of the nation’s hubs for variety arts performers — whether it’s burlesque, circus arts or sideshow.
It’s a feather in the cap for the festival to be able to bring in an almost completely new roster of national touring performers who want to showcase their work before a New Orleans audience.
“I think it makes sense for this unique festival celebrating vaudeville and Americana to exist in New Orleans,” Little Luna said. “I’m so happy to have a part in bringing it to fruition.”