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Reflections and Musings of a Jazz Fest Photographer

 

Jazzfest 44 was something to celebrate

Jazz Fest 44 was something to shout about

The 44th annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is a few weeks past and my rear view reflections only seem to sweeten the experience. This Jazz Fest, my 10th overall, is best summarized by an exchange between two Festers NOLA bound from NYC by train, one a dear friend, composer and 3-timer, the other a vet from a krewe known for their affection for Fezs (yeah, you heard that right).

“Hope to see you next year”….

“You will, and every year after that until I die.”

What Rolling Stone calls the “greatest music event on the planet” inspires such pure devotion. 60+ acts a day, 12 stages and tents, 7 days (no repeats, Coachella, you listening ACL?). Most of my time these days is in the pit or hustling from one stage to the next, trying to burn more calories than I eat while keeping up with artists and bands older and younger than I am (not in my 40s anymore).

Fest photographers do not get to enjoy whole sets. Far from it. With 3 and outs for most big names, as well as other random acts, and much ground to cover, the feast becomes a mountain of nibbles (but you still walk away stuffed). The upside is hitting the last few songs when energy is at its highest and moments most prime. As NPR took note recently, Fest photogs have our own culture. Some are gamers who rarely interact, usually on real time deadline, others (like myself), rabid enthusiasts who let it show. We all keep coming back to the same well.

This year brought the elements. Downpours, muddy slop, wind, epically beautiful skies and a few cool days. While the BNAs didn’t draw me like other years, it’s not about them anyway.  At the end of it, I still found myself pulled to the New Orleans acts that are the essence of the Fest. Anders Osborne, Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars, Galactic, Bonerama, Tab Benoit, Trombone Shorty and so many others. Year after year. It’s just gravity.

 

WEEKEND 1 HIGHLIGHTS

DAY 1

Day 1 was not shabby, but a little soggy. The Jazz Fest crew worked hard over night to throw sand and boards over wet areas of the field from a Wednesday storm that brought tornado warnings to the north. Gentilly alone featured the Carribean funk antics of Flow Tribe, Jamaal Batiste pumping up the family tradition, everyone shaking their brass with the Soul Rebels, Anders Osborne with Black Crowe and North Mississippi Allstar Luther Dickinson slinging it out, Gary Clark, Jr.’s thunderous return and Seattle alt-rootsers Band of Horses. While I missed Dr. John’s new Nite Trippers band at Acura, I did catch some of John Mayer and can say I dug him without shame. Joshua Redman’s quartet with Terence Blanchard drummer Kendrick Scott in the Jazz Tent was exquisite. George Porter, Jr. and his Runnin’ Pardners kicked it up good at Congo, where George Benson is still a crowd favorite. Missed Sonny Landreth in the Blues Tent, but caught him at the Maple Leaf with Johnny Vidacovich and GPJ the night before. The sacred steel of the Campbell Brothers was a hands raising knockout. Even squeezed in a taste of NOLA’s resident troubadour Paul Sanchez and a road show that keeps on rolling and growing. With more of me to go around, I could have checked out Corey Ledet, then Terrance Simien at Fais Do-Do, Los Po-Boy Citos at Jazz & Heritage and the under the radar and overly chopped New Orleans Guitar Quartet, another quasi incarnation of the legendary Twangorama and Woodenhead. No such a thing as a bad day at the Fest and we were off to a fine start.

 

Just one of the horns in the Soul Rebs arsenal

Just one of the horns in the Soul Rebs arsenal

 

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George Porter, Jr., off and runnin’

 

Anders Osborne, Carl Dufrene and Eric Bloivar face off

Anders Osborne, Carl Dufrene and Eric Bolivar face off

 

Gary Clark, Jr , whoa...

Gary Clark, Jr….whoa

 

John Mayer getting down early

John Mayer getting down early

 

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The very smooth George Benson

 

Carl Campbel, hands up, y'all

Carl Campbell, hands up, y’all

 

DAY 2

Day 2 brought drier, warmer conditions. Most of my time was around the Gentilly and Acura Stages, as well as covering other areas for the Jazz Fest Foundation’s Archive. There was good reason to be anchored around Gentilly. The inimitable songster/stringer Alex McMurray, A Tribe Called Red’s uniquely North American EDM spin, the unmistakable thrills of Bonerama, the philthy double bass attack of Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk and the howling blues union of Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite. Yeah, that’s solid. The Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars lit up the Acura Stage (with Michael Doucet now taking the fiddle role), setting the table for the always nattily attired Allen Toussaint and closer Billy Joel pushing back the weather demons of 2008 (leave it to Quint Davis to schedule these piano men/songwriters back-to-back). While I missed out on shooting the headliner, there was a good buzz about Joel’s hit laden set and only scheduled performance of the year (my consolation was catching him behind the keys for a stealth sit in at the Carousel Bar mid-week). Managed to sprinkle in the zydepunk of the Lost Bayou Ramblers at Fais Do-Do and Jon Cleary holding court in the Blues Tent with his Diabolical Fandangos. Andrew Bird had every gal swooning at the Fais Do-Do rail. My clone would have worked in Jason Marsalis’ sticks and salsa legend Eddie Palmieri in the Jazz Tent, Jill Scott at Congo Square and the Sidney Bechet Tribute at Economy Hall. Let’s just say FOMS are a high class problem.

 

Crooner, stringer and funny man Alex McMurrray with Matt Perrine and Carlo Nuccio

Crooner, stringer and funny man Alex McMurrray with Matt Perrine and Carlo Nuccio

 

Bonerama's Mark Mullins, wah-wah to the 'bone

Bonerama’s Mark Mullins, wah-wah to the ‘bone

 

George Porter, Jr. and Anders Osborne raise their musical voice

George Porter, Jr. and Anders Osborne raise their musical voice

 

Anders Osborne lets  loose with the VOW All-Stars

Anders Osborne lets loose with the VOW All-Stars

 

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VOW All-Stars swamp boogie with Tab Benoit and Johnny Sansone

 

Piano man and New Orleans legend, Allen Toussaint

Piano man and New Orleans legend, Allen Toussaint

 

Diabolical Fandango, Jon Cleary

Diabolical Fandango, Jon Cleary

 

Blues driven Ben Harper

Blues driven Ben Harper

 

Attention getter, Andrew Bird

Attention getter, Andrew Bird

 

DAY 3

The forecast was ominous for days. Definite weather anxiety. Keeping the gear dry, slogging through the mud to hit my stages. While it is was raining pretty steady throughout the AM, we seemed to get a break and rain stayed away for a good part of the afternoon. Half an eye was glued to iPhone weather maps, and all signs pointed to a major hose down before the day was through. I stayed Acura and Gentilly heavy, but bounced all over the Fair Grounds from start to finish. This was one day when there was truly too much of a good thing. Couldn’t miss the super horns of the Midnite Disturbers and I was on a mission to shoot 87-year old B.B. King in what could be his last Fest appearance. The Rads + Papa John arrangement of Raw Oyster Cult delivered as the rain abated. Khris Royal & Dark Matter took their brand of NOLA jazz funk to the Gentilly Stage. C.J. Chenier’s foot stomping accordion and zydeco lineage were matched by an even bigger smile. Dropped in for a few minutes for “King of Treme” Shannon Powell working the skins with his quintet in the Jazz Tent, then jumped over to Blues for Luther Kent & Trickbag just when guitarist Jonathon Boogie Long was shredding the place with his ES-335. The Nevilles minus Aaron were fresher than recent Neville Brothers performances (which seemed to be running on fumes), at least from the small bit I heard. I am a big fan of Baton Rouge songwriter Kristin Diable, who brought her full band, The City, to the Lagniappe Stage. The tex-mexaltation of Calexico back at Gentilly was surprisingly fun. Anyone who has heard the collection of the best horns in one place either side of the Mississippi that is the Midnite Disturbers knows they literally wear their musical roots on stage and are ground zero for an only at Jazz Fest experience. Worked back for a taste of Dianne Reeves in the Jazz Tent. Her nuanced, soulful and spiritual vocals were gorgeous and left quite an impression on many first weekenders. By this time, skies were darkening and DMB’s start time was minutes away. When Matthews took the stage, molecules were thick with moisture. DMB got through most of the opener (“Seven”) before the drops multiplied. I knew what was coming. A few minutes into “Still Water” (ironic) the valves fully opened and torrents unleashed. I bagged up my gear and hightailed it to find refuge between acts in the Jazz Tent. Those photogs that did stick around captured some pretty dramatic and waterlogged shots of what turned out to be an abbreviated set because of weather. With the gear secured, I caught up with the Mediterranean guitars of the Gypsy Kings at Gentilly, then turned around for another lap to make sure I caught Lucille’s master in the Blues Tent. All these years, I had never shot B.B. King and poignancy hung in the air. I was positioned dead center at his feet and we were all able to shoot for about 30 minutes. What I didn’t expect was to capture 87 years of the blues written all over his face. A satisfying close to the first weekend, soaked and all.

 

Doing the Fest rain dance

Doing the Fest rain dance

 

Dave Malone and Frank Bua win best band name

Dave Malone and Frank Bua win best band name

 

Baton Rouge's Kristin Diable, is one rockin' chanteuse

Baton Rouge’s Kristin Diable is one rockin’ chanteuse

 

Skerik gets personal with photographer Zack Smith while follow Disturbers look on

Skerik gets personal with photographer Zack Smith while fellow Disturbers look on

 

Dianne Reeves was spellbinding in the Jazz Tent

Dianne Reeves was spellbinding in the Jazz Tent

 

A dry Dave Matthews (but not for long)...

A dry Dave Matthews (but not for long)…

 

Lucille and friend

Lucille and friend

Especially memorable

Anders Osborne’s takes on the David Crosby penned “Almost Cut My Hair” and the Dead’s “Franklin’s Tower”…First duck po-boy…Covering Gary Clark, Jr. for the fourth time in a year and loving every minute of it… A youth band busting out their sticks en masse around a trash can and sounding better than most drummers you’ll ever hear…First cochon dulait…The Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars, this time and every time…Dianne Reeves enrapturing the Jazz Tent…Skerik getting the mic up in Photographer Zack Smith’s grill so he could sing along to “Buck It Like a Horse” in the Midnite Disturbers pit…The, whoa, who is this guy moment hearing Jonathon Boogie Long for the first time…Allen Toussaint’s intro of B.B. King and King toasting the audience at the end of his set “if I can’t be with you next week, think about me some time”. Chills…Walking through an endless swamp of abandoned camp chairs at Acura leaving the Fair Grounds.

 

WEEKEND 2 HIGHLIGHTS

Nature figured prominently as the second weekend rolled around. Steady rain on Tuesday and a slightly drier Wednesday still the left the infield in terrible shape. By Friday, the place was a big bowl of brown slop (worst conditions I had seen in my 10 years attending). But Festers spirits do not dampen. Rain and mud are just crazy juice to fuel their inner “laissez le bon temps roulet”.

DAY 4

Thursday the second weekend is always lighter in attendance, easier to navigate and a great day to get bearings for first timers, with Widespread Panic taking the quasi-traditional jam band headline slot at Acura this year. While I missed Mia Borders at Acura, and the B3 Woodshed in the Jazz Tent with Joe Ashlar, my early afternoon arrival found me appreciating 78-year old Edward “Kidd” Jordan’s Improvisational Arts Quintet in the Jazz Tent, Jumpin’ Johnny Sansone owning the Blues Tent and understanding why there’s no mistaking who “Miss Rosie” Ledet & her Zydeco Playboys are. Henry Butler is always on the list. His boogie makes my ears happy and longtime guitarist, Vasti Jackson is a photographer’s dream to go along with his fire breathing chops. I was tipped to check out Fi Yi Yi & the Mandingo Warriors at the Jazz & Heritage Stage by a photog buddy. The sight of a 6-7 year old furiously slapping a tambourine and dancing in full Indian regalia while elders looked on was potent. I managed to catch the end of Glen David Andrews set in the Blues Tent (a quart or two of sweat later). Always the showman, and freshly post-recovered, GDA was on his game, even managing to suit up and hold a triumphant pose not lost on all the cameras. Me, I’m not a huge Widespread fan, but they have a loyal following, for sure and I had to hang for a bit. Then reversed course to Gentilly. I had never seen Patti Smith and worked my way through the rain and mud for the first few songs of her set. An early departure swung by Roy Ayers in the Jazz tent, a great vibes player who went the smooth jazz route long ago. Not my thing and I was ready for dry feet and a cold beer.

 

Unscripted "Kidd"

Unscripted “Kidd”

 

Johnny Sansone, not holding back

Johnny Sansone, not holding back

 

They call her Miss Rosie

They call her Miss Rosie

 

Oh, Henry...

Oh, Henry…

 

Fi-Yi-Yi for all generations

Fi-Yi-Yi for all generations

 

Glen David Andrews aims high

Glen David Andrews aims high

 

String bender Jimmy Herring with Widespread Panic

String bender Jimmy Herring with Widespread Panic

 

Patti Smith is happy

Patti Smith is happy

DAY 5

While Friday was dry, it was cold, damp, cloudy and impossibly muddy (footware became a major lifestyle choice and you couldn’t find a pair of shrimp boots anywhere in town). Another post-2 PM arrival and we were fully underway around 2:30. Quint definitely Texas-fied the Gentilly lineup with the Mavericks and Marcia Ball, leading up to Willie Nelson. The Mavericks were a total shit kick (and helped make up for missing the Iguanas). I would have made it to Corey Henry’s Treme Funktet, the always entertaining Amanda Shaw, the Summers-Mayfield Latin tag team of Los Hombres Calientes and the Coco Robicheaux Tribute with Walter “Wolfman” Washington, but an early start was so not in the cards. Getting fed and navigating the grounds took a little more strategy than usual and was a priority. Landed at the Jazz Tent for Astral Project, one of the first jazz acts I encountered at the Fest. The band has been playing it for 24 straight years, and it shows. Johnny V. is a wonder and there is special chemistry in how that rhythm section of Vidacovich and bassist James Singleton mix with Steve Masakowski’s 8-stringer and Tony Dagradi’s tenor (btw, vocalist Sasha Masakowski, Steve’s daughter, was playing at the Lagniappe Stage at the same time). Next stops of Beausoleil at Fais Do-Do, Papa Grows Funk’s last Fest appearance at Congo and trumpeter Nicholas Payton’s XXX at the Jazz Tent (with drummer Lenny White, and where Payton often doubled at keyboard while playing his horn) kept the afternoon rolling. But my day was fixated on master stringer Jerry Douglas’ set at Fais Do Do. Douglas has defined, embraced and expanded the realm of the dobro in stunningly jammy ways and it is rare for a West Coaster like myself to hear him and his band perform live (and I had to forge a sea of muck to do it). I arrived early in the set with Douglas wielding an electric dobro to spectacular effect (“power tools”, he chided). Turning strains of bluegrass to fiery ends, it was an incredible instrumental display. Switching to the traditional steel instrument, Douglas’ digital dexterity just kept flowing. It was an indefinably beautiful and satisfying set, and a highlight of the entire 7 days. This was one of those not quite under the radar bookings that you either eagerly anticipated or stumbled upon. I was also excited to see Willie Nelson for the first time. The 80-year old opened with “Whiskey River” and while I only was able to stay for a few songs, the set list was loaded with favorites and only Willie could pull off a set ender like “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” in all seriousness. The day was far from over as I headed towards the Blues and Jazz Tents. Now, I’ve seen Tab Benoit a bunch of times, but never, I mean never, have I seen him tear the place up like he did this year. His blistering Thinline Tele and rhythm section were all he needed to take the place down. After Tab’s smoldering set, the Jazz Tent was still going with Cookers, featuring Eddie Henderson, Billy Harper, Craig Handy, David Weiss, George Cables, Cecil McBee, and Billy Hart. Yeah, another only at Jazz Fest kinda day.

 

Astral Project's rhythm sectio of Johnny Vidacovih and James Singleton, 24 and counting

Astral Project’s rhythm section of Johnny Vidacovih and James Singleton, 24 and counting

 

Mavericks Raul Malo and Robert Reynolds

Mavericks Raul Malo and Robert Reynolds

 

Funk goes out in style with "Papa" John Gros

Funk goes out in style with “Papa” John Gros

 

Jerry Douglas has fun with power tools, incredible

Jerry Douglas has fun with power tools, incredible

 

No stranger Wille Nelson is 80 years old and still smokin'

No stranger Willie Nelson is 80 years young and still smokin’

 

Tab tears it up in the Blues Tent

Tab tears it up in the Blues Tent

 

Billy Hart cooking

Billy Hart cooking

 

DAY 6

The rain was gone, the sky impossibly blue, the temps unnaturally cool. When we entered the Fair Grounds, our krewe was inserted into a sea of humanity that backed across the track up to the Beaufort gate. Were there really that many Fleetwood Mac fans in the world? Turns out that much of the interior was still almost impassable due to mud, so everyone crowded along paved walkways or the track and the automysophobia was rampant (look it up). Too late for the musical shenanigans of the New Orleans Bingo Show!, prodigal-openers-for-not-much-longer the Revivalists and the calming sounds of Cowboy Mouth, I was not going to miss the Meters rhythm unit of George Porter, Jr. and Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste scatter their fleur debris in a jazz setting with trumpeter Nicholas Payton and David Torkanowsky on piano. A few tunes of Eric Lindell in the Blues Tent and then on to Galactic at Gentilly, just in time to hear David Shaw of The Revivalists take the Corey Glover part for “Hey Na Na” (nice job, Shaw, you nailed it and the crowd loved you). Corey Henry’s daughter, Jazz, joined her dad on trumpet. A sweet moment that took some courage. Shot over to Fais Do Do for The Little Willies featuring Norah Jones dressed in country colors, then to the tail of Terence Blanchard, and his sonic portraits in the Jazz Tent. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band in Economy Hall was a delight. I could not cell divide enough for the closing acts, even with being shut out to shoot the Mac. Phoenix, Frank Ocean, Los Lobos and the Stanley Clarke/George Duke Project. Had to catch/shoot ‘em all. Phoenix was the big alt-rock act of the Fest and fresh from headlining slots at Coachella. I’ve wanted to embrace their musicality, but Thomas Mars mid-80s new wave encased vocals turned me off, at least on the studio tunes I was familiar with. That changed live, especially with Thomas Hedlund on drums anchoring the whole affair. Must say, I quite dug what I heard at Gentilly. No egos, playing like a unit, having a great time on stage. Like the 2005 White Sox. New Orleans native Ocean captivated his fans, but was more of a drop in for me. The best band from East L.A., was humming in the Blues Tent (second “Dear Mr. Fantasy” of the weekend, including Widespread’s). George Duke and Stanley Clarke seemed like a gift pairing. Just got there for the end of a rousing “School Days”. “Dr. Funkenstein” was a bit of a schtick, but this was a groove fest and a worthy capper for the non-Mac crowd. The word on the Fleetwood Mac set sounded inspiring, even moving. Since I experience the Fest camera first these days, I had to live vicariously.

 

Zigaboo in a jazz mood

Zigaboo in a jazz mood

 

The Henry father-daughter act

The Henry father-daughter act

 

Revivalist David Shaw with Galactic

Revivalist David Shaw with Galactic

 

Norah Jones gets countrified with the Little Willies

Norah Jones takes a country road with the Little Willies

 

Terence Blanchard paints with sound

Terence Blanchard painting with sound

 

Pres Hall in Economy Hall

Pres Hall kicking it up in Economy Hall

 

Phoenix definitely rising, c'est bon

Phoenix definitely rising, c’est bon

 

New Orleanian, Frank Ocean

New Orleanian, Frank Ocean

 

Lefty Cesar Rosas is with the best band from East L.A.

Lefty Cesar Rosas is with the best band from East L.A.

 

Duke and Clarke conjure up Dr. Funkenstein

 

DAY 7

Back in long sleeves (a Fest first for this photographer), the last day would be Acura and Gentilly heavy, starting with the Meter Men and Phish’s Page McConnell behind the keys. The 3M +1 config were locked in and very tight, but I didn’t want to miss the “soul queen of New Orleans”, Irma Thomas at Gentilly, the rollicking ruckus of the New Orleans Nightcrawlers at Jazz & Heritage or John Boutte hushing the crowd to Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluah” as only he can in the Jazz Tent. Excited to see The Black Keys and got my fix with the tremolo drenched “Howlin’ For You” opener. A misjudged refreshment break scuttled Hall & Oates at Gentilly. While Hall & Oates singles were everywhere back in my day, I was always a bit indifferent to their pop oriented brand of blue-eyed soul. As it turns out, this was another set that had lots of people talking. Oh, well.  A lap back to the Jazz Tent for the Wayne Shorter Quartet with Brian Blade, John Pattitucci and Danilo Perez. Shorter’s set three years ago was magical and I arrived towards the end when the now 80-year old Shorter and his soprano were taking flight. Brian Blade is a marvel to hear, watch and shoot. Few drummers play with such unbridled joy, whether spaces or strikes. Managed to get to the pre-tuba part of blues-rock patriarch Taj Mahal’s set (with the Real Tuba Band, they squeezed 10 of those big horns in for the finale). Aaron Neville had the usual three and out and the last hour of the Fest was approaching. After grabbing my shots, I headed for a stop at Fais Do Do for a taste of Del McCoury with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Del and the boys with the PHJB are a fine (and not obvious) match of two of the best forms of traditional American music. But the sun was getting low. It was time to close it out with Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue at Acura. Arriving in the middle of this historic set was shape shifting. I’ve seen Shorty dozens of times, but nothing like this. They played big. They played to the moment. They played to the passing of the torch from years past with the Neville Brothers to the now and beyond. As the sun was setting, the cool air genuinely dry, color splashed everywhere, Troy and the band were a Tesla coil for the masses. He was generous with every one of his players. Heck, drummer Joey Peebles ear-to-ear grin couldn’t contain his exuberance. Never more so, then when all six band members grabbed sticks for an extended “solo”. During “Do to Me” towards the end of the set, Shorty descended into the crowd, deep into the crowd, working everyone to get down low and to get up high. This may play in a club, but when it works with 40,000+, you have a bond for life. Quint let Shorty go well past 7 (as well he should) and the crowd loved it. Before he departed the stage, Andrews, trumpet in one hand and trombone in the other, raised his hardware high above his head and let out a celebratory yell for the masses. Do to Me, indeed. This was Jazz Fest history at its best.

 

Leo the Meter man ready for his close up

Leo the Meter man ready for his close up

 

New Orleans soul queen, Irma Thomas

New Orleans soul queen, Irma Thomas

 

John Boutte hushes the crowd

John Boutte hushes the crowd

 

Mardi Gras indian face time

Mardi Gras indian face time

 

Black Keys' Patrick Carney making some noise

Black Keys’ Patrick Carney making some noise

 

Other Key, uber producer/guitarist Dan Auerbach

Other Key, uber producer/guitarist Dan Auerbach

 

Wayne Shorter, gorgeous soprano from a master

Wayne Shorter, gorgeous soprano from a master

 

Brian Blade's joyful playing

Brian Blade’s joyful playing

 

Taj Mahal, pre-tubas

Taj Mahal, pre-tubas

 

Solo brother Aaron closes Gentilly

Solo brother Aaron closes Gentilly

 

McCourys and Ben Jaffe

Two McCourys and a Jaffe

 

Pete Murano gets some encouragement from Troy "Shorty" Andrews

Pete Murano gets some encouragement from Troy “Shorty” Andrews

 

All hands "solo"

All hands “solo”

 

Two horns are better than one, and Shorty rules

Two horns are better than one, and Shorty rules

 

Especially memorable

Mardi Gras colors young and old with Fi Yi Yi and the Mandingo Warriors…Johnny Sansone emptying boxes of harps to the crowd, one undoubtedly caught by the next great NOLA blues talent in the making…Jerry Douglas amid the slop, instrumental musicianship and soul deeply felt and appreciated…Tab Benoit simply going to town in the Blues Tent, when I was almost going to skip it…crawfish enchiladas and soft shell crab po-boys…Norah Jones’ smile from a few feet away…how much I totally enjoyed Phoenix…Clarke and Duke going at it like youngsters…wanting to hear more of everything, but especially Terence Blanchard…Debbie Davis’ son zonked out on her lap backstage with the New Orleans Nightcrawlers making a lovable racket and the smile on mom’s face….the attention of the John Boutte crowd in the quietest moments…going face-to-face with a Buffalo Hunters and Apache Hunters Mardi Gras Indian chief as the parade came through…Shorty’s Jazz Fest triumph…worn and torn by Day 5 of shooting and knowing we will always be back after Day 7.

The tribe of photographers is tight and I am fortunate to not just be working among so many talented people, but to count some as my friends. Rolling Stone, Offbeat, Nola.com and just about every music blog imaginable, feature the fine work of many colleagues, writers and performers. Also, for the first time, Jazz Fest was televised, with AXS TV providing over 30 hours of coverage and many full sets. The DVR helps with the detox.

So many people make the Fest possible, with the biggest shout outs to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation to all the staff, grounds crew, security, food vendors, medical crew, sound/lighting techs and stage managers. It takes more than a village to raise this barn.

Summer’s close and the Fest glow recedes, but one thing is for sure. I will be back. Next year, and every year after that I am able and breathing. It’s just gravity.

 

 

 

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Robert Randolph presents The Slide Brothers, with the Otis Taylor Band, Royce Hall

February 23, 2013

 

The Slide Brothers at Royce Hall

The Slide Brothers at Royce Hall

We’re all told to respect our elders, to learn from the generation before and to pass along tradition. Wise words musically speaking, and fundamental to any jazz or blues playbook where family legacies span generations and old sounds are regularly rediscovered and reimagined.

Now, I hail from about as far from a Pentecostal upbringing as one would expect for a ‘60s kid raised in the relative comfort of a West Los Angeles lifestyle. But when I heard Robert Randolph for the first time, I was floored. I had no clue about the roots of Sacred Steel in the church tradition, but the Hendrix like intensity he brought to the pedal steel was pretty religious in my book and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Randolph’s latest project, the Slide Brothers, pays homage to those roots. Randolph has brought together the “greatest living musicians who embody the Sacred Steel tradition” (as described on the Slide Brothers’ web site), a tradition that dates to Depression era times where steel/slide guitar and vocal melodies were all but interchangeable in church music. Calvin Cooke, Chuck Campbell, Darick Campbell and Aubrey Ghent are the Slide Brothers – a direct legacy to a musical tradition rarely heard beyond church walls. Randolph, himself a son of a deacon and a minister, saw to it that the world gets to hear these guys with the release of the self-titled debut studio album and this current tour (with dates in California and Nevada). I hadn’t heard any of the album before the show, but the mix of material from the Allman Brothers and George Harrison to more traditional spirituals sounded awfully good to me.

The Slide Brothers (with Carlton Campbell on drums and Randolph regular Ray Holloman on bass, but without Darick Campbell) got into position with the pedal steels of Randolph and Chuck Campbell bookending Calvin Cooke and Aubrey Ghent, who played their lap steels on stands (Cooke plays the same instrument his mother bought for him to this day). That’s a whole lot of strings on stage and anticipation of their confluence was obvious. Not something you are going to hear or see, well, err, almost ever.

 

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Calvin Cooke, “the B.B. King of gospel steel guitar”

 

JBP_130223_CAP_SlideBros-Randolph&Campbell_001

Youngin’, Robert Randolph

 

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Aubrey Ghent, nephew of Willie Eason who started it all

The set was way more blues rowdy than pew churchy, and shifted into high gear early. Many Sacred Steel players start as drummers, and the percussive gallop of a trap kit boogied easily on the Brothers strings. I also finally got how the steel guitar voice can stand in for so many others and I swear I heard sax, harp and vocal (especially low strings for baritone) lines at many points. The set generously focused on the debut album including the Elmore James staple, “The Sky is Crying”, and the Brothers really tore into the ZZ Top like stomp of “Help Me Make It Through” with Calvin Cooke sharing some life perspective along the way. But with Randolph’s thwacka-thwacka intro to Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” the place took off and the power Randolph and the Brothers brought to the tune was magnified many times over to cyclone like intensity (no surprise that the band was featured as part of the Hendrix Experience tribute tour last year and, as I just learned, the new album is produced by Eddie Kramer, who twisted knobs on some of Hendrix’s most famous recordings). By the end of the set, the audience was on its feet with hands up high and a distinct Sunday morning feel in the air. Randolph switched to his Tele (as he did earlier in the set), and as the band left the stage, he kept going from the wings (and of course, circled back with all of the band to close it out). The Slide Brothers encored with a stirring cover of the Allman’s “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’” (ironic for me, hearing Greg Allman do his tune in the same room last month) and the oft-covered classic “It Hurts Me Too”.

 

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Chuck Campbell on pedal steel, nephew Carlton Campbell on drums

 

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Randolph and Cooke on their feet, with Ray Holloman and Carlton Campbell

While at times it was difficult to sort out the solos from seated players on a slightly elevated stage, the sound of so much grit and slide, sweet and burn, all mashed together with such intuition was stunning. It must really be something for Randolph to share the stage with the progenitors of Sacred Steel he so revered as a young musician.

 

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Robert Randolph, standing tall among giants

The roots of the Slide Brothers are largely non-secular, but they are making music for everybody to hear and celebrate. That is worth praising whatever your beliefs.

The Otis Taylor Band opened the show underway with their unique style of “trance blues”. Taylor, who spent many years away from recording until 1996, just released his 13th album, “My World is Gone” on Concord Music. Their set was moody and meditatively jammy, yet didn’t peg with anything rote or traditional. This was not a push/pull, light/dark blues take, but much more of an ebb and flow that was entirely captivating (of course, he did manage to throw “Hey, Joe” in there, too). The Taylor Band includes Anne Harris on fiddle, Shawn Starski on guitar, Todd Edmunds on bass and Larry Thompson on drums. Harris’ lively stage presence, and slippery-fiery playing (with no doubt some serious classical background) thoroughly enriched the set. Props to UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance (CAP) for pairing the Otis Taylor Band with the Slide Brothers.

 

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Trance blueser Otis Taylor, with Shawn Starski

 

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Anne Harris, exuberant in attire, performance and playing

 

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Voodoo Experience 2012

 

Voodoo Experience 2012

 

October 26-28, 2012

As an unabashed Jazzfest vet, I approached my first Voodoo with excitement and a hint of fear. The mix of rap, EDM, and the often indefinable, sprinkled with the best of New Orleans contemporary and traditional, on a bed of arena headliners, eclectic rockers, funk and blues artists, is uniquely Voodoo.  Look, I’m an old school guy who knows enough to be dangerous to himself. Not a banger, a mosher or a surfer. I know Skrillex drops bombs that turn your bones to jelly and have never been to a Metallica show in my life, but I approached Voodoo with anticipation and an open mind. After all, there was Mr. Neil Young touring with Crazy Horse for the first time in eight years. Gary Clark, Jr.’s, blues without boundaries and the omni-bluesusical Jack White closing it out.

OK, so much for the obvious. How far would I go to connect with my inner Voodoo? Would I make it to Borgore (an Israeli DJ formerly of a death metal band), the total bizzaro of South African rappers Die Antwoord or Electric Daisy Carnival main stager Nervo (all three made “Rolling Stone’s 10 Must See Acts at Voodoo Fest”)? Maybe Voodoo would leave me forever changed and socially morphed. Or play it safe, reveling in New Orleans talent like the Soul Rebels, George Porter, Jr., Lil Band O’ Gold and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Hmmm. At Jazzfest, FOMS (“fear of missing something”) always runs high. At Voodoo, where I should be and where I could be was a kind of personal dare.

City Park is one of New Orleans’ great spaces and home to Voodoo since it moved from Tad Gormley Stadium  (near the top of the park). It’s a relaxed setting of endless greenery and moss-draped oaks, crossed by footpaths and waterways. Perfect for the last big fest of the year and a contrast to the nearby fairgrounds that host Jazzfest. The weather was spectacular; a mix of late summer warm and crisp autumn cool. The five stages are easy to access and not more than a 10-minute walk from one end to the other.

 

Voodoo’s Le Carnival Stage in City Park

Unlike Jazzfest, Voodoo goes well into the night and the weekend before Halloween in New Orleans gooses the id of the crowd even higher. Corsets and fishnets, the entire food chain (yes, that giraffe had just enough headroom to clear the porta-john), dudes in tutus. Just another day in NOLA.

 

DAY 1

‘nuf with the travelogue. Friday’s schedule was packed with Gary Clark, Jr., The Avett Brothers and Neil Young & Crazy Horse at the Ritual (main) Stage later in the day and rich with other bands I throughout. I headed to the Preservation Hall Stage, which featured local talent during the weekend. Both the Pres Hall Stage and the nearby WWOZ/Bud Light Stage are insanely intimate and, early in the day, they had the feel of a backyard barbeque. I needed an infusion of big horns right away and found it with the TBC (“To Be Continued”) Brass Band. Yup, officially back in NOLA. Next move was the soul pop of Brooklyn’s Andy Suzuki and the Method. Not quite blue-eyed in sound, but definitely soul directed, the instrumentation of fiddle and djembe (an African hand drum) augmented Suzuki’s strong vocals and keys to create vibrant, easy on the ears material. Back to the Pres Hall Stage for Little Freddie King and his traditional duckwalk , after which he threw in a little James Brown (ala “Sex Machine”) along with the usual blues staples. Guitar “Lightnin” Lee joined Little Freddie for a few tunes of dueling 3-ball red Lucilles. Stuck close by for C.C. Adcock who was sporting some impressive hardware including a steel Thinline Tele that he played with tons of tremolo and a hard tailed hollow body Flying V replete with whammy bar. Accompanied by an upright bass and two drummers facing off on a riser (giving the appearance of interlocking kits), these guys were howlingly loud and kicked up some stompingly serious boogie.

 

The TBC Brass Band, New Orleans brass always sounds better in New Orleans

 

Andy Suzuki has something to say

 

Little Freddie King and Guitar “Lightnin’” Lee, two Lucilles and a bucketful of blues

 

C.C. Adcock kicked up some serious boogie

As the day was picked up, I had to be strategic heading up to Gary Clark, Jr.’s 5 o’clock start time and the bigger names that followed. New Orleans’ 101 Runners’ tribute to Big Chief Bo Dollis was my next move and I arrived mid-set with Mardi Gras tunes on full boil. Rolling Stone pointed me next to Delta Rae, a family band featuring rooted arrangements and sweet harmonies. They hit nice Mumford-like notes without the sadness or overearnestness that befalls many of their contemporaries that played well with the younger crowd. I can see why RS called them out and look forward to hearing more than the few tunes I heard. The Le Plur/Red Bulletin Stagepulled me away for a taste of Nervo, the sister EDM act. Now, I’ve been to Electric Daisy Carnival about as many times as I’ve been (or will be) to Burning Man, but I have to say the energy was playful, totally fun and infectious. Maybe it was the safety of the daylight, but I kind of got it in my own I don’t do this thing sort of way. Then the 80s called. Thomas Dolby was playing at the Le Carnival Stage. Dolby was one of the most successful to mix effects, danceable beats and tech with sophistication and rock that was neither the cousin of 70s electronic manipulation à la Kraftwerk or the pop candy of Duran Duran. It was 80s music with a brain. Early tunes included “Europa” (a personal favorite), the band had more strings than electronics and keys, and Dolby himself lent a very affable presence. Thoroughly enjoyable.

 

The 101 Runners Tribute to Big Chief Bo Dollis

 

Delta Rae break out at Voodoo, Rolling Stone was right on this one

 

Sister Act, Nervo, at the Le Plur Stage, that was fun

 

Thomas Dolby twisting knobs at the Le Carnival Stage

Time to get my roots on with Gary Clark, Jr. at the Ritual Stage. With his ACL set scorched in my brain (which I streamed) and a show-stopping Jazzfest set in the Blues Tent (opposite Springsteen), any chance to see Clark, Jr., at this point in his career is an opportunity to witness prime time talent on the rise. No surprise he draws well at big festivals, even though two years ago only a few had really heard him. I could only stay for the first few tunes, but as soon as he hit stage it was if a huge Texas storm had just taken a blue sky day and tossed the place. The Texas shuffle of “Don’t Owe You a Thang” was especially smokin’. Next stop, George Porter, Jr. and His Runnin’ Pardners back at the OZ Stage. I appreciate Porter, Jr.’s playing even more in non-Metersesque settings (that he brings NOLA funk to Dead grooves with 7 Walkers is especially a treat) and Pardner Brint Anderson’s Les Paul and slide are well matched. After a taste of George, The Avett Brothers hit the Ritual Stage, their thrash banjo-cello attitude showing why they have such a great festival following. These guys are the anti-ramble, wielding bluegrass instruments like sharp knives, and have unstoppable energy. After  a few of Avett Brothers tunes, I couldn’t miss Malian stringer Cheick Hamala Diabate. Diabete, a Washington (DC) resident, is a griot (West African troubadour of sorts) who has collaborated with Bela Fleck and performed for the US Congress, and builds musical bridges between traditional griot instruments and their western counterparts. His banjo playing and jamming were remarkable and one of the days many highlights. One last stop before the headliner, one more special Voodoo collaboration at the Pres Hall stage that brought together George Porter, Jr. and Johnny Vidacovich, with Skerik and Mike Dillon of Garage a Trois, and the legendary “Kidd” Jordan. Jordan swapping and merging tenor squonks with the crazed and incredibly innovative Skerik over a hard groove from Porter, Jr. and Johnny V. was not to be missed, except for Neil Young.

 

Storm’s a comin’, Gary Clark, Jr.

 

Runnin’ Pardners George Porter, Jr. and Brint Anderson

 

Cheick Hamala Diabate, remarkable world bending jams

 

Scott Avett defies gravity

 

The legendary Edward “Kidd” Jordan

Neil Young has been headlining large arenas, sheds and festivals for his first tour with Crazy Horse since 2004 and his body of work remains seminal to my personal soundtrack (and has since the 70s). Young’s last performance in New Orleans at the 2009 Jazzfest is the stuff of legend. Seriously. After shredding the strings of Ol’ Black at the end of his “Day in the Life” encore, the swollen skies opened up just when the last note faded. This night was mild, and the skies clear, as Young and the Horse took the stage for a 2-hour set that can only be described as primally charged. Largely sticking to a set list consistent with the tour to date, Young was fresh from a gig in Tuscaloosa with the Horse the night before and his annual acoustic Bridge School benefits the prior weekend. The tour has featured nuggets from early 90s Young and Crazy Horse including “Love and Only Love” (the opener) and “F*!#in’ Up” from “Ragged Glory”, tracks from the just released “Psychedelic Pill” and obligatory classics.

With just a few exceptions, the set was pure cronk. Jurassic and thunderous from start to finish, perhaps never more so than with the seemingly endless coda to “Walk Like a Giant”. There was the 10+ minutes of the song and the 10+ minutes to the finish that was reduced to nothing but sustain, distortion and apocalyptic howl. Young was literally hugging the top of his stack, squeezing every last possibility for noise out of the thing until there was nothing left to give. At one point in the middle of “Giant” Young, back turned, raised his arms and shook his fists at the heavens as if channeling planetary frustration through his Les Paul to get the Almighty’s attention. He got mine. Nothing like the junkie ballad “Needle and the Damage Done” to take the edge off after that.

Later in the set, with a long pick scratch down the neck and some time machine humor, Young launched into a raucous “Mr. Soul”, before closing with “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” upon which the 40-something woman next to me proclaimed, “old guys know how to rock!”. Now there’s some Voodoo wisdom for ya. He came back with “Like a Hurricane” as an encore, at one point drifting on the words “somewhere safer”, as if repeating them would make them truer. It all ended in a ritualistic roar with Young deconstructing Ol’ Black yet again, then disintegrating into a primordial rumble that had him nudging the barely beating carcass of his guitar like a big cat over a fresh kill. A fitting end to Voodoo Day 1.

 

DAY 2

The great thing about Voodoo is sleeping in. While gates open 11ish, the music can go another 12 hours. Especially in NOLA, it is important to recharge, so rolling in around 3 seemed reasonable (as much as I wanted to check out Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, it just didn’t happen). My first Day 2 stop was the Soul Rebels Brass Band at the OZ Stage. The Rebs are Jazzfest fixtures, and get around plenty during festival season. By the time I hit their set, they were working Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” into a joyful, brassy lather. Contemporary Cajunistes Feaufollet were a worthy detour at the Pres Hall Stage before catching some of the Revivalists set at the Ritual Stage. I’ve written a lot about them lately and what I saw of their Voodoo set only reaffirms a New Orleans band playing vital rock and roll that is going places (with a Soul Rebels walk on that made them sound even better). Ingrid Lucia Presents the New Orleans Nightingales was a showcase for female vocalists of blues, jazz and traditional persuasions backed by a crack band with Alex McMurray on guitar and a 5-piece horn section including Bonerama’s Craig Klein. Irma Thomas (who I missed) is always a draw, but it was great to hear a wide range of stylings in a back-to-back format from Debbie Davis, Alexendra Scott, Banu Gibson, Meschiya Lake, Holly Bendtsen and others.

 

The Soul Rebels Brass Band’s Paul Robertson

 

Nightingale Banu Gibson at the Preservation Hall Stage

One of my must do Voodoos was Dave Stewart, who I had not seen perform since the Eurythmics days. Stewart’s recorded collaborations with Annie Lennox swung radically from the sythn-pop, tech heavy (and beautifully executed) cool of “Sweet Dreams” and “Here comes the Rain Again” to the fiery funked up rhythm and soul of “Would I Lie to You” and “Missionary Man”. Knowing he had taken a bluesier, rootsy direction in recent years had me very curious. Stewart came dressed for the Voodoo vibe with a band that included Nashville guitarist, Tom Bukovac. The set liberally featured material from last year’s “Blackbird Diaries” as well as Stewart/Eurythmics hits including “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, “Missionary Man”, “Here Comes the Rain Again” and a “Sweet Dreams” mash up with the Soul Rebels (they were everywhere). From the outset, Stewart and his band were also one of the most photo friendly and audience engaging acts I have covered in a long time. He was frequently playing to the pit, freely posing and smiling, and having a great time every minute he was on stage. A lot of artists could take a page from his book.

 

Dave Stewart keeping good Voodoo company

At the Ritual Stage, I hit the start of LA’s own Silversun Pickups gasoline-fueled set then circled back for some  timeless reggae courtesy of Toots and the Maytals at the OZ Stage, where Toots was given a generous 90 minutes.

 

Silversun Pickups’ Brian Aubert and Chris Guanlao make big sounds on the Le Ritual Stage

 

Toots Hibbert and a Maytal

Unfortunately, I was not shortlisted to shoot the headliners, including Metallica. Sometimes things work out the way they’re meant to. Anders Osborne’s set with VOW collaborators Johnny Sansone and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux in front of a few hundred was another highlight. Opening with the thrumming urgency of “On the Road to Charlie Parker”, it felt like they’d been playing for hours, and they just dug in from there. I’ve heard Sansone perform “Lord is Waiting the Devil is Too” many times, but this night he was truly a man possessed by the spirit. I mean scary potent. Oh, and only at Voodoo could you check a guy in an Anders costume and everyone is in on it.

 

Not far from Metallica, Anders Osborne played a scorching set

 

Big Chief Monk Boudreaux

After Anders’, I slid over for the very end of MyNameIsJohnMichael’s set. Spanky horns, uptempo arrangements, great energy. I’ll make sure to catch them come Jazzfest time, if not sooner.

 

 

I managed to get to some of Metallica’s set. These guys put on a highly entertaining and totally energized performance, with world class staging and lighting for a festival setting that is second to none. Consummate professionals, for sure. Me, I was pretty spent after two full days and some two dozen plus acts, and just wasn’t feeling my Metallica (I’m a little old for fireworks and explosions, anyway), but I totally get why they are kings of their scene.

 

DAY 3

Sunday was lighter on acts that pulled me, a perfect opp to go outside my bandwidth. I started with some New Orleans Bounce at the Le Carnival Stage and the younger, totally buoyant crowd way in to all the shakin’ it on stage. Long, tall Marcia Ball at the OZ Stage could not be passed up, even it was a drive by en route to the prog-metal weirdness of Coheed and Cambria (classic Voodoo whiplash). “Afterman: Ascension” the latest installment in the band’s ongoing epic mythology, sits at no. 5 on the Billboard charts, somewhere between Ellie Goulding and Mumford & Sons. Formed in 1995, each of the band’s six albums to date are concept pieces for the “Armory Wars”, a science fiction storyline written by singer/guitarist Claudio Sanchez. I can’t say I really got it for the early tunes I made, but the sound was big and crunchy, more metal than prog. And Sanchez’s mane makes Jim James look like he just got a no. 2 at the local barbershop.

 

The bounce energy up front

 

Long Tall Marcia Ball knows a few things about Peace, Love & BBQ

 

Coheed and Cambria’s Claudio Sanchez ascends

Needing to chill, I quickly checked out Borgore at the Le Plur/Red Bulletin Stage. This former drummer of the Israeli death metal band Shabira (not a genre I’m overly familiar with) is all dubstep and according to Wikipedia, “some songs have been compared to horror movies, farm animals, and sex”. Not sure I got that anymore than I am a dubstep aficionado, so I pressed on to Lil Band O’ Gold back at the OZ Stage to bring me back down. Lil Band O’ Gold is somewhat legendary in New Orleans circles, featuring C.C. Adcock on guitar, Steve Riley on accordion (delayed by weather) and David Egan on keys. Perhaps most impressive were the vigorous vocals and playing of 75 year old drummer Warren Storm.  A joy to have finally caught up with these guys who represent the best in New Orleans roots music. Then there is the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Few names are more synomonuos with New Orleans musical traditions. With Big Al Carson sitting in on vocals, the Pres Hall Band swung and sang there way through a spirited set capped off by a warm rendition of “Goodnight, Irene”.

 

Chillin’ with Borgore at the Le Plur/Red Bulletin Stage

 

Warren Storm of Lil Band O’ Gold

 

Preservation Hall Jazz Band from the Preservation Hall Stage

Skrillex (only at Voodoo could you bounce from the Pres Hall Jazz Band to Skrillex). Holy crap. These weren’t bombs, they were cannonballs to the chest. I can only relate the visceralness of the sonic/visual experience. The music itself just poured over me, submerging me behind a wall of visuals and sound that left me in a puddle. And that was for the 10 minutes I could shoot.

 

Skrillex celebrates fire

Voodoo wrapped with a closing set by Jack White and (for this night only) The Buzzards. With upright bass and pedal steel adding raw texture, they stayed low to the ground, gritty, pushy and fiery, delivering a set of shape-shifting blues rock that was a wholly satisfying conclusion to my first Voodoo Experience.

So, at the end of it all, did I Voodoo well? I went places I’ve never been, found shelter in the New Orleans rhythms and brass I love and heard 30+ acts over the three days. It is just this mix that is hard to duplicate anywhere else. The traditional and the contemporary, the edgy and the extreme, the local and the global, headliners and up and comers. All set in “this stew called New Orleans” (as Paul Sanchez puts it). I’m not off the reservation yet, but maybe a little closer to the edge than I was before. That’s a good thing. Voodoo done me right.

You can check out many of the Voodoo Experience 2012 performances on Voodoo TV. The event would not be possible without the good people of Rehage Entertainment (RE).  RE owns, operates, produces, books and manages the Voodoo Experience, which has twice been nominated for Pollstar’s festival of the year.

 

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Honey Island Swamp Band Returns to The Mint

August 14, 2012

 

Chris Mulé, Aaron Wilkinson and Sam Price, the HISB frontline at The Mint

It’s apropos that the Honey Island Swamp Band would return for a summer gig at The Mint following an appearance at Outside Lands the prior weekend. After all, the Bay Area figures so prominently in this NOLA band’s origin story. Stranded by Katrina. Crescent City players a long way from home. Meet up on the west coast. Bond big time. Keep their chops strong. Throw a few songs together. Land a regular gig in the heart of town. Cut their debut in the one and only Record Plant in Sausalito. It could only happen….where?

 

Chris Mulé, Aaron Wilkinson and Sam Price diggin’ in at The Mint

This is their third trip to The Mint in 14 months. That’s not a bad thing. Whether it’s covering their LA dates, staking their ground from the big stage at the Fest or enjoying their pop up everywhere Fest club dates, I have been a fan since first catching them at Jazzfest in 2008.  The Bay Area meets bayou influences are everywhere in the HISB sound. Solid songwriting, tight arrangements and enough room to stretch, their self-coined “bayou americana” is rootsy strings first stuff. Swamp driven, but not dripping, and often sprouting ensemble fed jams from tasty hooks, HISB sets include staples from their first three albums “Honey Island Swamp band (2007), “Wishing Well” (2009) and “Good to You” (2010), and more recently, new material from a pending fourth release.

 

Aaron Wilkinson and Sam Price are good to you…

Guest Robert Walter was on hand to thicken the gumbo a bit. Many an HISB gig add horns up top, so it’s a fresh twist to double down with Walter and Trevor Brooks on keys. Behind the stringed attack of frontmen, Aaron Wilkinson who moves between his Thinline Tele and mandolin, and Chris Mulé’s excellent Strat fed slide work, HISB serves up material reminiscent of Little Feat, Creedence, Black Crowes and many of the band’s NOLA peers, while remaining totally original. Sam Price’s stage energy is only exceeded by the pulsing, bubbling work on his Lakland bass. Garland Paul is a great foil for Price and the rhythm section drives and roots a band that feeds one another with spirited stage IQ in a deceptively comfortable musical setting.

 

Mint denizen and former Greyboy, Robert Walter

 

Sam Price, OshKosh cover boy

 

HISB drummer Garland Paul at The Mint

Opening with the country ramble of “Honey” (from “Good to You”), the tune had Trevor Brooks off to the races. “Josephine”, (also from, “Good to You”) is simply a good time song of love on the road with a great hook. Some muscular playing from Price and kick ass exchanges between Chris Mulé and Trevor Brooks drove that point home. Walter’s jazzier inclinations added another layer to the already jammy “Chocolate Cake” (from “Good To You”) and his soul jazz sound on his own “Snakes and Spiders” (from his 2008 release, “Cure All”) and later in the set, “Hard Ware” (from 2005’s “Super Heavy Organ”) and “Quantico, VA”, were an intriguing match for HISB that worked better than expected. “300 Pounds” (from “Good To You”) is a classic tale of weed running that again had Mulé satisfyingly meshing with four hands on the keys. “Slip” from their self-titled debut and “One Shot” (unreleased) were feisty, with the latter beginning with a reggae on the bayou feel and the former featuring some nice wah-wah like effects from Mulé, when the band was not hugging the go to m7/dom 9 change. Throughout the set, Aaron Wilkinson’s mandolin work showed how much that little box can rock, when he wasn’t tangling Fenders with Mulé or working a hot summer day harp in to the mix. His 8-string touch on “One Shot” climbed all around the blues step of the tune.

 

Aaron Wilkinson, 8-stringing

 

Chris Mulé and and shadow lurker Trevor Brooks

No song captures the musical strengths of HISB like “Wishing Well” (from the 2008 release of the same name).  Swampy riffs, a sing along chorus and deep stretches of purposeful jams. At The Mint, the snaky intro, Mulé’s slide and the ensemble spirit had me deja vuing for long lost brain cells. “Till the Money’s Gone” (from “Wishing Well”) is an all NOLA romp and “Jitterbug Swing” (an old Bukka White tune, also unreleased) is fleet footed front porch bluesgrass. “Cane Sugar” (unreleased) and “Country Girl” (from “Good To You”), with its Van Morrison if he could boogie flavor, closed things out.

 

Sam Price gets high on the neck

 

Garland Paul

Singer/guitarist Clarence Bucaro opened the show with a well received set culled from his five albums, including the just released “Walls of the World”.

 

Clarence Bucaro during his opening set

HISB is deceiving. The tunes feel like your own backyard throwdown, but go deeper. The funk, blues, bluegrass, jam, country, bayou sound they have cultivated will satisfy jam fans and roots devotees alike. Fest vets know what I’m talking about and the thousands who caught them Saturday at Outside Lands do too. And they just keep getting better.

 

HISB, one hand on the wheel at all times

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Dumpstaphunk, The Mint

March 1, 2012

 

Seriously 'phunked at The Mint

Dumpstaphunk is slippery, stinky, smelly, funked up stuff. It says so in the name. We get it, but just to make sure nobody misses the point, Nick Daniels III and Tony Hall lock up dueling basses at every D-phunk gig. The prowess of the players is unquestioned, the history and Neville legacy familiar. Ivan’s indulgences and 14 years sobriety. His time as a Stones/Richards sideman. The fat Hammond sound and rich vocals he’s cultivated with Dumpstaphunk since 2003, along with numerous other projects and collaborations. Cousin Ian carrying the torch with the Funky Meters. Tony Hall’s double barreled Strat/bass attack and emcee theatrics. Nick Daniel’s III’s powerful digits. New addition Nikki GIaspie’s huge resume and Berklee chops. It all adds up to a solid unit that puts it in the dumpsta night in, night out.

 

Tony Hall, two basses are badder

Back in the day, Ivan Neville had more than a few residencies at The Mint and he’s no stranger to LA these days, either. The last time I caught Dumpstaphunk in town, they headlined a double bill with Rebirth at the Roxy and the energy was crazy. This time around, they were playing a room half that size over two nights. Scary. The LA dates kicked off a March tour schedule more demanding than a 2012 NBA road trip (14 dates in 24 days in California and the southeast). Dumpsta’s latest, Everybody Want Sum, was released in November and Jazzfest is around the corner, so I was counting on a good night. And with tunes like “Greasy Groceries”, “Stinky”, “Standing in Your Stuff” and “Everybody Want Sum” in the repertoire, I’m pretty sure ballads were checked at the door.

 

Ivan Neville at The Mint

The Thursday show I caught didn’t get going until minutes before Friday. From the get go, the band was sticky tight. Between the Hall/Daniels III twin bass attack and Ivan’s clavinet, the ‘phunk felt plenty good. “Everybody Want Sum” from the new album has a perfect R&B soul hook that could be easily mistaken as a Sly Stone cover and featured nice Hammond work from Ivan Neville. The rubbery dual bass mixed well with Ian Neville’s right on top of the beat rhythm work. With “Blueswave”, Dumpsta moved to an almost Texas like stomp and some gritty Strat slinging by Tony Hall.

 

Nikki Glaspie holding it down

The stew really started to simmer closer to 1 AM, as affirmed by a crowd yell of “taking it to a whole other level!” And that was before the band even launched into “Deeper” (from Everybody Want Sum) > “Put It in the Dumpsta” (a D-phunk staple). Ivan Neville and Tony Hall turned “Dumpsta” into the best kind of group therapy, totally groove heavy with some healthy demon exorcising for good measure. “Living in a World Gone Mad” (from the 2007 EP, Listen Hear) brought guest Val McCallum to the stage (Jacksh*t, Lucinda Williams), and McCallum tore into his solos with sufficient fury to smoke out the room, clearly enjoying trading lines with Ivan’s Hammond. The gloppy dual bass interplay was especially pungent with the jam rock feel of “Lt. Dan” and the pre-encore set closed with the almost gospelly hinted call and response of “Meanwhile” (from Listen Hear).

 

Tony Hall and Ivan Neville, 1 AM and warming up

Over the years I’ve been to my share of Dumpsta shows, and often took them for granted as just another NOLA side project that dependably delivered. The Mint gig brought me back into the fold with deeper appreciation for the band. High energy and high impact, drawing funk influences from the best of the Meters, James Brown, Sly Stone, Prince and countless others to shape their sound with precision and soul. Meaty stuff. Don’t miss them at Jazzfest.

 

Ivan Neville, Jazzfest 2010

 

 

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Honey Island Swamp Band, The Mint

February 10, 2012

 

Aaron Wilkinson

You couldn’t miss it. She was vintage. All black and chrome. Gleaming under the streetlight. Probably mid-80s, but who knows. The guys had a bus. Rolling from gig to gig in comfort, if not style. Not flashy. The sight of that thing parked smack in front of the Mint on Pico (couldn’t fit it in around back) was pretty sweet. Not about ego, all about pride. For a band that has been a staple at Jazzfest for years and hitting their stride, it had to feel pretty good to be back in LA under their own power.

 

Chris Mule and Garland Paul

After making their Southland debut last June (see my post of that show deeper in this blog), HISB returned with a generous (2+ hour) Friday night set. The tunes are familiar, the vibe upbeat. Everyone seems to leave an HISB gig pretty damn happy.

 

Sam Price, sharp dressed man

The band is back in the studio aiming for a late spring release to add to their 3 album catalog (their eponymous 2007 EP, 2009’s Wishing Well and 2010’s Good To You), and the set had generous helpings from all their material. The raucous “Till the Money’s Gone”, the jammy “Wishing Well” and the front porch fun of “Natural Born Fool (all from Wishing Well) made for a satisfying night in themselves.  And “Josephine” and “Country Girl” from Good to You took a little bit of the February chill off with a summer kegger for grown ups feel. Strains of Black Crowes, Steve Miller, Petty, even the Eagles, stirred in with the band’s bayou roots give HISB some real kick that’s original, not derivative.

 

Aaron Wilkinson and Sam Price, front porch style

No horns for this performance, so the sound was a little leaner than their last Mint show (which featured Karl Denson working on all cylinders). All the more room to showcase Chris Mule’s slippery slide work and the brotherly interplay between Mule and Aaron Wilkinson. Sam Price’s usual stage exuberance was matched by his pulsing lock step work with Garland Paul and the rest of the band, including Trevor Brooks on keys, who added a lot of flavor throughout the night.

 

Chris Mule, a man and his Strat

The encore set ended with shots for the band. Well earned. Their ride wasn’t going anywhere and their dorm room was steps away. Nothing like Sunday dawn on Pico Boulevard. Seriously good times. More to come.

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Honey Island Swamp Band, The Mint


Chris Mule and Aaron Wilkinson doing some shredding

June 26, 2011

Honey Island Swamp Band swung into the Westside on Saturday, another NOLA nugget appearing at the Mint.  This is a New Orleans band that reflects its Katrina Diaspora-Bay Area birth with chunky and soulful jams, tight arrangements and great material.  If you are expecting ballads, standards, and second lines, this ain’t that NOLA band.  Whether moving easily from moments Dead infused or Dr. John influenced, their self-described Bayou Americana sound never loses sight of its swampy swagger or solo driven joy.  The band has kicked ass at Jazzfest the past few years, so a chance to enjoy them here in the Southland was indeed a treat, and to my knowledge, The Mint gig is their first Los Angeles show.

Aaron Wilkinson feelin' it

At Fest performances and in the studio, HISB often fattens their arrangements with horns, and Saturday had that taste with Karl Denson sitting in for both sets contributing frequent solos and locking into some killer grooves with Trevor Brooks on keys and Chris Mule’s SG/Strat driven leads.  When not providing the good time feel of a summer day front porch harp, Aaron Wilkinson switched between mandolin and his hollow-body Tele, taking the bluegrass string thing into Hendrix/Page territory, while the rhythm section of Sam Price and Garland Paul just kept having too much fun and pushing the band ahead.  HISB can swing easily from romps like “Natural Born Fool”, and the Anders Osborne reminiscent “Till the Money’s Gone,” to there and back deep intense jams like “Wishing Well”.  While the material is straight ahead, HISB is not shy about stretching out live.

Karl Denson sitting in all night

The mixed crowd ranged from music savvy date night couples, thrilled to have the tables gone and the dance floor open for the second set, to the usual NOLA diehards that wouldn’t miss it.  The vibe was relaxed and up.

This summer tour behind the their recent Threadhead Records release, “Good to You”, takes HISB from the where it all began of San Francisco’s Boom-Boom Room, to the where it was always meant to be at Tipitina’s in NOLA.  I suspect they will be back in the SoCal soon, and playing bigger places.  Catch them while you can.

Mssrs. Mule, Wilkinson and Price

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Jim Brock Photographs featured in Review of Voice of the Wetlands All Stars

 

Anders Osborne, The Mint, Voice of the Wetlands, 2011

February 2011

Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars

The Mint, February 10, 2011

Tab Benoit, The Mint, Voice of the Wetlands, 2011

It is always something special when the likes of Tab Benoit, Anders Osborne, Johnny Sansone, Cyril Neville, and Johnny Vidacovich (and for this tour, Wayne Thibodeaux) get together to spread the word about wetlands devastation, and to just flat out play. Tab Benoit said early on that if you’re going to rehearse, and get that thing really rolling, shouldn’t waste it on an empty room. Those few hundred comfortably packed into The Mint for this VOTWAS show got the better end of that deal. The stage was shared by all, whether Johnny Sansone was bringing it with the fiery Poor Man’s Paradise, Tab Benoit killin’ it all night long, Anders Osborne wringing all the light and the dark out of Louisiana Rain and Darkness at the Bottom, Wayne Thibodeaux “rowing that pirouge” or Cyril Neville getting everyone to feel the Blues for New Orleans. The players brought the best out of each other, with plenty of smiles and solos to go around – truly a collaboration of chops and spirit. Of course, anticipation built for Big Chief Monk Boudreaux to make his entrance towards the end of the set, and a rousing Little Liza Jane kept it all flowing well past midnight. The good people at The Mint continue to bring the best of New Orleans music to Los Angeles and this special performance will no doubt be a highlight for 2011.

See the Photographs and Read the Article www.jetsetjen.com

Osborne, Neville & Benoit, The Mint, Voice of the Wetlands, 2011

 

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