Introducing…Big Sam & His Big ‘Bone

Midnight passed, and my only truly hip co-worker turned to me and said, “Where are we going tonight after the holiday party ends?”

I’d been planning on returning to the loving embrace of my couch, the combination of mild drunkenness and all-out exhaustion settling in this Friday evening. But this co-worker and JazzFest veteran was in from out of town, and I knew I should show her a good time around the city — ya know, offer her a taste of what Manhattan had to share on a nightly basis. “I’ve got a present for you,” I said. “Big Sam’s Funky Nation is playing two sets tonight.” Her face lit up immediately.

Until that day I’d actually never even heard of Big Sam Williams, the former trombone player for Dirty Dozen Brass Band. But after his kickassingly raucous two-set show at the Knitting Factory on Friday night, I’ll see him and whatever citizens of his nation he brings along every time he comes to town. It’s kinda late to be throwing your name into the Favorite Show of the Year category, but Big Sam made a serious dark-horse bid for that title this weekend.  

Big Sam

If you ever feel like having fun — not move-around-and-smile fun, but full-on-dance-party-dripping-with-sweat fun — then make it a point to see Big Sam’s Funky Nation whenever you can. Between his oft-comedic emcee stylings, his incredibly talented band of players and his penchant for cool teases (he smoothly segued from a New Orleans standard > a No Diggity tease and a Big Sam tune > Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy), the night was full of hilarious and well-played surprises. I mean, give me a Hey Pocky Way and a Shake Everything You Got after 2 am and you’ve got a fan for life…

Big Sam’s obviously got some admirers within the music community too, inspiring some great musicians to come out and play with him that night. In addition to some regulars (like his sax-man and number two Calvin Johnson), Big Sam trotted out his Dirty Dozen brother Jamie McLean on guitar, free agent drummer Adam Deitch, Nori Narioka on bass, Cochemea “Cheme” Gastelum on sax and some other accomplished folks I can’t name. And I’m not sure if it’s a band rule that everyone has to smile the entire time or whether it’s just that fucking fun to play in his band, but I was staring at Cheshire grins and pearly white teeth all night.

Shit, I may have to head down to JazzFest just for a return engagement. 

Related audio: Check out this link for the Big Sam Funky Nation Jukebox (stream samples of the BSFN album Birth of A Nation); and click here to download Big Sam’s set from The Funkbox in Baltimore on 7/16/05 from etree.

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15 Responses

  1. Ace,
    Great review. Nice to meet you and your friend. Tell her next time she’s in town, I owe her a beer. I got so caught up in the full force of the funk that I never got a chance to recipricate her generosity. If you do plan on JazzFest, expect about 5 nights of what you witnessed this weekend, but multiply it by a 1000.


  2. Actually, she was a bit short on cash and the Tap Bar doesn’t accept plastic, so I bought you that beer. You owe me one, redeemable on demand, motherfucker.

    Great meeting you as well. I hope your friend and girlfriend didn’t get too cold waiting for you to join them outside. Fucking hooligans — who gets kicked out of the Knit?! I’ve never heard of that.

  3. You know how the Sports Guy gets his Bird fundies all up in a bunch when a friend sends him a “Vegas?” email. For me, it’s the “Jazzfest?” emails. Right around mid-January they start going around. And then promoter’s emails with random show pairings start filling your inbox: “Don’t miss IvanMoorski with Stanton Moore, Les Claypool, Ivan Neville, Skerik, and Cheme!” “Don’t miss Skerik’s Band Of Thinly Veiled Sexually References with Skerik, DJ Logic, Les Claypool, Ivan Neville, and Stanton Moore!” “It’s PorterHouse a Medeski with George Porter, Skerik, the Housman, John Medeski, DJ Logic and Ivan Neville!” “Late night Tip’s with MCNSBDD: John Medeski, Cheme, Ivan Neville, Skerik, Russell Batiste, Karl Denson, DJ Logic and Luther Dickenson!” “It’s the Night of a Thousand Bassists! No drums! No guitars! No keys! Just 3 straight hours of bass solos with Les Claypool, whoever they got to replace Allen Woody, George Porter, Futureman, Dave Schools, and Particle’s bassist!!” “Don’t miss out on the Riverboat with Hey We’re Here Too! A conglomeration of every single member of the seemingly hundreds of bluegrass bands that all sound more or less the same! Featuring all of Yonder Mountain String Band, all of Hot Buttered String Band, all of Honkytonk Homeslice, all of Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, and – somehow – Particle.” Yes, Jazzfest. Smell the love.

  4. Yes, it’s true – I was short on cash. What kind of bar doesn’t take plastic?!?
    You’ll be happy to know that the $18 I had in my wallet got me a cab ride to my hotel, a slice of pizza, and two gatorades at Penn Station before I boarded my train on Saturday morning.
    Thanks again for the drinks Ace!

  5. big sam has one of the coolest on stage shimmy and shuffle i’ve ever seen…if he’s got 5 square feet to work with, he’ll paint his area with his funk…

    between his smile and his dance…and of course his ‘bone…, staying up for green eggs and ham if you be out all night with big sam…


  6. Any time, j-love…glad you suggested we go out after. I knew just the place apparently.

    ChefRa, yeah, he did tell me that the owner puked on him — what’s the story there? Since you told me he got kicked out I figured that was your friend, so I told him Rob will be right out, to which he drunkenly replied, “He pukes in you too” or something unintelligible like that. Classic.

    Chilly, that might be the greatest comment in the history of blogs. That deserves its own post.

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