Tipitina's was founded in 1977 by 14 music fans as a home base for Professor Longhair and other local music legends. It's named for one of his songs. Trombone Shorty, the Meters, the Radiators and the Neville Brothers are among the artists that have played deep into the night at the corner of Tchoupitoulas Street and Napoleon Avenue.
Before they carried the banner of New Orleans music around the globe, Galactic drummer Stanton Moore, bassist Robert Mercurio, guitarist Jeff Raines, keyboardist Rich Vogel and saxophonist Ben Ellman were fans in the crowd at Tipitina's.
"We're in a unique position to understand it from both sides," Moore said. "We want to make sure that everybody's experience, from patrons to musicians, makes them want to come back. "We don't want to change Tipitina's. We want to make it better."
As Galactic, they put their own contemporary spin on New Orleans music, incorporating hip-hop and other influences. They toured extensively and built a national fan base but maintained close ties with the local music community.
In 2015, the band hosted a music festival at the South Shore Harbor site near Lakefront Airport that Von Kurnatowski has tried to develop as an entertainment district. Galactic's Denver-based manager, Alex Brahl, mentioned to Von Kurnatowski that the band would be interested if he ever thought about selling Tipitina's.
At the time, Moore and his bandmates considered the prospect of owning Tipitina's unlikely. But by early 2018, Von Kurnatowski was ready to sell the club he's owned since 1997. The complex negotiations over the Tipitina's sale dragged on for months and the deal nearly fell apart multiple times.
To make the financing work, the musicians invested their own money from savings and retirement accounts. "Angel investors" also contributed, though they have no equity stake in the business. The band also secured loans through the Small Business Administration and Capital One bank.
The deal finally closed Friday afternoon. It covers Tipitina's business and its related trademarks, including the iconic banana-in-hand logo. The purchase price wasn't disclosed. The sale didn't include Tipitina's Foundation, which the Von Kurnatowskis founded and control.
Moore and his bandmates say they intend to keep much of the current staff in place. And they plan to start a new nonprofit foundation to benefit the next generation of New Orleans musicians. "This is not like we've won the lottery and can retire," he said. "We've taken on the biggest responsibility of our lives. We're rolling up our sleeves and getting ready to go to work on behalf of the music and culture of our hometown.
"Tipitina's has been our home away from home for years. Now we actually own it."
Information from: The New Orleans Advocate, http://www.neworleansadvocate.com