By Amanda Kraus
(Buchanan, left and Klebanoff, right) Photograph by Luke Fairbairn
On the corner of Zimple and Hillary sits your average uptown New Orleanian house: an expansive porch featuring string lights, lounge chairs, and a railing strung with Mardi Gras beads. House residents Johnny Buchanan and Ben Klebanoff, who you can usually find sitting in those lounge chairs, transformed their porch into a stage when they hosted their first monthly Zimpo Porch Session. The show featured local musician, Allegra Weingarten, and attendees included friends of Buchanan and Klebanoff. “The first show could not have gone better. I had no idea how many people were going to show up, but there ended up being around 35-40 people. Everyone brought lawn chairs and were just hanging out and enjoying the beautiful afternoon,” said Buchanan.
As a native Chicagoan, Buchanan explained that “Chicago is special because everyone has a lot of pride.” So, what made him want to leave his hometown and come to New Orleans? Since Buchanan grew up indulging in live music, he was attracted to the city’s music scene. Similarly, Klebanoff has “always had a passion for music. Growing up, [he] spent a lot of [his] free time going to see live music… most nights of the week you could find someone playing guitar at a dive bar. [He] chose to attend Tulane to live in New Orleans and be involved in a bigger music scene.” Klebanoff was particularly drawn to Tulane because of Fridays at the Quad, which features live music and free food. Buchanan and Klebanoff decided to take on a more active role in the New Orleans music scene after three years of enjoying it as spectators.
The initial idea for Porch Sessions came to Buchanan when he was on a run — after working at Celebrate Brooklyn, a free summer music festival in Prospect Park, he knew he wanted to continue using the knowledge and skills he had learned once he got back to New Orleans. He also recognized the immense amount of musical talent at Tulane, and felt that there wasn’t much of an outlet for the artists to display it. So he thought, “What if we started having these performances on our porch, invite our friends, and drink a beer or two?”
After sharing his idea, Buchanan suggested that Klebanoff, who became interested in film after coming to New Orleans, could record the sessions and make artistic videos. Other than the videos just being entertaining, it gives the musicians something in return for doing a free show. “Every artist that performs is going to get a semi-professional, well-done video of their live music. We give them the rights to use for their promotional stuff,” said Buchanan.
The pair are willing to display all musical genres, and are considering extending the sessions to include other art forms in the future. “I want the core to be music, but I’m definitely open to showcasing the various talents of our friends. That’s why we’re doing this,” said Buchanan. Since Porch Sessions is still in the testing stage, they don’t have any rigid plans for future shows. However, their vision is still clear: “We have a performer, our friends are hanging out, anyone can come by if they hear music and want to check it out, our neighbors. We want a very positive, friendly vibe,” said Buchanan.
Spending a lot of time on the front porch is a big part of how New Orleanians relax, and it’s how communities are connected. Moreover, it’s a way for musicians to display their talents. The front porch is integral to Porch Sessions, which welcomes anyone at anytime. “I suggested to Johnny using the backyard, but he really held to the porch,” said Klebanoff, “and I definitely want more people from the neighborhood coming by.” “I think Porch Sessions is more personal than other public concerts. It is inviting and intimate, which is what makes it special and different,” said Buchanan. Since both Buchanan and Klebanoff are seniors, they felt that Porch Sessions would be a meaningful, fun, and regular culminating event for their college careers, and something that people will look forward to every month.
Klebanoff is currently working on his own projects, including films and music videos, and hopes to work in freelance film in New Orleans after graduating. Buchanan wants to continue working in live event production, and has been accepted by Teach for America. But for now, they are putting together the next Zimpo Porch Session. Buchanan “want[s] to emphasize the positivity behind this. It’s non-exclusive and very community oriented.” As an alternative to your typical wild frat party, as Klebanoff said, “People should come hang out.”
You can find the session videos on YouTube, and the live performances on the corner of Zimple and Hillary.