New Orleans funk band Galactic has been working on a deal to purchase the fabled Tipitina’s music club from its embattled owner, according to several sources close to the negotiations.
The current owner of Tipitina’s, Roland Von Kurnatowski, has faced a firestorm of controversy this week after The New Orleans Advocate reported on several lawsuits alleging he bilked investors and stiffed lenders out of more than $2.8 million.
WWL-TV broke the story Friday that Von Kurnatowski was in negotiations to sell the venerable club, which he purchased in 1996. The station also found that Von Kurnatowski’s venues, including Tipitina’s and the Orpheum Theater, which he has since sold to his partner, had bounced several performance checks to music acts.
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Galactic’s relationship with Tipitina’s dates back to the 1990s, when the band was called Galactic Prophylactic. The group was started by students at Tulane and Loyola universities who ended up settling in the Uptown area around the club, including Stanton Moore, Robert Mercurio, Ben Ellman, Jeff Raines and Rich Vogel. Their mentor Theryl DeClouet became lead vocalist and the band started selling out shows at Tips, especially special marathon appearances that became must-see for music lovers each Lundi Gras, Halloween, Jazz Fest and New Year’s.
The band has teamed with R&B, funk and hip-hop luminaries, including Macy Gray, Juvenille, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, George Porter Jr. and the brass bands Soul Rebels and Hot 8.
After DeClouet left the band for health reasons in 2002, Galactic played major fundraising shows at Tipitina’s for him. Moore and other band members were also heavily involved in the Tipitina’s Foundation started by Von Kurnatowski and his wife, Mary, helping teach music to kids in New Orleans.
Several sources associated with the club have said they hope Galactic buys Tipitina’s to keep it alive as a cultural touchstone on the New Orleans live music scene. Members of the band declined to confirm that the deal was in the works, but people with direct knowledge of the negotiations said it has been for some time and could be finalized soon.
Von Kurnatowski declined to confirm a deal was imminent or to say if Galactic is involved, but did tell WWL-TV that selling Tips was “an open question.”
Sources tell the station that several potential buyers have expressed an interest in purchasing Tipitina’s, which opened in 1977 as a place for the legendary Professor Longhair to play during the last three years of his life. The club honors the blues legend with a bust and massive portrait inside the club.