The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival may have come and gone, but to an ever-growing number of diehards known as the Threadheads, the last day of Fest, (which is always the first Sunday of May) is really just the first day of planning for the following year. The Threadheads can be found chatting and planning on the official Jazz Fest website. It is here where, in late 2002, this community began to spread the love for all things New Orleans. The topics of conversation found in this forum aren't always about the Festival exclusively. If you want to know how Aaron Neville is dealing with his asthma, or what New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is up to, or if a new restaurant has opened in the French Quarter, there's a good chance the Threadheads will have the scoop before anyone else.
In 2005, the Threadheads organized a party, or "patry," as they like to call it, simply as a social gathering for those who had been communicating for the last few years over the internet. In 2006, the Threadheads now in a post-Katrina state of mind, turned the second annual "patry," into a benefit for the hurricane ravaged city that they love, and raised $5,000 for the New Orleans Musicians Clinic. In 2007 a raffle was added, and $17,000 was raised. This year the raffle and "patry" raised $30,000. But it was during this year's event, while Paul Sanchez and John Boutte, two of New Orleans most beloved musicians, were performing a set of music for the Threadheads, that Chris Joseph, one of the fund-raising coordinators of these events, had the proverbial lightbulb go on in his head. The beautiful set of music had finished and Joseph casually mentioned to the musicians that they should make a record together. Sanchez replied, "Well, we would if we had the money." Joseph said, "How much do you need?" And Threadhead Records was born.
As Joseph explains it:
"I talked to a few fans at the party, and realized there was a lot of interest to support this effort. So, after Jazzfest, I posted on the Jazzfest chatboard that I wanted to find investors to raise money for the making of the album. We raised about $12,000, and sent it to Paul. After sending Paul the money, we formed Threadhead records."
Two records, with the help of producer Dave Pirner of the rock band Soul Asylum, were recorded with the money. In March of this year, John Boutte's Good Neighbor and Paul Sanchez' Exit to Mystery Street were released. Reviews have been very good to excellent. Joseph continues, "To date, the Threadheads have been paid back more than half of their original investment. At this year's Threadhead Party, which is held the Tuesday in between first and second weekends of Jazz Fest, no less than four musicians came up to me to discuss getting the Threadheads to finance their CD projects, including Susan Cowsill and the dynamic young trumpet player Shamarr Allen."
Recent high profile deals struck by superstars such as The Eagles and Journey have made a point of cutting out the middle man, the major record labels. Cutting exclusive deals with Walmart, currently the #1 music retailer, the bands see more of the profits. Threadhead Records seems to be taking it one step closer to the artists. When I asked Chris Joseph about the goal of Threadhead Records, he explained:
"Ultimately, the goal is to help out as many New Orleans musicians as we can.... to help them earn a living, to help them get their records made since very little funding is out there for that, and to expose their music to as many new listeners as possible. We need to keep the music we love alive. Help the musicians we all know and love. And as we get even closer with them it becomes that much more special."
As Paul Sanchez puts it:
"Threadheads Records is unprecedented, a non-profit record company that gets musicians to help themselves and other musicians. I'm prouder of that association then anything I've done in the music business. You have given me a way to help rebuild, one song at a time."