NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA—The whole night rocked like a big wheel on a Georgia cotton field. “Honey, hush,” said one husband as The New Breed Brass Band kicked things into high gear from the jump. With three stages and eight bands setting off a frenzied spinning wheel of kaleidoscopic action, it didn’t end until late in the evening when Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue with Ivan Neville pummeled the people into joyous submission. The third annual event known as Shorty Fest raised money for The Trombone Shorty Foundation so New Orleans kids with talent (everyone, I think it’s in the soil, the air, the water and definitely the food) can attain their dreams just like Troy Andrews did when he was four years old and carrying that big ‘bone around. Now that kid is an international sensation thrilling crowds with his dynamite hard-rock jazz, swinging soul and metal funk that doesn’t let up until everyone is shakin ‘n’ shudderin’ into musical orgasms: paroxysms of palpable twitches.
Presented by Presqu’ile Winery, the site was Generations Hall, a gorgeous venue of bars and stages and well-lit corners and alcoves, complete with an outside patio, dancefloors and cushiony indoor seating around the perimeter…but there wasn’t anybody sitting. Andrews sat, though, in his dressing room, with a smile from ear to ear. At 29, he finds himself as one of the Crescent City’s most revered heroes, already up there with Dr. John, The Meters and anybody with a last name of either Neville or Marsalis.
“It’s all about keeping our music strong in the future,” he said. “When I was young, the older cats did it for me, and now it’s my responsibility and privilege to do the same. That’s what makes our city so special, we pass it on.”
The artists who knocked us silly were Sweet Crude, TYSSON, Corey Henry & Treme Funktet, “Hail To The Chief” with Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Bill Kreutzmann of the Grateful Dead, June Yamagishi, Nick Daniels, Raymond Weber, Kirk Joseph, Davell Crawford and Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars. It still did not prepare me for the total onslaught that was Tank & The Bangas. This four-year-old ensemble had me at their first note. Picture a tent revival with a brassy bossy bad-ass bitch of a lead singer known only as Tank leading her funky crew on a raft down Lake Pontchartrain but everybody falls in the water, gets sanctified and comes up saved. Yeah, we danced. We stared at her open-mouthed as she shimmied, swayed, strutted and sashayed her way across the big stage and into our hearts. The only confusion was what was on her head. Was that her hair, a hat or a wig? She’s a poet, a prophet, a pusher (of musical dreams) and probably a problem when she’s stoned (to paraphrase Kristofferson). Whatever she is, she had me at hello.
One of the emotional highlights of the evening came when the kids—and let us not forget, this night was about the kids—came to the stage and blew their little hearts out in a set of pure stompin’ Big Easy traditionalism. There they were, kids 10, 11, 12 on into late teens, crowded on a stage with a rhythm section and a boisterous party-activated crowd waiting to give them the proper dose of love. And we did. It was the perfect time slot of the evening: in-between Tank & The Bangas and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. When the dust had cleared, and the last note evaporated into the air to a sweat-drenched (despite the pumped-up and oh-so-precious air conditioning) dancing-fool crowd, the bleary-eyed tourists, locals, journalists from across the country knowing they were in for three straight days of the 2015 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (the reason we were in town) left in a daze. We wandered out onto Andrew Higgins Drive to feel the absolute Bayou warmth of the evening.
I was too psyched to sleep. I walked alone back to the hotel in a dreamy reverie of what I had just witnessed and what I knew was to come over the course of the next 72 hours. Spotting a funky little bistro, I had some late-night crawfish etouffee with steamed rice and baked gulf fish filet with lemon orzo pasta, tomato and spinach. I didn’t want to leave. I watched the human traffic and had a scotch, another, and when I couldn’t finish a third, the adorable 20-something waitress asked me if I wanted to take that scotch back to the hotel with me.
“Ooh yeah, that would be great, my hotel is just down the street.”
“Sir, it doesn’t matter, you can take your drink with you in a plastic cup. This is New Orleans.”