Tipitina’s will apparently not host the annual Instruments A Comin’ fundraiser on the Monday between New Orleans Jazz Fest weekends, as it has for the past 17 years.
The popular all-star fundraiser is a casualty of the club’s sale late last year by businessman and real estate developer Roland von Kurnatowski to members of the band Galactic.
Over the years, Instruments a Comin' – featuring a marching band "battle of the bands" outside the club and a marquee procession of local musicians, including Galactic, inside — has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy instruments for school band programs.
On a foggy night in December, Galactic bassist Rob Mercurio paused on the corner of Tchoupitoulas Street and Napoleon Avenue, pondering the en…
According to a joint statement released Tuesday by Galactic and Tipitina’s, the terms of the club's sale gave Von Kurnatowski the right to hold the Instruments A Comin' benefit this year at Tip's on Monday, April 29.
But with less than two weeks to go, the statement said, “neither Tipitina’s nor Galactic has received any information from Roland Von Kurnatowski or any of his associates on what their plans are for this year's Instruments A Comin'.
“We have reached out numerous times to try and get clarity on what Mr. Von Kurnatowski's proposed plans are for Instuments A Comin' and the date at the club. Unfortunately, at this time we have received nothing concrete.”
Von Kurnatowski disputes that notion.
“We’ve been talking about it for months," he said Wednesday. "This notion that I’ve not responded is foolishness. They just don’t like the response.
“My position is that the date is not mine to give up. I believe that our understanding was that they would put on the Instruments a Comin' function, benefiting Tipitina’s Foundation, for two years. Since they have decided not to put on the function, it is their call as to what to do in its place."
Von Kurnatowski, whose other projects include the restoration of the Orpheum Theater and an ongoing initiative to redevelop South Shore Harbor near the Lakefront Airport as an entertainment district, fully acquired Tipitina's in 1997.
Von Kurnatowski and his wife, Mary, launched the Tipitina’s Foundation as a 501(c)3 non-profit in 2003. The foundation's many endeavors, in addition to the instruments initiative, included a well-respected music mentorship program run by saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr.; numerous students received scholarships to the Berklee College of Music.
The Tipitina's Foundation was not part of the sale of the club and the related business to Galactic, which closed on Nov. 30 after months of negotiations. According to the statement released by the band, the terms of the sale allowed Von Kurnatowski to continue to use “Tipitina’s” as part of the foundation's name for a “limited wind-down period.”
Von Kurnatowski said that the sale agreement gave Galactic an unspecified time period to decide whether or not to continue the Tipitina's Foundation. "They have not notified me of anything," he said. "They have not told me if they want to do it or they don't want to do it. That issue is in limbo."
In years past, Von Kurnatowski said, the foundation organized Instruments a Comin's outdoor activities: an auction, a VIP tent on the neutral ground, and a battle of the bands. The club's staff booked and organized the all-star concert inside.
"Historically, Instruments a Comin' was put on by Tipitina’s for the benefit of the foundation," Von Kurnatowski said. "It was never a foundation event. They said I had to pay a deposit and rent (this year). This is outside of what was discussed. I said no."
Now, Von Kurnatowski said, "they are trying to get me to agree to give up the date as if the whole affair was just a rental by the foundation.
“I don’t have a hold on that date. The way I understand it is they made a commitment to do Instruments a Comin’ for the Tipitina’s Foundation. And they don’t want to do that."
Tipitina’s employees met Monday for the first time with their new bosses — bosses they already knew in a different context: as musicians.
The statement released by the band and club Tuesday said, “We are currently in the process of putting together our own philanthropic events in the future and look forward to announcing those plans very soon."