WWOZ will be live video streaming from Spencer Bohren & the Whippersnappers concert at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Center on Saturday March 9, starting at 8p.
Sets will be at 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Admission is free; doors open at 7:30 p.m.
Most often seen as a solo performer, Bohren is a singer, songwriter, storyteller and master of the American folk/blues tradition. For this concert, he’ll perform both sets with his band, the Whippersnappers – which includes his son, drummer André Bohren and bassist Dave Pomerleau (both of the band Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes), guitarist Alex McMurray, keyboardist Casey McAllister and saxophonist Aurora Nealand. Be on the lookout for intimate duets with each of Bohren’s bandmates.
The concert also will feature an exhibition of Bohren’s visual art – three-dimensional shadowbox assemblages he calls Reliquaries.
A reliquary (also referred to as a shrine or by the French term châsse) is traditionally known as a container for medieval Catholic relics. These may be the purported or actual physical remains of saints, such as bones, pieces of clothing, or some object associated with saints or other religious figures.
For Bohren, they’re portable works he can create while on the road. Utilizing common objects encountered while traveling the globe, he constructs mystical miniature worlds contained in small boxes that appear to be relics from some ancient or medieval culture. They are precisely made, and their collaged surfaces create layers of meaning that suggest our unsuspected proximity to the metaphysical world. Atmospheric, ceremonial, mysterious, spiritual, and magical, Bohren’s Reliquaries are like mini treasures.
The works will be on display throughout the concert in the Jazz & Heritage Center lobby.
Spencer Bohren was born in 1950 to a gospel-singing family on the prairie of Wyoming, in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. He started performing in public at age 14, digging deeply into the Americana touchstones of blues, country, gospel and folk music, soaking up guitar styles and historical details from hundreds of sources, both popular and obscure.
He played with several rock, country and blues bands through the sixties and seventies, always touring and performing for an endless succession of audiences throughout the western states and along the west coast. In the mid-seventies, Bohren and his wife, Marilyn, left Boulder, Colorado, and found a spiritual home in New Orleans, starting their family there.
New Orleans had a profound effect on Bohren, musically and personally, and he quickly became a fixture on the local music scene with weekly gigs at Tipitina’s and at the Old Absinthe Bar on Bourbon Street. As his reputation grew in the city, he resumed touring, this time primarily in the southern U.S. Before long he made the decision to bring his family on the road so they could be together. For seven years the Bohren family traveled with an Airstream trailer while Spencer performed in countless venues all around the United States, sharing his love of America’s music with his growing audience and singing his own original songs.
In 1983, Bohren initiated a long and notable recording career with his first album, “Born in a Biscayne,” featuring Doctor John on piano, organ and vocals. The album’s title song remains a staple of Americana radio and is one of his most popular.
He has toured continuously ever since, performing in nearly every country in Europe. Bohren continues to celebrate the traditional music of America in concerts all over the world, performing his original songs, excellent guitar work, atmospheric lapsteel playing and spellbinding stories.
Spencer and Marilyn Bohren still live in New Orleans and have home-schooled their four children. The family home suffered significant damage during Hurricane Katrina and Bohren wrote the song "Long Black Line" about the experience. A dark, melancholy blues, the song was featured in Season Two of the HBO series “Treme,” with Bohren shown onstage performing it at the nightclub Chickie Wah Wah.
In 2018, Bohren released his 22nd album, “Makin’ It Home To You,” produced by his son André.
In addition to being a concert attraction, Bohren is known as an educator with a unique way of relating the history of American music. His documentary concert, “Down the Dirt Road Blues,” follows the journey of a single song as it travels through America’s history and culture. From its pre-slavery African beginning, the song slowly transforms into Mississippi blues, Memphis dance music, a banjo tune from Appalachia, Hank Williams’ early country music, Muddy Waters’ electric Chicago blues, and finally into folk music and rock ‘n’ roll, with nods to Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. Bohren’s narration gives students a historical context for the changes that keep the music relevant.
On Nov. 7, the Bohrens announced that Spencer has been diagnosed with stage IV prostate cancer. They maintain a blog about his health. A sold-out benefit concert Jan. 31 at Tipitina’s was a testament to Bohren’s continuing impact on the New Orleans music community.
The Jazz & Heritage Concert Series is a program of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, the nonprofit that owns the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage presented by Shell. The Foundation uses the proceeds from Jazz Fest, and other raised funds, for year-round programs in education, economic development and cultural enrichment. For more information, please visit www.jazzandheritage.org.