By Emily J. Weitz
They were the Who Dat Loungers, swinging their New Orleans-style nine-piece orchestra all over the New York metropolitan area. The name came from a phrase that electric bassist and vocalist Joe Lauro saw on one of his many trips to his beloved New Orleans.
“It was the name of a lounge,” he recalls. “The Who Dat Lounge. I took a picture, and it never left my mind. Then it became this local New Orleans phrase: the New Orleans Saints used it. A year in [to performing together as the Who Dat Loungers] we got a Cease and Desist from some yahoo lawyer in New Orleans that he had a trademark on the phrase ‘Who Dat’. This guy had taken on the New Orleans Saints and the city of New Orleans, and they all settled. So we decided to avoid a long legal battle, and just change the name.”
Now they’re the Hoo Doo Loungers. Same sound, same vibrant energy, different name.
“Our core band has been playing together for about three years,” says Lauro. “We play a lot of originals (arranged by David Deitch) and a lot of traditional New Orleans tunes with a new jolt to fit the way our band plays.”
The influence of the one and only city of New Orleans is palpable in the music. For the past 20 years, Lauro has been going back and forth to New Orleans pretty regularly, and he’s currently working on a documentary about the legendary Fats Domino.
“I know Fats’s family,” he says, “and a lot of musicians down there. The band comes out of mine and David Deitch’s love of the music of New Orleans and the city.”
Just as New Orleans itself has a diverse set of influences, so do the Hoo Doo Loungers.
“David and I both love New Orleans, but we have slightly different focuses,” says Lauro. “I like the traditional jazz, like The Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Louis Armstrong. I like the rhythm and blues of New Orleans. David, on the other hand, likes more of the funky stuff, like the Neville Brothers and Buckwheat Zydeco.”
When fused together, these influences offer a sort of a retrospective of the city’s musical heritage.
“What I love most about our band,” says Lauro, “is we play so authentically. We’ve had other people play with us and say there’s no band more authentic than ours. It’s just that I love that music. It’s such a joy to play.”
It’s also a joy to listen to and to move to, which is why the Hoo Doo Loungers are finding lots of opportunities to play their happy music from New York City to Montauk. This Friday they’ll be playing at the Jalopy Theatre in Brooklyn before heading out to Sag Harbor on Saturday. They, along with Gene Casey and the Lone Sharks, will be playing at Bay Street the Saturday night of Harborfrost for a Mardi Gras party that will get everyone moving. [NOTE: THE SATURDAY EVEN HAS BEEN CANCELLED].
“Mardi Gras is in February this year, and the whole idea of Fat Tuesday is that it’s the last day you can eat and party before you have to fast before Easter,” explains Lauro. “This show is the weekend of Mardi Gras, and gives people a great night of partying and fun with two really good bands. People get dressed up and get in the spirit.”
While Mardi Gras has a reputation of being all about getting drunk and crazy, Lauro emphasizes the family aspect of the holiday.
“We do the second line, where the musicians go into the crowd and make a sort of parade,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun for all ages. It’s not about getting drunk – it’s about celebrating the joys of life through music.”
New Orleans is a city where, upon arriving at the airport, you’ll hear Louis Armstrong crooning from all the speakers. The musical heritage cannot be extracted from the culture of the town.
“New Orleans truly has that distinction,” agrees Lauro.
The double billing of the Hoo Doo Loungers and Gene Casey and the Lone Sharks guarantees a lively evening at Bay Street.
“We gear our band towards trying to bring joy to people through music,” says Lauro. “Unlike a lot of bands, we add much more of a visual aspect. And Gene Casey, too, is a showman. We’ll have a lot of showmanship onstage. There’s a theatrical aspect to what we do. People are gonna have a good time.”