Jazz Fest at Night: Bear Creek Allstars, Dragon Smoke & The Meters

Written by Bob Adamek / Photos by Bob Adamek

June 5, 2012

 

The Meters, Bear Creek All-Stars, Dragon Smoke
Various Venues
New Orleans, LA
May 1-5, 2-12

 

 

The two week binge of musical excess that is Jazz Fest in New Orleans can leave music fans exhausted just from trying to sort out the choices. There are “Super Jams” nightly in the city’s well-worn famous music venues like Tipitina’s, The Howlin’ Wolf, and One Eyed Jack’s and in the clubs along Frenchmen Street. Shows where thrown together bands of the world’s best funk players perform long into the night, and sit-ins can mount into a dozen or more at a single show.

 

The shows:

 

The Original Meters w/ Papa Grows Funk and Rebirth Brass Band- 5/5/12

 

The Howlin’ Wolf hosted a show that’s sure to go down as legend: one of the patriarchal bands of everything funky, the original Meters, played their first club date in over 30 years. There are many influential bands and musicians that have guided R&B, soul and funk for the last 50 years, but number one and two on anybody’s list would surely be James Brown, and the Meters.

Saturday night, May 5 brought back together Art Neville, George Porter Jr., Leo Nocentelli and Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste for what was supposed to be a 90 minute set of vintage funk. It turned into much more, going on for nearly two and a half hours.

After a sizzling set by funk stalwarts Papa Grows Funk, the Meters opened with “Fire On The Bayou,” the crowd singing the chorus loud enough to nearly drown out the band.

Following that was “The Dragon,” and “Cissy Strut” played crisp and close to the script. Something started to happen after that though, as the band seemed to be sucked into what the crowd was already feeling. The group of musicians, so important to so many, were not playing on a big festival stage, but rather in a dark, sweaty bar. It was as though all in the room — band included — had been tossed into a time warp and the feeling was one of genuine goodness.

As they moved into “Cardova,” “Africa” and “Look-ka Py Py,” the songs started to stretch out. Porter moved back and forth across the stage in a leadership role, playing with Leo then back over to play with Art while remaining locked in with Zigaboo; never once losing his “guardian of the groove position.

“Funky Miracle,” “People Say” and “Hey Pocky A-Way“ took on the flavor of nights lost to some 40 years of time… when the Meters carved out a new way to play music by combining funky syncopations with improvisation that made people dance and made musicians want to emulate.

In the end, this was not a toss-off show attended by casual fans looking to check out something fun. It was for the hardcore, for fans that wanted to be a part of something very special.

It was not lost on the leader of the night’s opening act, John Gros, as he said “thank you all for coming to this historical event.” Fans walked around with bewildered expressions, shaking their heads with their friends and saying “wow” to complete strangers.

The final word on the night went to Zigaboo, who came to the mic at center stage to say “I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for coming to a night of geriatric funk. That you all would pack yourselves in here like sardines to help celebrate and keep alive the music we made back in the 60s is a feeling that is hard to express.”

No one that was there will ever forget it.

 

Bear Creek All-Stars @ One Eyed Jack’s- 5/2/12

 

The Bear Creek Music and Art Festival is near and dear to the hearts of so many funk fans and musicians alike, and on Wednesday, May 2, festival founder, Paul Levine of Big IV Productions,  offered a great opportunity for everyone missing their Bear Creek musical family to get together at One Eyed Jack’s in New Orleans for a long night of funky reacquainting.

The band featured George Porter Jr., Eddie Roberts on guitar, Nikki Glaspie on drums, Robert Walter on keys and Trey Anastasio Band horn players, Jennifer Hartswick and Natalie Cressman. Opened with a set from Hartswick’s other half, DJ Wyllys, who recalls the days when Apple had absolutely nothing to do with being a DJ, the billed players merely scratched the surface of the talent that would make appearances throughout the night.

In New Orleans during Jazz Fest nights, there are many high profile gigs going on, and one of them usually winds up being the one that all the top players in town wind up at. On this night, it was One Eyed Jack’s, with virtually all in-town Bear Creek alumnus lighting up the stage at one point or another in a night that managed to serve up the true spirit of Bear Creek, a family of musicians, each taking their turn to play with the best players in their field.

The night got started with records spinning and scratching, courtesy DJ Wyllys, well before midnight. Joined by Cressman and Hartswick on horns, with Jennifer providing some vocals as well, it never stopped evolving from there, as one player after the next joined them on stage. Immediately it was clear that this would be a night that would turn into a full on New York Hustler Ensemble set, smack in the middle of NOLA.

First up was guest Eddie Roberts (New Mastersounds) followed by Dumpstaphunk drummer, Nikki Glaspie. Within about ten minutes of Roberts and Glaspie joining in, the place was packed, dancing as hard as they do under the Spanish moss of Suwannee Music Park each November.

Glaspie drove the band through high-energy instrumentals until she gave up her chair to Jermal Watson who would eventually yield to Terence Higgins. In short, the night became a rotating cast of top-notch players.

Other drummers of the evening were Adam Deitch (Lettuce) and Alan Evans (Soulive). At one point, birthday boy Robert Walter joined Neal Evans, Nigel Hall and Ivan Neville on the same Hammond B-3 organ at the same time, all laughing and loving life.

George Porter Jr. got to the gig at about 2:45 am and the band took the only short pause of the night to get him set up. When they came back, it was a Royal Family affair with Eric Krasno, Neal and Alan Evans plus George, taking on a segue sandwich of Meters classics with “Funky Miracle > I Need More Time > Funky Miracle.”

As fun as all the incarnations of the band were, seeing Soulive with George playing bass was special above and beyond. Other guitar players continued to give the night plenty of life after Krasno’s time, including Will Bernard, Mike Wooten and The Lee Boys’ Roosevelt Collier, who was seemingly everywhere throughout the two weeks of Jazz Fest late nights.

There were plenty of horn players coming in and out and Alecia Chakour came out to sing “Piece Of My Heart” by Janis Joplin, with a little help from Nigel Hall on background vocals.

The night was late, ending a little after 5 a.m., and was oh-so-fabulously funky.

 

Dragon Smoke @ One Eyed Jack’s- 5/5/12

 

Tuesday May 5 marked the 11th year that Stanton Moore, Ivan Neville, Eric Lindell and Robert Mercurio have gotten together as Dragon Smoke for a one-off gig in between Jazz Fest weekends. Ivan said several times through the night how much he appreciates the band and that the fans that pack in every year with little to no advertising.

There are so many well-plugged gigs during Jazz Fest – huge multi band shows – but for a select group of in-the-know music fanatics, Dragon Smoke will always dominate the Tuesday in between festival weekends.

What separates this band from so many other recombined jazz fest bands is the superior vocals of Lindell and Neville. This allows them to draw from the considerable song catalogue of the former, as well as the Meters, Neville Brothers and a host of other classic songs, all backed by the lock down tight rhythm section of Galactic band mates Moore and Mercurio.

Throughout the night, Lindell and Neville alternated singing lead on songs. The band opened with Lindell’s “Country Living,” which blended the distinct voices of Eric and Ivan so well, forecasting what was coming all night.

With all due respect to all of the great players Eric has had in his bands over the years, hearing his songs with these three guys backing him is another level of game all together.

Ivan took the lead next on the 1969 hit from Dyke and the Blazers, “Let A Woman Be A Woman, Let A Man Be A Man.”

The rush of energy that raced toward the stage from the super jacked crowd at the end of every song was tangible, and nothing feeds Stanton Moore like that. As the jams would build, becoming more and more intense, the crowd up front would jump up and down, egging Stanton to leave his seat, which he would, drumming standing up, while bouncing up and down himself.

Along with playing other Lindell hits like “If Love Can’t Find A Way,” the band romped through a couple of Steve Miller hits, “Big Ol’ Jet Airliner” and Ivan’s lead “Fly Like An Eagle” which he took out of War’s “Slippin’ Into Darkness.”

The band is a monster to see, and even though Ivan suggested that their infrequent play together might be what makes them special, this could be a break out band if they put their minds to it. They certainly love playing together.

 

Wrap up

 

New Orleans at night during Jazz Fest makes this the most unique music festival in the country. Great music halls and bars offer a consistent level of amazing musicianship, each show packed with fellow music fans that generate to a palpable level of enthusiasm.

The two week binge of musical excess that is Jazz Fest in New Orleans can leave music fans exhausted just from trying to sort out the choices. There are “Super Jams” nightly in the city’s well-worn famous music venues like Tipitina’s, The Howlin’ Wolf, and One Eyed Jack’s and in the clubs along Frenchmen Street. Shows where thrown together bands of the world’s best funk players perform long into the night, and sit-ins can mount into a dozen or more at a single show.

This is the time of year when the city’s legendary musicians like Stanton Moore, George Porter Jr., Trombone Shorty and Ivan Neville, along with a very familiar cast of out-of-town friends like Eric Krasno, Nigel Hall, Eddie Roberts and Karl Denson, can play at 25 or 30 spots in two weeks. (This year, Big Sam Williams and Roosevelt Collier recorded the most sit-ins.)

The festival itself lasts seven days spread out over two musically-packed weekends which cause a natural high, as if you stepped into a world free from responsibility. After you’ve done it once, you will figure a way to make it happen year after year.

 

Click the thumbnail(s) for more photos from the shows by Bob Adamek