Lynn Anselmo has been a crucial part of the singer-songwriter scene in Baton Rouge for three decades. Anselmo ran Tony’s Tavern, a locus for Baton Rouge singer-songwriters, throughout the eighties.
The enduring legacy of Tony's Tavern for Baton Rouge singer-songwriters.
As the sun dipped into the blue, a number of silver-haired men were setting up amps and instruments at Heaux Jeaux’s, a stripmall bar across from where Highland Road meets Airline Highway, just outside the boundaries of Baton Rouge. Lynn Anselmo runs the bar’s Tuesday night singer-songwriter sessions and was called to the stage to help out local singer Louis Lipinski with the PA. Anselmo probably couldn’t have stayed seated in the audience if he’d wanted to; he has been a crucial part of the singer-songwriter scene in Baton Rouge for three decades.
“I heard about an open mic at Lafonda’s and Louis was running it, so I started playing at that one, and now he’s playing at mine,” said Anselmo about his love of playing live music and making it happen. “You gotta have that appetite. I’ve always had that appetite.”
Anselmo ran Tony’s Tavern, a locus for Baton Rouge singer-songwriters, throughout the eighties. It started with his family’s donut shop that had been operating in the same location on Old Hammond and Millerville for decades before.
“Tony’s Donuts was started by my father in ‘46 and after he died, my mother ran it until 1974 when I bought it,” says Anselmo. “We came off the road from playing music and we always wanted a little tavern.”
Anselmo’s road band was called Lynn and Lynn. “It was a duo most of the time. We played the Underground in Atlanta in the mid ‘60’s, the Seville Quarter in Pensacola, a place called Pepi’s in the Vail ski resort.... we played around. It was mostly me and my wife [also named Lynn]. Sometimes my brother joined us on bass.”
“I’d been cooking for a number of years, so we started the Tavern as a poboy place and it eventually grew into a full-menu restaurant with steaks and seafood. We put a little stage in the corner. A lot of people came to play; a lot started there. It was open mic mostly, and if you wanted to play a show, we paid a hundred dollars a gig.”
Doc Chaney, fiddle player for the Fugitive Poets, was sitting in at Heaux Jeaux’s that night. Chaney played at Tony’s from the mid nineties until they closed in 2004. Chaney remembers, “Back in those days it was the end of the parish. I was playing with a band called Pass the Blame, billed itself as truck-driving music and western swing.”
“You never could tell who was going to show up. It was a place for locals, I don’t remember touring groups.
“One story stands out one night for an open mic. This kid came out, about seventeen years old, looking for someone to back him up. He asked, ‘Would y’all back me up? My name is David St. Romain and I’m going to go somewhere with music.’ First time he played in public, before he was old enough to play there really, and I played with him.” St. Romain later appeared on the music reality show Nashville Star in 2007, which launched his successful country music career.
When asked how Tony’s fit into the Baton Rouge musical landscape, Chaney offered, “Back in the late sixties and early seventies, we had a happening music scene with a pipeline between here and Austin and somewhere along the way, that pipeline went one way.”
Open mic nights like the ones at Heaux Jeaux’s seem to be more insular affairs. Kevin Johnson, master of obscure blues stylings and bread making was laying down a song with his wife as we munched on a platter of homemade bread he’d brought with him. The crowd was thin, though Chaney said the week before it had been packed. “Back in the day, people were more curious to see what was happening. It seemed to be more civilians that would come out.”
Anselmo made a couple more trips to the stage to rectify the little sound issues that occur during this kind of thing. “Tony’s Tavern was the only place where a deaf man was running sound,” Anselmo laughed. He’d been a welder at age nineteen and “pounding on all that metal damaged my hearing.”
Rob Chidester then took the stage and ran through a number of his raging folk/blues numbers, each lingering around five minutes, gaining momentum like a slowly rising tide. Chidester wants to open the legacy of what Tony Anselmo has done for the Baton Rouge music community to a wider audience rather than leave it to history. Chidester is organizing the first of a number of tribute shows to Anselmo at Chelsea’s Cafe.
Billed as, “A Local Songwriter’s Tribute to Lynn Anselmo” the showcase will feature Doc Chaney, Barry Hebert, Steve Judice, Gary Ragan and Jim Stanley; with Chidester serving as emcee. Each performer will play one of their favorites of Anselmo’s original material, leading up to finale of Mr. Anselmo performing with his wife.
The tribute show coincides with Anselmo’s seventieth birthday, but his songcraft is strong as ever. Anselmo took the stage for a couple of his own numbers, lilting from folk to blues to ragtime in the spate of a song. Chaney and rest of the musicians were called in to play solos like clockwork.
It was the kind of song where, for people who still like to play instruments together, it never really has to end.
Details. Details. Details.
Heaux Jeaux’s Upscale Bar
14241 Airline Highway
Baton Rouge, La
Lynn Anselmo’s open mic jam is every Tuesday starting at 8 pm. No cover or entry fee.
A Local Songwriter’s Tribute to Lynn Anselmo Thursday, April 25 at 7:30 pm Chelsea’s Cafe 2857 Perkins Road Baton Rouge, La (225) 387-3679