POSTED Thu. Jun 18, 2015


Snake Oil You'll Want to Purchase
Adam Karlin
Written by ADAM KARLIN

The burlesque scene has exploded in New Orleans over the past five years, and with it came a concurrent fascination with old timey circus acts in general. The two have a lot in common – there’s a ton of cultural connective tissue between the concepts that manifests in stripey outfits, corsets, jazzy, brassy soundtracks and sailor tattoos of burlesque.

Now, because New Orleans gonna New Orleans, we have a festival celebrating the phenomenon.

The Snake Oil Festival, which embraces circus acts, sideshows and burlesque in all of its variety, takes over the Howlin’ Wolf this weekend from Jun 19-21. This is the festival’s inaugural year, so give it some love, and give us a moment to switch into carnival barker voice: There’s gonna be thrills! There’s gonne be chills! There’s gonna be 60 burlesque and sideshow acts, from strongmen to gypsy jazz.

New Orleans has always had a passion for theater, costuming and side hustle, and circus acts draw off of all of this phenomenon; even the name ‘Snake Oil’ suggests someone who bamboozles an audience with a wink and a smile, as the audience plays along for the sheer enjoyment that comes from a good bamboozling. We’re a people receptive to the sideshow and the circus act; we know the beads we catch during Carnival are useless, but their physical value isn’t the point. It’s the show that comes with the throw, as it were.

This year’s Snake Oil Festival comes courtesy of local performers Ben Wisdom, Little Luna and Ginger Licious, who have wrangled circus historian James Taylor as a keynote speaker. Friday night will feature sideshow acts, including a strongman, a blockhead (i.e. a guy who hammers nails into his face), aerialists, belly dancers and an after party at the Hi Ho.

Saturday brings the bulk of the burlesque and an after show at Siberia headlined by Debauche, the city’s own Russian-gypsy-punk-wow-what-did-I-just-see band; trust us, a Debauche gig is never an event to be missed. Sunday brings the Unholy Toller Revival, an old timey revival tent show, but with less fire and brimstone and more snake oil hawking and carnival art.

You’ll need to purchase tickets to all of the above shows. We’ll see you at Snake Oil. A complete schedule of events, as well as links for buying tickets, can be found at the festival website.

Image of performer Ludy Lucerne courtesy of the Snake Oil Festival’s Facebook page.

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    • The Arts Council of New Orleans
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    The Arts Council of New Orleans

    The Arts Council of New Orleans is a private, non-profit organization designated as the City’s official arts agency. The Arts Council serves as one of eight regional distributing agencies for state arts funds and administers available municipal arts grants and the Percent For Art program for the City of New Orleans. The Arts Council works in partnership with the City of New Orleans, community groups, local, state, and national governmental agencies, and other nonprofit arts organizations to meet the arts and cultural needs of the New Orleans community through a diversity of initiatives and services.


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    WWOZ 90.7 FM is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Station offering listener-supported, volunteer-programmed community radio. WWOZ covers many events live in and around the city and across the United States, and broadcasts live from the famed New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival annually. WWOZ’s mission is to be the worldwide voice, archive, and flag-bearer of New Orleans culture and musical heritage.


    Preservation Resource Center (PRC) has been preserving, restoring, and revitalizing New Orleans’ historic architecture and neighborhoods since 1974. Throughout its history, PRC has acted as an advocacy agent on a local, regional, and national scale, spreading the word about the city’s rich architectural heritage and the economic importance of preserving this heritage. PRC also takes a hands-on approach to preservation, with a history of successfully restoring over 1,400 properties. The center strengthens and revitalizes New Orleans in a way that is forward-looking and sustainable, yet sensitive to the city’s past and its heritage.


    As a nexus for the arts in New Orleans, NOMA is committed to preserving, interpreting, and enriching its collections and renowned sculpture garden; offering innovative experiences for learning and interpretation; and uniting, inspiring, and engaging diverse communities and cultures.

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    The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC) is a museum, research center, and publisher dedicated to preserving the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South. Its holdings comprise more than one million items from more than three centuries, documenting moments both major and minor. Its four exhibition spaces–the Williams Gallery, the Louisiana History Galleries, the Boyd Cruise Gallery, and the Laura Simon Nelson Galleries for Louisiana Art–faithfully depict the multicultural stories of the region, from permanent displays exploring the evolution of Louisiana to rotating exhibitions showcasing history and fine art.

    Southern Food

    The Southern Food and Beverage Museum is a nonprofit living history organization dedicated to the discovery, understanding and celebration of the food, drink and the related culture of the South. While based in New Orleans, the Museum examines and celebrates all the cultures that have come together through the centuries to create the South’s unique culinary heritage. The Museum is also home to the collections of the Museum of the American Cocktail, the Galerie d’Absinthe, and a demonstration kitchen.

    Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities

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    The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities’ mission is to provide all Louisianans with access to and an appreciation of their own rich, shared and diverse historical, literary and cultural heritage through grant-supported outreach programs, family literacy and adult reading initiatives, teacher professional development institutes, publications, film and radio documentaries, museum exhibitions, cultural tourism, public lectures, library projects, and other public humanities programming.



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