We never know how one thing will lead to another.
Take Olivia Eunio, for instance. In 1885, the Mandeville resident had no idea of the seeds she was planting when she founded the Dew Drop Social and Benevolent Association to help African-Americans with things such as food, housing and funeral arrangements. Ten years later, the Benevolent Association constructed a building on Lamarque Street in Mandeville that began attracting some of the up-and-coming jazz greats from New Orleans: Kid Ory, Bunk Johnson, Buddie Petit.
Abandoned in the mid-1940s after decades as a community treasure, the Dew Drop got a new lease on life in 2000 when local businesswoman Jacqueline Vidrine donated it to the city of Mandeville.
Since then, the Dew Drop Jazz and Social Hall has made its musical mark under the oaks of old Mandeville and has just kicked off its 2019 spring season.
“It’s one of the world’s only remaining unaltered jazz halls,” said Jamie Roche, a member of the Friends of the Dew Drop, which manages performances and educational programming for the building. “We learn new things about it all the time.”
The Friends of the Dew Drop includes a 13-member board of volunteers, Roche said.
“I've been involved since 2014, but many of our board members have been around since the organization was founded, almost 20 years ago," she said. "We all share a variety of duties including booking musicians, marketing our events and scheduling our school music programs in St. Tammany Parish schools (JazzKids).
"It's very rewarding work, and we're all so honored to be able to showcase and perpetuate the rich musical traditions of this region.”
Though music is its main focus, Roche said, there is more to the Dew Drop story.
“Our ... mission is to preserve our local music culture for generations to come,” she said. “But the Dew Drop itself is really so much more than that, and this becomes evident when you attend a concert and are on the grounds. It's a wonderful gathering place for the community in which all ages are welcome and encouraged to attend.”
Eunio founded the Dew Drop as a community center in 1885, and community is still front and center.
“Families walk, push strollers or ride bikes over for the evening concerts, and people get so excited just to be in such a special space and in close proximity to the musicians,” Roche said.
“It's a transformative performance experience, too, not only as an audience member but for the performers as well. They often comment on how they really feel as one with the legendary musicians from a century before who performed on our historic stage.”
Helen Gillet, whose band Wazozo will perform at the Dew Drop on March 23, agrees. “I love playing at the Dew Drop. It is spectacularly peaceful and enchanting,” said Gillet, who will be performing an eclectic mix of French, contemporary jazz, North Indian, blues and classical styles when she and Wazozo take the stage.
The Dew Drop will stay “true to the original styles of music played in the building in the early 1900s, jazz and blues," Roche said. But lately, we're also showcasing different genres of music from south Louisiana as well.
“Every show is different, and it's great that people trust us with what we present, keeping an open mind, from exploring new artists who are making a name for themselves in our populated music scene or cheering on some of the notable and nationally known artists that live in this region."
The season opened March 9 with a tribute to trumpeter Bunk Johnson with pianist Steve Pistorius. “A lot of people will be thrilled with some of the big name groups in the lineup,” Roche said, “like legendary guitarist Walter ‘Wolfman’ Washington and the Grammy Award-winning band Lost Bayou Ramblers from Acadiana.”
Roche said the Friends of the Dew Drop always has an eye on the future — which is why the JazzKids school program is so important to the Dew Drop’s mission.
“Creativity and improvisation are the forefront of our JazzKids school programs, as we present free music assemblies and master classes to St. Tammany Parish schools and students,” Roche said. “The purpose of our educational initiative is for students to cultivate an appreciation of our indigenous music so they can hopefully pass it on to their own kids one day."
The seeds Olivia Eunio planted in 1885 just keep growing at 430 Lamarque St. in Mandeville.
Admission to the Dew Drop Jazz and Social Hall is $10 at the door. Food is available for purchase next door from the women of First Free Mission Baptist Church. Seating is available inside, or you can bring your own chair for outside seating. Shows are from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The spring lineup includes Helen Gillet & Wazozo on March 23. On April 6, it's Walter ‘Wolfman” Washington & the Roadmasters. Combining rhythm and blues, blues, New Orleans funk and modern jazz, Washington and The Roadmasters have been performing on local and national stages since the 1980s.
On April 20, the swinging New Orleans Cottonmouth Kings, composed of six former members of the now defunct New Orleans Jazz Vipers, take the stage, playing traditional and not-so-traditional New Orleans jazz.
The Grammy-winning Lost Bayou Ramblers perform May 11. With nine albums, score contributions to the Oscar nominated film “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and support slots with national acts, the Lost Bayou Ramblers have earned a international reputation.
Rounding out the season on May 25 are The NOLA String Kings with John Rankin on guitar, Don Vappie on guitar, tenor banjo and upright bass, and Matt Rhody on violin and mandolin. All three sing as well as play.
For information on the Dew Drop Jazz & Social Hall, visit dewdropjazzhall.com