For more than a decade, Dr. Ira Padnos has been taking those old records off the shelf and making them come to life.
The guiding force behind the Ponderosa Stomp, an annual music-film-seminar festival taking place in New Orleans Sept. 24 and 25, Padnos uses his collection of LPs and 45s from the 1950s and ’60s to guide his selections to celebrate the forgotten pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll. This year he has booked guitarist Duane Eddy, the Trashmen, East L.A. legends Thee Midniters, ’60s soul singer Sugar Pie DeSanto and LaLa Brooks, a singer in the girl group the Crystals, to perform and speak. Singer Ronnie Spector and New Orleans producer-composer-trumpeter Dave Bartholomew will discuss their respective heydays, and documentarian Les Blank is among the filmmakers screening their work and participating in Q&As.
“We don’t feel like this is an oldies show,” says Padnos, who goes by the name Dr. Ike when he’s at the Stomp and away from the LSU Hospital in New Orleans where he works as an anesthesiologist. “We run it revue style, make sure we have a sympathetic backing band and (ask musicians) to keep true to their (original) sound. We want the musicians to show the influence they had, make sure the foundation (of what they did) gets shown.”
The idea sprang up after Padnos had informally consulted with New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, its roots planted as a two-hour showcase in a Jazzfest tent in the 1990s. In 2001, a concert featuring Philadelphia soul singer Howard Tate kicked off the Stomp at the small Circle Bar with a single microphone, some gear and no stage. “It was a house party,” Padnos says, “a spirit we try to retain” at the much larger House of Blues.
From there, the Stomp has grown as a New Orleans event and elsewhere: They have staged one-night Stomps in Austin, Texas, during SXSW and presented, for the last two years, concerts at New York’s Lincoln Center. This summer, they focused on Detroit in the 1960s, presenting Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, ? and the Mysterians, the Gories, Funk Brother Dennis Coffey and the Velvelettes.
Padnos, since day one, had wanted to implement an educational element to the festival and after the fest moved to Memphis in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he was able to use the resources of the Stax Museum and the Sun Studios to bring in the producers, independent label owners, songwriters and session musicians who had contributed to early rock ‘n’ roll and soul music.
The Ponderosa Stomp is part of the festival landscape that has blossomed the last few years as cities across the U.S. become associated with a particular festival at a specific time of year. While there are deep-pocketed promoters behind fests such as Coachella in the Southern California desert in April, Ponderosa Stomp is more akin to the locally promoted events such as Bonnaroo in the wilds of Tennessee, Outside Lands in San Francisco and the FYF near downtown Los Angeles that attracted 20,000 alternative music fans on the Saturday of the Labor Day weekend.
“We’re attempting to get a better economic model,” is Padnos’ polite way of saying the festival’s balance sheet has been out of whack throughout its existence. “I was the major corporate sponsor for awhile. On the other hand I was able to help people out. That was the trade off.”
With Stomp organization formalize in the last year, its first-full-time employee was hired to deal with logistics and finances to free up Padnos to run the committee of six that selects the acts and organizes the conference, which is in its third year, and the film festival, now in its second go-round.
While he expects to return to SXSW in March with a multi-act showcase — they took 2010 off due to a museum-research project stretching the staff thin — Padnos figures it will remain a three-city festival (New Orleans, New York and Austin) with March, August and September dates.
“I like controlled growth so we don’t lose sight of the music,” Padnos says. “The music, on many levels, is recognized as timeless, but people forget about the performer. They say they love the song, but they don’t say anything about the performer or that they are still capable of performing.”