New Orleans' favorite DJ will hold her last weekly HUSTLE! party this Saturday, but she's not going anywhere.
Melissa Weber (DJ Soul Sister) announced last week that this Saturday’s HUSTLE! will be the party’s final weekly edition at the Hi-Ho Lounge. This week’s HUSTLE!, which will feature guest DJ Mannie Fresh, celebrates the 13th anniversary of Weber’s legendary throw-down.
From its early days at Leo’s Bar and Grill in the Bywater to its almost nine-year run at Mimi’s in the Marigny to its current iteration at the Hi-Ho on St. Claude, HUSTLE! has offered up the rarest grooves to get down to on any given Saturday, and will be sorely missed. Weber wants New Orleans to know, however, that she’s not going anywhere.
“I hope people don’t see all this news and go like Ooh, we’ll never see her again,” Weber says. “That’s not the case. I’m not gonna stop throwing parties until I’ve absolutely had enough. And if I get to that point, which I don’t foresee any time soon, I’ll still be at WWOZ. I can do that until I’m 100 years old.”
HUSTLE! will continue, just not as a weekly party. Instead, it will “exist as an infrequently thrown party at various TBA locations,” according to the DJ Soul Sister Twitter page. The first of these locations will be The Ice Pit, a brand-new venue in the basement of the Orpheum Theater, where HUSTLE! will touch down on Saturday, June 24. The venue's name, its underground location, and its industrial aesthetic evoke images of a Russian warehouse rave in the ‘90s (or at least, a Russian warehouse rave in a ‘90s movie). Its small stage and tasteful lighting, however, give it a strangely intimate ambiance.
“I envision The Ice Pit being like David Mancuso’s Loft parties in New York City in the 1970s,” Weber says. “What people talk about with him was the space and the quality of music that he played—soulful music.”
A playlist of favorites from David Mancuso's Loft parties
On June 2, Weber wil play her second annual "Revolution: A Prince Celebration" at One Eyed Jacks as well, and starting in July, she will also throw a monthly party there titled “Soul Sister Presents: Soulful Takeover.” She plans to play the same type of soulful grooves she’s so well known for, but as is always the case with parties, the venue plays a key role in setting the tone.
“One Eyed Jacks is a considerably larger space than the Hi-Ho or The Ice Pit, so it will have a different energy to it,” Weber says. “I won’t see how that plays out until we do one, but I do love the benefit of having One Eyed Jacks’ huge screen, where I can blast those wild videos that I collect.”
While there is no guarantee that HUSTLE! will find a new home at The Ice Pit moving forward, Soulful Takeover at One Eyed Jacks will be a fixture. Weber envisions the two events existing concurrently.
“I see The Ice Pit as being a more intimate, one-on-one party, whereas the One Eyed Jacks party will be a larger, more communal thing,” she says. “They’ll both be the same music, just different types of energy.”
The move towards monthly Soulful Takeovers and “infrequent” HUSTLE! parties has been in the works for some time now. When Weber started throwing weekly parties, she was in her late 20s. Now, she’s 41, has a full-time administrative job at Tulane, a long-running Saturday evening “Soul Power” show on WWOZ, and is working towards a Master’s degree in Musicology.
“I want to do less,” she says. “At one point, I was like, I’m going to do all of the things! And then, over the last couple months, I’ve said I don’t have to do them all right now. Hence some of the change.”
This is the first move Weber has made by choice. Leo’s, HUSTLE!’s first location, closed and was converted into Sugar Park Tavern. The upstairs tapas bar at Mimi’s, where the party thrived for almost nine years, can no longer hold regular live music events after a 2012 crackdown on venues not zoned for live music.
“When I started 13 years ago, you didn’t have to be in a live music zone,” she says. “You could just throw a party. But the city is changing.”
She remembers leaving Mimi’s in 2013, not knowing what was next for HUSTLE! Despite the popularity of her Mimi’s party, some still doubted whether she would be successful at a new spot.
“People were like Where’s she gonna go? What’s she gonna do?” Weber remembers. “Even at the Hi-Ho Lounge, they were like Would people come? And I’m like Yeah, they’ll come. And sure enough….”
These days, the Hi-Ho (a much bigger room than Mimi’s) is packed every weekend for HUSTLE!—so packed that Weber believes the party has finally outgrown the venue. The overcrowding is partly due to a recent influx of Tulane students, a fairly new phenomenon at HUSTLE!, and one Weber never expected.
“Because the time period of music that I play is so specific—1970s through 1980s—I never really imagined that college kids would gravitate to it,” she says. “So I’m actually honored by it, and I appreciate it and welcome it.”
Still, diversity is an essential ingredient in making HUSTLE! the best weekly party in town, and filling the Hi-Ho with Tulane students every weekend doesn’t exactly spell diversity.
“At the parties, it’s all kinds of people. It’s always been,” Weber says. “I see people of all ages, going up to 60s, and younger college kids too. Like literally, the gamut. And I want to keep it that way, where it’s all kinds of people.”
Weber believes she can maximize the party experience by changing up the venue and cutting down on the frequency. At HUSTLE!, she’s not only the DJ, but also the hostess and the planner, in a sense. It’s not enough, then, for her four-hour set to be the best in town. There are other factors to consider as well.
“I want to do better parties, really taking into account what the music deserves and what the audience deserves,” she says. “By doing monthlies instead of weeklies, I can focus more on the quality of the room and the sound, so that the word of mouth can spread again in a different way. I’m gonna concentrate on making the monthlies be things that people really look forward to and never forget.”