The Candlelight Lounge, that beloved impenetrable cinderblock on Robertson Street in Treme, has seen the good, the bad and the ugly for over 30 years. It stands alone bearing witness to the great music genes that live in the historic bloodline of the oldest Black neighborhood in the country - or it used to be before the ‘transition’ aka gentrification took over the hood post Katrina. The Candlelight is the last live music bar in what was once the musical hub of the city. Long gone are landmarks like the Caledonia, Little People’s, Joe’s Cozy Corner, Treme Music Hall which nurtured legendary greats like the Dirty Dozen, Treme Brass Band, Rebirth Brass Band, Lil Rascals, New Birth, Tuba Fats, Trombone Shorty and James "Satchmo of the Ghetto aka "12" Andrews. And although many of the musical acts still perform in some form or fashion, all of the aforementioned music clubs have permanently shuttered their doors with the exception of the Candlelight (Little People’s opens periodically to neighborhood folks but don’t have live music).
The bar’s owner, Ms. Leona ‘Chine’ Grandison, has somehow managed to hold on, refusing to let it go by the wayside or sell it - and there have been many offers - ambling through the years without air conditioning, heat or a functioning kitchen. She hopes a combination of the fundraiser concert happening today and online outreach through the bar’s GoFundMe page will get her the $80K she needs to do the very necessary renovations to the bar.
On any given week, the Candlelight opens itself up to some of the finest juke joint moments New Orleans has ever seen - and thats a big claim. Wednesday nights have featured the Treme Brass Band with band’s bass drummer, the late great Uncle Lionel, sashaying through the crowd, passing the big plastic tip jar, dressed to the nines with his wrist watch clutching the base of his fingers, his personal sartorial trademark. Trumpeter Kenny Terry tearing off the roof with beloved standards like ‘I Ate Up The Apple Tree’ and ‘Li’l Liza Jane’. Trumpet Black played one of his last New Orleans performances at the Candlelight before boarding the plane to Japan where he died suddenly as a result of infected tooth. Glen David Andrews pops in with his blustery one-of-a-kind iconic trombone playing and Louis Armstrong-style singing, wowing visitors from Japan, Sweden, Hollywood, Brooklyn… David Simon, rapper Mos Def (Yasiin Bey) and actor Wendell Pierce are all regulars along with trumpet legend Greg Stafford, Big Chief Alfred Doucette, members of the Dumaine Street Gang, the Money Wasters and on and on and on… Its a hole in the wall neighborhood bar, very bare bones, but filled with so much energetic cultural gumbo it can’t help itself from making big moments happen.
Trombonist Corey Henry, cousin to Ms Chine, is the organizer behind today’s event. His entire family has worked at the bar in various capacities over the years. His mom worked behind the bar, Corey plays there regularly with his band Treme Funktet, and his father ‘Bo Monkey Red’, grand marshall for all of Treme’s cultural events, is a regular fixture at the Candlelight who can almost always be found by the bar, if not dancing, chatting and playing ambassador then hammering nails and doing handyman jobs.
“(Chine) been trying to do renovations since Katrina," Henry said. "She went ahead and got started but ran out of money, she doesn’t have means to get it fixed. Its hard to run a business when you don’t have AC and heat. We gotta do our part as musicians to help out. This is the last live music venue in Treme, it’s very important that we maintain it.”
Tickets are $20 requested donation. Music runs from noon to 9 p.m. and features TBC Brass Band, Da Truth Brass Band, James "Satchmo of the Ghetto" Andrews, Corey Henry’s Treme Funktet and others. Food vendors will be on site.
If you can't make today's concert you can still support the fundraiser online via their GoFundMe page.