Review and Photos by Bob Adamek – [email protected]
Louisiana has taken more than its share of abuse over the last five years, and people are hurting. The state is still a long way from recovering fully from hurricane Katrina, and now has to contend with a major environmental disaster from the BP deep water Horizon oil spill. As watermen, the support systems surrounding them, and the tourism industry have had their way of life and their incomes put on hold, musicians and folks from all over the country have been banding together to raise money to help. Just such an event took place in Virginia Beach, Virginia on Sunday, August 15th, and I was lucky enough to be there to see it.
QuiVa Productions and famed club The Jewish Mother banded together with major sponsor Star Hill to produce a fantastic show featuring four “A” list bands from Louisiana. The enormous effort put out by Jason Bruner from QuiVa Productions and his legion of volunteers showed their clear love for Louisiana music and the place that nurtured such talent.
The event was set up in the parking lot of The Jewish Mother. Many of the folks in the crowd were long time fans of the bands and had traveled far to be there. The bands were in no hurry to leave when their sets were done, and the afternoon took on the feeling of a backyard barbeque with the musicians hanging out in the crowd before and after their sets, connecting with old friends and making new ones. The first band up was the Honey Island Swamp Band, which has been making heads turn all year on the festival circuit on the heels of their first full length album, “Wishing Well”. The band features above all, great song writing by guitarists Aaron Wilkinson and Chris Mule. Their swampy mix of southern soul is rounded out by Garland Paul on drums and Sam Price on bass. The set was energetic, soulful and easily reminiscent of the sounds you would hear on a hot summer night in the French Quarter in New Orleans. The tone of the day was set by HISB when they invited first, Khris Royal, saxophonist for George Porter Jr.’s Runnin’ Pardners, then Sam Williams, trombonist and front man extraordinaire for Big Sam’s Funky Nation up on stage for a couple of sit-ins. Through the afternoon and into the night the bands showed the camaraderie and respect that is typical of the New Orleans music scene.
Big Sam’s Funky Nation was up second and wowed the crowd with their typical high energy show. Sam Williams is a master MC, not content to have his fans sit down when he is marching astride the stage, fully in charge. Sam uses an MC styled, call-and-answer approach with the crowd and, with all due respect to James Brown, dances harder than any front man I’ve ever seen. All the while he demands an athletic set of playing from his fabulous band. His show is electric and shouldn’t be missed.
Big Sam gave way to the tail wagging funk of one of funk’s founding fathers, George Porter Jr. and the Runnin’ Pardners. George’s love of music, performing and fellowship with the scene has spawned a legion of dedicated fans. George is humble, respectful and appreciative of the folks that go out of their way to see him. His band, newly reformed this year, has gotten so tight it hurts. Porter is teamed with long time collaborators Brint Anderson on guitar and Michael Lemler on keyboards. George’s knack for discovering new talent is again on display with saxophonist Khris Royal and the remarkable young drummer, Terrence Houston. Together this band rolled through a great selection of Meters tunes that haven’t seen the light of day for a long, long time. Throughout, George also mixed in songs from his solo efforts and songs he recorded with other bands. There is always a charge of excitement shooting through the crowd when George plays, and this crowd was loaded for him, creating a really exciting scene in front of the stage.
The night’s final act was the tireless wetlands restoration activist, Tab Benoit. Tab plays often enough at The Jewish Mother, and it seemed like most of the local crowd were really ready for him, but I don’t think anybody was quite ready for what we got. Tab opened his set on fire, playing his brand of three piece blues with real attitude. Tab often tells great stories in between songs, joking and connecting with his audience. On this night there was little of that as he seemed charged by the music that came before him. After several tunes, he invited guitarist Brint Anderson from the Runnin’ Pardners up on stage. A couple of really electric songs later, Big Sam and his trumpet player Drew Baham joined them. Then Saxophonist Khris Royal came up, followed by Aaron Wilkinson from Honey Island on harmonica. Tab slipped back on the drums and Honey Island guitarist Chris Mule and Big Sam guitarist Takeshi Shimmura also came up. The show at this point was really dynamic, giving everyone there a feeling of what a special event we were seeing. Tab’s bass player Corey Duplechin was leading the band in one incredibly funky jam after another. Finally, the evening peaked when, during the last song, a solid 40 minute, non-stop funk jam, George Porter Jr. came up and borrowed Brint Anderson’s well worn Gibson Les Paul and played several guitar solos in turn with everyone else.
At the end of the night, Tab thanked everyone for coming and contributing, and reminded all of us that what we had just seen was also a critical part of that way of life worth preserving.