Ponderosa Stomp marks its tenth anniversary this weekend: Times-Picayune
by Keith Spera
Ira “Dr. Ike” Padnos freely admits that he had no idea what he was doing when he founded the Ponderosa Stomp. An anesthesiologist by trade, he was also an avid collector of obscure rhythm and blues, garage rock, swamp pop, soul, blues and rockabilly records. He and a crew of like-minded friends conceived of the Ponderosa Stomp as a way to bring their collections to life via a multinight, jam-packed concert series. The guiding principle would be “all killer, no filler” — play the hits, then make room for the next act.
The first few Stomps spiraled out of control. The overstuffed concerts ran way late and typically lost thousands of dollars, with Padnos footing the bill.
But fans who attend this weekend’s 10th anniversary Ponderosa Stomp will witness a focused, streamlined program. The Stomp has expanded to include such daytime components as a film festival, a record fair and a scholarly conference produced with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Over the years, the Stomp has also staged events at Lincoln Center in New York and the Louisiana State Museum.
“It’s kind of surreal in a way,” Padnos said. “Major organizations think we know what we’re doing. And then you go see other programs and leave thinking, ‘We’re not as un-together as we thought we were.’ ”
The daytime elements of the Stomp are headquartered at the Renaissance Arts Hotel. For the first time, nighttime concerts are at the Howlin’ Wolf.
Friday’s show is built around tributes to Excello Records and legendary New Orleans studio owner and recording engineer Cosimo Matassa. Scheduled performers include Allen Toussaint, showcasing material from his original album, “The Wild Sound of New Orleans.” He and his band will also back Dave Bartholomew, Clarence “Frogman” Henry and Robert Parker.
Also on Friday are Lil Buck & the Top Cats, Frankie Ford, Jean Knight, Jay Chevalier, Lazy Lester, Little Leo, Bobby Rush, Carol Fran and G.G. Shinn.
On Saturday, the Bo-Keys anchor a tribute to Stax Records with William Bell, Eddie Floyd, Otis Clay and more. Saturday also features Big Jay McNeelly, Lady Bo, Arch Hall Jr., Billy Boy Arnold, Joe Clay, Guitar Lightnin Lee, Lavelle White, Deke Dickerson & the Ecco-fonics and garage rock band the Sluts.
“When I started this, there was never really a game plan,” Padnos said. “It was let’s just book musicians that never come to New Orleans and see if we can get people to come recognize what they did. It has exceeded all my expectation. I never expected it to be going on 10 years.”
Saying ‘I do’ to the music
The seeds of the Ponderosa Stomp were sown when Padnos booked a bevy of obscure musicians for backyard parties and for his wedding. Michael Hurtt, leader of the Haunted Hearts and, like Padnos, a vinyl junkie, crashed the wedding.
“If Michael hadn’t crashed my wedding, none of this would have happened. Afterward, he started pestering me about why couldn’t I book these acts in New Orleans.”
So he did. For weeks ahead of the first Ponderosa Stomp, Padnos received a nightly call from Dave Bartholomew, the great bandleader and co-creator of the Fats Domino catalog.
“He’d call at midnight, saying, ‘You need to advertise! No one knows what this is going to be! No one is going to be there!’ He came the first night, walked backstage, and said, ‘OK, this is going to work.’ ”
In those early years, musicians were skeptical of the premise.
“When we started, we had to find people and call them out of the blue. They thought it was hilarious, that we had this crazy thing.
“But once they played it, they wanted to come back. And they told their friends. There was this rumor out that if you were an old musician, there’s some guy in New Orleans who will hire you. Now people call us.”
Learning the biz
Padnos, Hurtt and their cohorts in the Mystic Knights of the Mau-Mau struggled to promote and stage the early Stomps. What was a fair fee for an artist who hadn’t performed in years? Expenses spiraled out of control, as they booked too many musicians, flew them to New Orleans and housed them in nice hotels, all so they felt respected.
“We found out we were basically a nonprofit, even though we didn’t call ourselves one,” Padnos said. “It wasn’t a money-making event; let’s just say we weren’t very fiscal. We ran it from a fan’s perspective.”
Now the Stomp is legally a nonprofit endeavor. Padnos and company “have learned a lot about business, more than we wanted to know.”
Initially, they staged the Stomp between weekends of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Moving it to the fall meant it could be on a weekend. In the fall, hotel rooms and other costs were reduced. It could grow as a destination event. And being on a weekend made the Stomp more convenient for Padnos’ doctor buddies.
“Operating rooms start at 7:30 in the morning. You don’t want your medical staff out until 4:30 and then coming to work,” Padnos said.
The ones that got away
Over the years, some musicians on his wish list have eluded him. He was never able to book Ike Turner. He tried to get ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons to reconvene his original, psychedelic band, Moving Sidewalks, to no avail. Neither could he reunite The Sonics, an early garage band from Tacoma, Wash.
By definition, “unsung heroes” are generally unknown to the general public. That presents a challenge when trying to market them. When Padnos booked the Trashmen, people didn’t realize it was the band that originally recorded “Surfin’ Bird,” which was featured on a popular episode of “Family Guy.”
“Everybody in the world seems to know ‘Surfin’ Bird’ from ‘Family Guy,’ but no one knows who the Trashmen are. They know the song but they don’t know who sang it. You have to educate people as to who the artist is. We’re educating as we’re going.”
The Stomp’s website is an education resource, with extensive biographies. And its daytime panels are stocked with music-makers and history-makers.
“Rather than have it be a talking head conference with experts, we decided the expert would be the moderator. Let the guys who were there do the talking.”
This year’s Clandestine Celluloid film festival includes a 1962 Fats Domino concert film, a documentary about Sam & Dave, and a tribute to Arch Hall Jr., who wielded a guitar in a series of bizarre early ’60s films.
The Stomp prides itself on avoiding the obvious. Thus, it had never staged a tribute to Stax Records, until this year.
“Everybody always does them. We really didn’t what to do what everybody else does. But we had the Bo-Keys, the best band to do this. So I quit fighting the urge.”
Given the ubiquity of the warhorse “Mustang Sally,” acts are generally discouraged from performing it at the Stomp. But this year, Padnos will make an exception.
“This will be the first and only time that I’m actually happy to hear ‘Mustang Sally’ at the Stomp. Because Mack Rice, who wrote ‘Mustang Sally,’ will be there to perform it. That’s why it’s allowed to be played.”
What: An annual music festival celebrating the uncelebrated musicians who have contributed to the American roots musical canon.
When: Friday and Saturday, Sept. 16-17, 7 p.m.
Where: Howlin’ Wolf, 907 S. Peters St.
Tickets: $50; for tickets and more information, go to ponderosastomp.com.
Also: The Clandestine Celluloid Film Series and the Music History Conference, in which musicians tell stories of their lives and work, at the Renaissance Arts Hotel, 700 Tchoupitoulas St.; $20 per day tickets cover both events.