Fun Under the Frescoes: Paul Sanchez at St. Alphonsus
A great singer/songwriter can weave a story that transports you, and sometimes a great venue can pull off the same trick, too. That’s the double bill promised tonight when Paul Sanchez takes the “stage” to begin a new concert series inside St. Alphonsus, one of the city’s epic but sadly underappreciated examples of architecture, history and community wrapped up in a church building.
The event is called Fun Under the Frescoes (more on that name in a moment) and it happens 6 to 8 p.m. tonight, Wednesday, Nov. 14, at St. Alphonsus (2025 Constance St., 524-8116).
Paul Sanchez needs no introduction, but here’s a quick one anyway. He was a founding member of Cowboy Mouth, and toured with that fun-rocking outfit for 15 years. After Hurricane Katrina, he was championed by the progressive, fan-led music label the Threadheads and began a prolific string of new recordings and performances, often with collaborator John Boutté. He portrayed himself in HBO’s “Treme” series and for the past few years has been part of the team creating the New Orleans musical "Nine Lives".
Sanchez also happened to grow up close to St. Alphonsus in the Irish Channel, the neighborhood named for the influx of Irish immigrants that also inspired the creation of St. Alphonsus.
This church is in the center of a cluster of old religious structures sometimes called “Ecclesiastical Square.” It’s home to two historic Catholic churches built next to each other for separate Irish and German parishes during the European immigration boom of the mid-19th century. The Irish worshipped at St. Alphonsus, which was consecrated on the same day in 1858 that the cornerstone was laid across the street for St. Mary’s Assumption, an equally impressive structure built for German-speaking Catholics. Meanwhile, Notre Dame de Bon Secour was built a few blocks away on Jackson Avenue for the French (there’s more on the history of this interesting corner of the city here).
Mass ended at St. Alphonsus in the late 1970s as its neighborhood was falling into serious decline, and the church began to fall apart too. However, it was not forgotten. A preservation effort has been underway since at least the 1990s and now the church is operated as a community center with periodic events. It’s also open to the public Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Just walk inside and you can see why it’s worth the fight. Behind its beautifully-bricked exterior, St. Alphonsus harbors a soaring nave of lushly Gothic details, gorgeous stained glass and fine frescoes on the ceilings high above, inspiring the name for tonight’s event. It might be the most beautiful church interior in the city, and even though I’ve passed this church 100 times, stepping inside it always makes me feel like a traveler wandering into the weathered cathedral of some European town well off the tourist maps.
It also makes a pretty stunning venue for a music performance and social gathering, which is what Fun Under the Frescoes is all about. The concert series benefits Friends of St. Alphonsus, the group working on the building’s restoration.
For the event, the bar will be stocked with beer and wine, plus margaritas and, fittingly enough for the Irish Channel locale, Jameson Irish Whiskey. Food will be available for sale from Ms. Linda Green, the second line fixture known as the Ya Ka Mein Lady, who has been appearing on national food TV programs lately.
Admission is $10, which includes three complimentary drinks. Pay $25 to become a member of Friends of St. Alphonsus and you’ll get free admission to the whole four-show series.
What: Fun Under the Frescoes
When: Wednesday, Nov. 14, 6-8 p.m.
Where: St. Alphonsus, 2025 Constance St.
Here’s the rest of the series:
Dec. 12: Holiday Show with the Pfister Sisters
Jan. 9: Philip Melancon
March 13: Irish Celebration, Crescent City Celtic Band plus the McTeggart Irish Dancers