When the New Orleans Bingo! Show started in 2002, it was yet another musical project for founder Clint Maedgen. He found bingo game boards in a thrift store and was inspired to create the first version of the group that merged theater, rock and a game of bingo in the back room of Fiorella’s restaurant on Decatur Street.
The New Orleans Bingo! Show takes the stage Friday night at One Eyed Jacks, and once again it will be Maedgen’s baby as long-time ensemble member Ron Rona will no longer perform with the group.
Rona was one of the clowns in the troupe, and he served as emcee for the show under the stage name Ronnie Numbers. But he’s become increasingly busy as managing director of Preservation Hall, and, he decided, “It’s time to let Ronnie Numbers go. I’m excited, not just for the next chapter of the this show, but for the next chapter of my personal creative output as an artist.”
Last year, he produced a show at the Kennedy Center in New York City with the Bingo! Show, Lafayette indie rock band GIVERS, Quintron and Miss Pussycat, and New Orleans bounce diva Big Freedia.
Rona and Maedgen agree that he will still be a part of the group, but not onstage.
“I’ll continue to work with Clint and the Bingo! Show, creating new opportunities and adventures for him and the group,” Rona said. “I never considered the Ronnie Numbers character to be an integral part of Bingo!; I always just wanted to help and be around happy and super creative people.”
The group had a different lineup when it took a bus to New York City to play a six-week engagement in November 2002 that often ended up with impromptu games on the streets of the Big Apple, and it had a different lineup when it played Bonnaroo in 2006, where members paraded through a field of sleeping campers banging on garbage cans, blaring sirens and playing homemade instruments.
Now, Maedgen’s excited to have two baritone saxophones as part of the band’s sound. And, instead of clowns Ronnie Numbers and Mr. the Turk (played for years by Matt Vaughan) to assist in the bingo game that remains at the heart of the show, burlesque performer Trixie Minx and two other dancers are his onstage foils.
Bingo! began as a second project for the musically restless Maedgen, whose rock band, Liquidrone, owed a heavy debt to Tom Waits’ junkyard sound.
The songs that became Bingo! songs came to him while biking through the French Quarter, where the sounds of the city and the calliope inspired him.
“I write while I’m in motion,” he said.
There was a time when Maedgen’s musical entities were more clearly separate, but he has played Liquidrone songs in the Bingo! Show and vice versa. “It’s what resonates with the players,” Maedgen said.
Maedgen has long had dreams of establishing a theater that would be the permanent home of the New Orleans Bingo! Show — a room where members could set up their instruments and props and work on tweaking the show instead of staging it anew each time.
But Maedgen also plays in the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and that group’s demanding tour schedule allowed him time for a dozen or so Bingo! Show gigs last year.
His place in the Preservation Hall Jazz Band came as a result of the Bingo! Show. Hall artistic director Ben Jaffe saw it one night in Fiorella’s back room and asked if Maedgen wanted to sing with the band.
In 2004, he did so and started touring with the band first as a part-time member, then as its full-time sax player.
Being a member of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band has taken him around the world and allowed him to see what New Orleans music means to people. “The beauty of the hall is that it creates an opportunity for this music to be heard,” Maedgen said.
Time on the road fuels his appreciation of New Orleans and the Bingo! Show, and when he returns he reconnects with his muse.
“Every time I get home, I jump on my bike and take a spin,” Maedgen said. “It’s New Orleans that’s putting these songs in the air. I’m just lucky enough to be grabbing them out. Bingo! couldn’t exist without New Orleans.”