Typically, The Busted Flat series has attempted to include visual and performance art, music, community, and pure entertainment for under $25. Finding all these elements at the right price often entails traipsing all a round town searching for bargains; however, in New Orleans, I found a place that provided all of these elements for one low price – Free. The Gold Mine Saloon, 701 Dauphine St., turned out to be just as fruitful a source of community and culture as its name implies. From pinball to poetry, from painting to pottery classes, the Gold Mine has it all.
At 8:00 pm, owner Dave Brinks (author of The Snow Poems, First Snow, Editor of Yawp: A Journal of Poetry and Art) rushed past a row of classic video games (Donkey Kong, Asteroids, Speed Racer, Etc.) and entered a door marked Minister of Music. It was almost time for 17 Poets: a weekly reading series which draws both writers of local and global renowned. The Gold Mine’s candle-lit stage has been graced by such writers as Wang Ping, author of Of Flesh and Spirit; Andrei Codrescu, author of It Was Today and regular commentator on NPR; and Anne Waldman author of Marriage: A Sentence and co-founder of The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa University.
Before the poetry began, however, I was able to get in a quick game of pinball. A wave of nostalgia washed over me – when was the last time I came across a functioning pinball machine? Flippers flying I made a silent resolution to watch The Who’s Tommy before the week ends. I may never find out if the Mars Attack top score held suspiciously by E.J. was truly set by Elton John, but there was no time for this Tommy to beat his best; Brinks took the stage and I let my ball drop.
The bar filled to capacity just before Brinks opened the show by introducing a special guest reader, poet Simon Pettet, author of numerous books including Conversations with Rudy Burckhardt About Everything, and most recently More Winnowed Fragments. “Last night I spied/ the great bard naked,” Simon began, his English accent altered only slightly by years spent in New York City. The crowd settled in and it was obvious these people were not merely patrons of a bar but patrons of the arts. Simon continued skipping verbal stones across the crowd such as: “(She didn’t not hear me)/ She was just otherwise engaged/ With this complicated process of extinction.” The crowd buckled with applause and shouts and whistles.
M.U.G.A.B.E.E. which stands for Men Under Guidance Acting Before Early Extinction, dove directly into a complex series of spoken word and harmony, accented by trumpet solos and finger snapping. Co-founded by two brothers Carlton and Maurice Turner, M.U.G.A.B.E.E. is a diverse collective of singers, rappers, song writer’s producers, engineers, poets, and teachers, which has been professionally producing music since 1994. In 2001 M.U.G.A.B.E.E. began branching out from traditional production, adding community outreach programs, residencies, and lecture series to their list of services. With lyrics focused on social consciousness and community building, M.U.G.A.B.E.E. was a perfect match for the Gold Mine, which in the post-hurricane season has transformed its pool tables into a free book exchange site and redoubled its efforts in supporting local writers, musicians, and artists .
During the breaks between featured poets and the open-mic portion of the evening, I was able to explore the rest of the ground floor of the Gold Mine. Nearly every inch of wall was covered by paintings and sketches from artists from the area and across the globe. While the walls of the Gold Mine function as a rotating art space, and each time you walk in the art seems to have shifted making room for new territory to explore, the currently featured artists include: Michael Fedor, Tasha Robbins, Romano, Joshua Walsh, Daniel Finnigan and Herbert Kearney. I tore myself away from the impressive Gold Mine collection which included everything from experimental abstractions to photo-realism as the remaining 15 of the 17 Poets series took the stage. Over the next two hours the stage was occupied by local notables such as Bill Lavender and Bill Myers as well as new comers performing for the first time.
Just when I thought I had discovered all that the Gold Mine had to offer, one of the poets mentioned “what’s going on upstairs.” Originally conceived by Gold Mine owner Dave Brinks and writer Andrei Codrescu, the New Orleans School of the Imagination currently occupies the second floor of the saloon offering classes which include tango, aromatherapy, poetry, blues, mixed media, or Native American and outlaw history. As diverse in scope as the first floor salon, the New Orleans School of the Imagination offers the opportunity to hone your craft under the tutelage of local working professionals.
The Gold Mine’s ability to teach, create, and showcase art culminates with the Bi-annual Festival of the Imagination: three nights of Poetry, Art, Dance, and Music, during which the Gold Mine boasts over 150 pieces of original art, multiple-daily music showcases, and unique crossover events fostering interaction between poets and musicians.
Whether you are looking to revel in the golden age of the arcade, discover new local artists, see your favorite poets, or take a class with a local legend, the Gold Mine is the place to be.
You may be wondering (I know the good folks at Country Roads are) what happened to the $25 the editors spotted me. $5 disappeared into the pinball machines (I never even came close to the high score); I bought a $15 Gold Mine T-shirt to show my support for this cultural nexus; and spent the remainder on a flaming Dr. P shot since it was invented at the Gold Mine (completely by accident) back in 1985.
Thomas E. Moran continues seeking out culture and community with a hand or handout from Country Roads
For Further Exploration:
The Gold Mine Saloon: www.goldminesaloon.net
701 Dauphine St., Corner of Dauphine and St. Peter
New Orleans, LA 70116
Ph: (504) 586-0745
New Orleans School of the Imagination