Ever since the lineup for the 2012 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was announced on December 13, myself and many other music fans have been dreaming of long days spent listening to the endless choices of amazing music from every genre available at the Fairgrounds (and praying for no rain like last year…did I just jinx us all?!?).
[All Photos by Marc Millman]
Although some people make the sojourn to the Big Easy in late April/early May for boozing on Bourbon Street and some go for the food (Am I the only one dreaming of Cochon de Lait for breakfast, lunch & dinner on the field?), most go for THE MUSIC. And yes, it’s great that the Beach Boys are reuniting with Brian Wilson for their 50th Anniversary. And I am totally psyched to see the Foo Fighters who I missed this tour for the first time ever. And no, I don’t care about the money-grabbing Eagles (even if Joe Walsh is a god and they have a hundred great songs). Let’s face the fact – most die-hards make the trek to NOLA for the local music, the occasional special guest “sit-in” on the field and the special “jams” that occur in the clubs at night.
But alas, it’s January in New York City and it’s freezing out. Instead of Cochon de Lait I get some great falafel at Mahmoun’s or Bereket, great pizza at Joe’s, John’s or Ben’s and great pastrami at…you name your favorite famous deli. But what about THE MUSIC? Well thanks to the likes of the guys at CEG Presents, Brooklyn Bowl and some savvy smaller promoters like Shari Frank of SF Management and Hypersoul from New Orleans, there is plenty of funky, soulful, rock & jazz to tide us over for a few months until Central Park thaws, the cherry and magnolia blossoms open and we hop on flights to Louis Armstrong Airport.
Over the last several weeks, two events in particular stuck out in my mind as the perfect confection until we get to Bourbon or Frenchman Streets to make the connection.
On Friday, January 6th, the good folks from Hypersoul held the first of three nights in a row showcasing their acts from Louisiana. Export NOLA at Hill Country BBQ on West 26th Street provided nearly six hours of music from Mia Borders, Amanda Shaw, Big Sam’s Funky Nation and the Stooges Brass Band. And one week later on Friday the 13th and Saturday the 14th, Shari Frank put on another round of her Up From The Bayou series to help raise money for the New Orleans Musicians Assistance Fund at AOA on the outskirts of TriBeCa. These two shows featured Raw Oyster Cult which is 60% of the Radiators (Dave Malone, Camile Baudoin & Frank Bua) with John Gros (Papa Grows Funk) and Dave Pomerlau (Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes Band). Both nights local band Circus Mind opened, playing tight New Orleans influenced funk grooves. And on Friday local teen Charlie Dane opened and even performed Son of A Preacher Man with Circus Mind.
Export NOLA was actually a weekend-long event. There was the Friday night show mentioned here, another one on Saturday at Brooklyn Bowl and a last on Sunday night back at Hill Country. The other two shows were variations on this line-up and included Shamarr Allen & the Underdawgs and The Iguanas. On Friday night Ms. Borders set reminded me of early Joan Osborne shows at places like Delta 88. Although she plays a Telecaster and leans a little more towards rock, she has that slightly raspy voice with a Southern twang. And for the first of four bands, she had no problem commanding the attention of the sold-out room.
Ms. Shaw, who at 19 works the stage like a woman many years older and wiser, came next. Amanda tore it up on the fiddle like a woman possessed. In fact, for one of her covers she did Charlie Daniels’ The Devil Went Down To Georgia, which grabbed the crowd’s attention. After moving around the stage quickly and without stopping for an hour, she ended with a cover of The Clash’s hit from Combat Rock, Should I Stay Or Should I Go. The answer from the crowd, even though there were two bands left, seemed to be: STAY.
The actual headliner came third. I have reviewed Big Sam before. This is the ultimate party band. Their mix of funk, rock, pop, R&B and rap gives you a little bit of everything a great dance party should have. They mix in recent Top 40 hits with their own material making it feel more like listening to a great Saturday Night DJ on WBLS-FM back in the ’80s rather than to another live band from New Orleans fronted by a trombone player.
After Sam played a set close to 90 minutes in length, the Stooges Brass Band wrapped up the night. They are one of the Crescent City’s top Brass bands. If you are a fan of the Dirty Dozen or the Soul Rebels, you will thoroughly enjoy the street party these guys put on. I stumbled upon them for the first time last year as I left the Festival Grounds one afternoon during Jazz Fest. While waiting for a friend, I was drawn in by the revelry going on over my shoulder where old ladies and little kids were dancing with long-haired hippies and baby boomers.
The next weekend, I spent two nights at a newer venue called AOA (Avenue Of The Americas). It is really more of a sports bar and restaurant. However, local promoter Shari Frank found it to use as a new venue for her continuing Up From The Bayou concert series that raises money for NOMAF. The cause is a great one. If you love the music of the Big Easy, it’s nice to see some of it locally and be able to help provide healthcare for these hard-working musicians, many of whom don’t have the insurance needed to get proper medical care.
Ms. Frank is doing a local take on the now famous Down on The Bayou show held every year during Jazz Fest week in New Orleans at the Howlin’ Wolf club. She is very adept at pulling together a mix of musicians from different bands to form an “all-star” group. Sometimes this incorporates local players from the New York area. This time it featured three of the five members of the recently disbanded Radiators with Mr. Gros on keys and vocals and Mr. Pomerlau on bass. Mr. Malone did most of the singing and shared guitar duties with Mr. Baudoin. Mr. Bau played drums. The sets leaned heavily on Radiators staples (both originals and covers). And Mr. Gros acted as the other lead vocalist. On Friday night, the great Christine Ohlman from the Saturday Night Live band sat in with them as she did at the last Up From The Bayou show.
The bands managed by Hypersoul who were part of Export NOLA make frequent swings through the City. All of them tour nationally. If you are in the New York City area, you will generally find them playing shows promoted either by the men behind Sullivan Hall under the NOLA Funk “brand” or at Brooklyn Bowl. Ms. Frank’s next show in the Up From The Bayou series is Fishhead Stew. This is another show tailor-made for Radiators lovers. It will feature Dave Malone, Camile Baudoin and Reggie Scanlan of The Rads, along with the amazing Adam Deitch (Lettuce, Break Science) and of course, Christine Ohlman. The show is on Tuesday, February 7th. So we can all go out that day and buy the new Van Halen album and then go and shake our booties in the Meatpacking District (sort of like a crazy night on Frenchman Street).