Just before the turn of the century, Zander Andreas, who had recently founded San Francisco’s Boom Boom Room with blues icon John Lee Hooker, took his passion and knowledge for promoting events from the Bay Area down to New Orleans for a Jazz Fest celebration that, at the time, was a rarity. Despite the city traditionally allowing few if any outside promoters to throw parties—especially during Jazz Fest—Andreas and Boom Boom Room Presents began what is now a 20-year tradition of bringing various musicians from California, New Orleans, New York and more together into unique lineups for incredible superjams, some of which have even turned into long-running groups.
Now that these late-night collaborations have become standard fare throughout the city during Jazz Fest, Andreas looks back on the history of his Boom Boom Room Presents, from the first NOLA shows to this year’s offerings, which wrapped up this past weekend and featured some of Andreas’ longtime bands like Dragon Smoke, Frequinox and Worship My Organ.
First, I am from San Francisco, born and raised here generationally. Actually on Fillmore Street, like six blocks up from the Boom Boom Room itself. I went to New Orleans with some friends when I was 16 years old to visit another friend of ours who had moved there. He was like, “Come down for Mardi Gras!” Of course, it was a rager and I loved it. Then, I went to Marquette University in Milwaukee. And when Mardi Gras hits, it’s earlier on and it’s cold as hell in Milwaukee in February, so I would jump in my friend’s 1973 Fleetwood Cadillac and we would roll down, blowing off our midterms. So, we barreled down there every year, and if it wasn’t that, it was for Jazz Fest.
In California I used to host parties—believe it or not, it wasn’t too difficult back then to rent houses and party boats as a 16-year-old kid. And of course, I used to make fake IDs back when it was really easy to do that in California. Then through college, I threw together these little festivals, one of them was called Mr. Jiggles Spring Jubilee, which was pretty much a psychedelic mushroom festival with a lot of local bands from our college and around Milwaukee that you can find in the park when it’s warm.
So anyway, all that stuff led up to when I created the Boom Boom Room after I met John Lee Hooker and we became friends. [Bringing him in at the end of the process] was an afterthought really, but it was a good thought. Boom Boom Room was primarily blues for all the legit cats—I don’t think I had a white guy in there on stage for the first two-and-a-half years. It was all these old [blues players], often not regarded but pulled out of retirement or from obscurity, like Smokey Wilson.
A couple years after I started the Boom Boom Room in ’97—which was my 21st year, so the legal age to drink—I came to this little funky old beat-up hotel on North Rampart [Street in New Orleans]. That’s when New Orleans was still New Orleans. I mean, New Orleans is always great, but it has changed a lot,. Back then, there was this place called the French Quarter Courtyard Hotel, not in the Quarter but on the outskirts on Rampart Street. It had probably 35 rooms that overlook the courtyard with a little pool and a 24-hour bar in it. You could get a drink any time you want—4 a.m., get a Bloody Mary, whatever you want.
So, I decided after staying there that I was going to throw some parties. In ’98 or ’99—I started doing shows in San Francisco at other venues, as Boom Boom Room Presents, in ’99—I was responsible for bringing out most of the New Orleans musicians [to California], almost all of them. They don’t really leave New Orleans, and they used to play in the same circuit, like a bubble. Except for bands like Harry Connick Jr., it was a difficult thing to get New Orleans musicians out of New Orleans. And I was responsible for getting all of them over the course of ’98, ’99, 2000. I started bringing out Walter “Wolfman” Washington, the Wild Magnolias, Kermit Ruffins. You name it, they’ve played there at the Boom Boom Room. Even The Meters got together, before they reunited. I would have George Porter and Zigaboo [Modeliste] there. I remember one night, I had Merl Saunders, who was a really close friend of mine.
New Orleans was sort of a closed community—it’s good ol’ boy network, in a way. Outsiders aren’t really welcome to participate—like, “Enjoy our culture, but as far as coming in and doing something, we already have people and clubs with stuff going on with our locals playing.” What I decided to do was throw a party [at that hotel] with a combination of New Orleans musicians and some West Coast musicians who were not known, like Will Bernard and other cats. I took over the whole hotel since it was only 35 rooms and I was able to get a good rate.
So that was my home base for about four or five years, probably just until Katrina or maybe longer. I put all these techno-beam lights in front of the courtyard balcony and I put in stage in there. After negotiating with the hotel, I set up a bar outside and had a caterer with red beans and rice and crawfish. I invited every musician that I knew for a private party during Jazz Fest. My first year, I did “Boom Boom Room Presents the Cali-Style Pool Party” featuring a couple bands that I brought out and some New Orleans musicians. It had an open bar and I had my door man from San Francisco, Tom, in the hallway. I had The Meters and Nevilles come, any musicians or any mangers who I thought would be in town as well as people from down there like club owners that I knew or wanted to know, and also friends and family. Probably like 150 people. I suppose it was a very successful party, and of course the music was something different from just your standard New Orleans stuff. It was New Orleans musicians playing for the first time with people from out of state.
I did that that year and had a great response, so I did it again the next year. And all of a sudden, by the next year, a couple of these club owners were like, “This is such a raging cool fucking idea and concept—we would have never known these players. I was wondering if you wanted to do some shows at our venues?” So, I did the Boom Boom Room Presents shows. The second year, I also had nighttime gigs, which was the first time ever that an outside promoter had done shows in New Orleans more than once. I had four or five shows that I set up. I did Jimmy’s, which was an old club in New Orleans, and then moved into the Dream Palace, which is now known as the Blue Nile. In those days, the Dream Palace was both upstairs and downstairs, like a house party, with DJs upstairs and bands downstairs. Those were pretty successful as far as people having something different. Meanwhile, I had already been in the process of putting together musicians from the San Francisco Bay Area, New York and New Orleans and created a couple different concoctions. I was the only outsider promoter down there doing these late-night parties, which were basically starting at 2 a.m. and going all night. That was a sort of novelty back then—most shows would be done by 2 or maybe 3 a.m.