Heart of Louisiana: Bluegrass at the Hi-Ho Lounge

Updated: Nov. 10, 2020 at 9:45 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - It’s not the kind of music that you might expect to find in a New Orleans nightclub. But Bluegrsss has been in the spotlight for more than a decade in a weekly jam session.

Now, COVID has pushed the live music online.

“Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the Hi-Ho Lounge on St. Claude Avenue. We’re the Bluegrass pickin' party. We want y’all to know no matter what happens we are just sittin' on top of the world,” says Tucker Baker.

These musicians have been gathering on Monday nights for more than a decade playing Blurgrass music at the neighborhood Hi-Ho Lounge in New Orleans.

Normally, the room would be crowded with amateur musicians, picking banjos, strumming guitars and singing in tight harmonies.

“You can tap your foot along with it. You can hear it. You can dance to it. It’s very open and amenable to people partly because it’s on acoustic instruments. Anybody can come and figure out how to stum a five string,” says Baker.

That’s how Monday nights were before the pandemic. Now a small group of pickers still gather on Monday nights, but the music is streamed online. Tucker, who is the group leader, says he took up the banjo in college in New Orleans.

“There was a class project. When I was at Tulane, we had to do a music culture project and I wanted to do mine on the banjo. Six years ago, I found this jam and I’ve been here ever since.”

When I think of New Orleans music, I think of Jazz, Blues, Dixieland, Funk, Rhythm and Blues, Rap. Yeah, I haven’t seen Bluegrass on that list. Shouldn’t this be a lot further north of I-10?

“Not necessarily. There’s been a lot of Bluegrass and related acts here in New Orleans. People been pickin grinnin a backyard and street corners for a while.”

Victoria Coy says she grew up in Abita Springs and learned the music from her father.

“My dad is from Appalachia and he learned from his grandmother who I’m named after,” says Coy. “And so, each generation taught the next that great, like minor chord driven Appalachian Bluegrass. And that’s how I got into it.”

Coy misses the pre-COVID jam sessions.

“A traditional Bluegrass circle. This is a thing that exists in Bluegrass music and it’s how the music is passed down. We don’t get that in COVID and I think that’s what we’re all very cognizant of losing,” says Coy.

But they’re determined not to let this musical tradition fade.

“We still pickin and grin. And despite this here pandemic,” says Baker.

So, every Monday you can log onto the Hi-Ho Lounge’s Facebook page and still tap your foot. Maybe even strum along at home to a type of American music that may just put a smile on your face.

They plan to keep pickin and grinning at the Hi-Ho Lounge every Monday night live on Facebook until the bar can reopen for business with an audience and more musicians.

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