Tom Thayer, owner of the popular Frenchmen Street dba concert hall, has spent the pandemic working from a table and sofa in front of his empty stage.
“The dance floor,” he noted recently, “has been my office for six months. “
But now he will have to find a new office.
This week, Thayer launched “dba Live”, a collaboration with the live streaming platform StageIt.com. The plan is for dba to broadcast live up to 10 live performances per week, with 2 p.m. shows for European night viewers, followed by 8 p.m. series for North America.
The series kick off Wednesday at 8 p.m. with soul-funk-blues guitarist and singer Walter “Wolfman” Washington & the Roadmasters, a staple of dba’s midweek lineup since 2006. Blues guitarist Little Freddie King, another dba regular before the pandemic, will do a 2 p.m. set Thursday, followed by the Soul Brass Band at 8 p.m.
The series continues Friday with the Tin Men at 2pm, followed by Dwayne Dopsie & the Zydeco Hellraisers at 8pm Burlesque artist Trixie Minx will chair her weekly “Minx Burlesque” show on Tuesdays at 8pm Walter “Wolfman” Washington & the Roadmasters hold on wednesdays.
The shows on StageIt are live; nothing is prerecorded or archived. Viewers who pay the virtual coverage fee – most dba shows cost $ 5 – can use a chat feature to submit song requests and ask questions in real time, and also tip musicians.
For Thayer, “dba Live” represents a new chapter for a club he thought he was done with now.
In March, exhausted and ready to move on, he put the business and 3,516 square foot building up for sale at 618 Frenchmen Street.
But its timing was terrible: the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the closure that followed crushed the concert hall market.
So he instead reinvented the dba as a virtual place.
“A lot of people think I sold it. I get text messages every week, “Heard this person bought it.” No, it’s still the original owner, still the same guy who has been booking shows for 20 years.
“It was a crazy race. And now we are entering a new chapter for dba ”
When the original dba opened in New York’s East Village in 1994, Thayer was the first person hired by the company’s four partners / investors. A satellite dba then opened in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn (it closed in 2014).
In 1999, Thayer was sent to start a dba in New Orleans. As a ‘sweat equity guy’ he set up the Frenchmen Street dba in time for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 2000. Over the next two decades he organized the nightly list of mostly local music presented to alongside a full menu of craft beers and spirits.
Thayer gradually integrated into the company. This process has accelerated over the past decade as it settled the estates of several deceased business partners.
The name of the New Orleans star ensemble, The Magnificent Seven, was optimistic, at least in terms of programming: for a period of three years …
A partner, Ray Deter, died in a 2011 Manhattan bicycle accident, two weeks after the New Orleans dba began expanding its stage. Another partner, New Orleans photographer and music fan Dennis Zentek, collapsed and died in 2014 in New York City of an undiagnosed brain injury.
Peter Artaserse, dba’s main capital investor, owned 80 percent of the Frenchmen Street building and 49.5 percent of the business when he died in early 2017 of complications from a fall down a staircase. During Thayer’s two years settling Artaserse’s estate, two minority partners also died.
“Every estate settlement was an adventure,” Thayer said. “You can’t write that.”
The value of the building on rue des Français had increased tenfold since 1999. Thayer had to take out a loan to buy back Artaserse’s share and take full ownership of the building.
“My nut doubled in April 2019,” he said. “Since then, I’ve been catching up. “
He was also exhausted from years of dealing with lawyers and CPAs. And as Frenchmen Street changed from a predominantly local crowd to a tourist destination, he found himself less and less in his club.
So he decided to put dba on the market right after Mardi Gras 2020. He figured he would close the sale after celebrating the club’s 20th anniversary at Jazz Fest 2020, then open a new bar in another part of the city, where he could again serve a local clientele.
Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews normally feels at home at the Dome.
The onset of COVID-19 has derailed those plans. When dba first hit the market in March, “there was a lot of interest,” Thayer said. “This interest has waned as this pandemic dragged on. “
After declining a few cheap offers, he realized it was time to “switch to plan B”.
He started selling dba products online which has gone “pretty well”. And now he’s teamed up with StageIt to bring music, and hopefully income, back to dba after six lean and quiet months.
StageIt has become one of the main beneficiaries of the COVID-19 shutdown. With over 700,000 regular users, site traffic has grown exponentially.
A team from the company’s headquarters in San Francisco arrived in New Orleans this week to wire dba to stream live broadcasts with multiple high-definition cameras and premium sound quality.
“Successful livestreams have high production values,” Thayer said. “It will be one of them.”
Live broadcasts for an online audience “that’s where we’re going to be for a little while. The economy needs to move forward, but we also need to be smart and secure.
“And even when we go ahead and allow guests to see shows, we will still use this online platform to present live shows. It will be part of dba indefinitely. I believe in this platform. Live broadcasting is now part of our industry.
Revenue from virtual ticket sales is split between StageIt, location and groups. Musicians will also keep any tips they earn during a performance, Thayer said.
“I am doing everything I can to make this platform work. If people want to help venues and musicians, they have to go to those platforms and watch shows. “
He feels revitalized by the challenge of reinventing the club. “Instead of dealing with lawyers and CPAs, I’m now dealing with artists and creativity, which is why I love this job. That’s exciting.
Years ago, Hank Staples, owner of Maple Leaf Bar, had a brilliant idea: what if classic New Orleans concert hall shows could only be broadcast …
When local venues reopen, he thinks Frenchmen Street “will become a street for locals again.” Perhaps I will once again be an institution reserved for locals.
So dba is no longer for sale?
“Everything is for sale,” Thayer said. “If anyone has approached me, nothing is out of place at the moment.
“All I know is I have to keep my head above water. Hope I can do this job. I invested everything I had in it.