I Finally Dropped In on the Dew Drop Inn
I'm a strong believer in physically visiting the cities and landmarks in which my favorite music was born. Reading books and looking at historical photos are great for getting some background, but nothing can give you context and perspective like physically standing in the spaces where music was created.
For example, before I visited Memphis, my understanding of the music and history was based on a collection of stories and anecdotes and my mind then painted it's own picture. Actually visiting there completely reorganized my understanding of things. I had always envisioned Stax studios being in a commercial district. In reality, it's in the heart of a residential area. This explains why it functioned as a community hub, the home-grown feel of the music, and how so many of the artists on the label actually got there. As a "struggling artist" I've been challenged to have the funds to do much traveling in my life, but bit-by-bit I've made my musical pilgrimages around the country. I still have a number to check off my list, but New Orleans is finally "mission accomplished" for me.
The number one place on my "must visit" list of New Orleans, was the Dew Drop Inn. It's mentioned in nearly every history of New Orleans R&B. When I had the chance to interview Allen Toussaint many years ago, he referenced the club more than once, as being the place where he earned his professional chops.
I recent years, as people have become more accepting of LGBTQ existence, writers have been more open about sharing the queer R&B history of New Orleans, and specifically, the Dew Drop Inn's role in that.
With a drag queen Mistress of Ceremonies (Patsy Vidalia) regular drag show revues, and the annual Gay Halloween Ball, the Dew Drop established itself as a place where queer R&B culture could be appreciated and on some level, normalized. The fact that some place like this existed in Dwight Eisenhower's conservative USA is astonishing. For me, it makes the Dew Drop Inn queer hallowed-ground, and though I wasn't able to see the inside (as the building has been shut down for a few years), I still felt blessed to be standing in front of the place where something truly magical and inspirational took place.
Once again, my imagined idea of what I was going to see was very different from the real experience. Like Stax Studios, the Dew Drop lives in a residential area, not in the midst of the nightlife district (as I had imagined). And again, this explains why it became a community hub and how it became the "incubator" of New Orleans post-WW2 R&B (as Deacon John as has described it). The moral of the story is, get out and do your own musical tours. It will completely change the way you appreciate the music you love.
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