Day 3 / Saturday, April 27

3-2


This morning we did the 2013 drill: get up, get ready, scrounge food at the Staybridge breakfast buffet, go back to the room and slather on sunblock and gather tickets and cameras and phones and our trusty black and blue umbrella, and head out to walk to the shuttle buses at the Sheraton. There were clouds in the sky, some gray, but weather never threatened throughout the day. Yesterday’s kinks were worked out and we arrived, passed through the friendly security people and ticket takers, and were on the grounds in plenty of time for the first music. 

It might be a good time to comment on the conditions in New Orleans we observed from the shuttle buses. I would say we saw some minor improvements in the neighborhoods, and greater improvements in the tourist and business districts. 

A number of public facilities are being renovated and a massive VA/teaching hospital complex on Canal Street is more than the hole in the ground it was last year. There are still plenty of abandoned properties and businesses, though, and this is the eighth year since the storm and the Federal flood. It is important to keep that in mind, always. More than 100,000 residents who want to come back home do not have the means to do so, and the disparities between races and classes in the city are widening.

Today’s cubes promised another diverse day of music, and our first stop was going to be the Blues Tent. On the way we had time to stop for some coffee, which would be an iced café au lait for me and an iced black coffee for Laurie. This was courtesy of the New Orleans Coffee Company, makers of Cool Brew, which I assume was what we were drinking. Last year I did Café du Monde’s booth when I had café au lait in the morning, but they don’t do black coffee, so this was a great find, especially since we eliminated PJ’s from the morning routine and the only coffee we had enjoyed(?) up to this point was the hotel's coffee

Let’s start by talking about something that nobody wants to talk about but everybody needs to know about at a festival like Jazz Fest. There are 500 of them located around the race track. Some are in better lcoations than others. We learned this early on. How do you gauge the portable toilets at Jazz Fest? Location, location, location. Stay away from any located near the Acura Stage, where the big-name acts appear. Eeeewww. Stay away from those crammed between the Jazz Tent and the Blues Tent. The lines are way too long. Those near the Gentilly Stage are hit-or-miss, quality-wise, but the folks in line are always good natured and fun. Same for those near Congo Square. If you want clean, make the effort to use the indoor plumbing in the Grandstand, especially on the upper level. 

So, you may ask, where are Jeff and Laurie’s go-to places to go? Well, we like two banks, both on the home stretch of the racetrack. One is opposite the Gospel Tent, and one is opposite Economy Hall. These are somewhat out of the way, but even if there is a line, and at a minimum while you are, ahem, inside, you can listen to gospel music or traditional New Orleans Jazz, and that helps pass the time in line and if necessary keep your mind off of anything that might want to gross you out!

First up today in the Blues Tent was Classie Ballou and the Family Band. Classie was born in the country, Elton, Louisiana, to be specific, in 1937. His folks sharecropped cotton, potatoes, and corn. He learned to play accordion from an uncle, and joined his first band at age nine, playing the scrub board. He soon picked up the guitar. 

In 1952, the family moved to Lake Charles, Louisiana, where he acquired the Fender Telecaster he still uses. He found regular work in Lake Charles area clubs, even putting in a stint with Clifton Chenier's band for a few months. His own first band did covers of tunes by Fats Domino, Guitar Slim, and Gatemouth Brown, and soon he was the hottest thing in Lake Charles. This led him to playing guitar on Boozoo Chavis' chaotic classic Paper in My Shoe (the recording of which ends with Boozoo falling off his stool, accordion and all, because he had a bit too much of the beverage the producers thought he needed to loosen up). This record (the music, not the falling) would be the blueprint for all zydeco music to come.

Classie cut his own first record in 1956, and two others followed closely afterward. All are wild, guitar-dominated instrumentals with pronounced Afro-Cuban feel to them. He would not record again under his own name until 1968, when he was living in Dallas. 

Family is extremely important to Classie, who raised his own band. It includes his son Cedric (bass), grandson Cedryl (drums), and daughter CeChaun (keyboards). They play his own classics, like Crazy Mambo, Dirty Deal, and Hey Pardner, but can pull nearly any good song from the last half century, for example, The Sky Is Crying (which features CeShaun) and Johnny B. Goode (which shows Cedric and Cedryl at work), and stomp it out. He is really personable, too, taking time before his songs to tell an anecdote about it, usually starting out with something like "Back when I was 29 years old and 30 in the waist ...


If a 75-year-old blues legend wasn’t good enough to start to the day, we continued with a 101-year old jazz legend, trumpeter and vocalist Lionel Ferbos, in the Economy Hall tent. This was our first stop at this venue. The music here is always good, but we just seem to have other priorities, and you can get traditional New Orleans jazz pretty much all over the place in the French Quarter if you keep your ears open. That said, how can you pass up a guy who’s 101?

Without a doubt the oldest jazz musician in New Orleans, Ferbos has played at every Jazz Fest. A native of New Orleans, his career has been almost exclusively in the city, where for decades he has played every Saturday night at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe

Born July 17, 1911, Ferbos got a cornet at a pawn shop on Rampart Street when he was 15 and began lessons with a Creole task-master who would not let him blow the horn until he knew how to read music and had mastered the rudiments of theory. His first professional music jobs were in the early 1930’s with various society jazz bands, which he continued through the 1960’s, all while working full-time at his father's metalworking shop and becoming a master craftsman in that field. In the 1970’s, he played with the New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra and began his association with the house band at the Palm Court.

Ferbos comes from the era where jazz started. Even though they are all gone, he met and played with all of the big names and it’s great that first of all he is still around and even better that he is on a stage and performing. His singing voice is strong and distinctive, and he blows a pretty good trumpet.

The rest of the band is Jamie Wight on trumpet, Brian O’Connell on clarinet, Wendell Eugene on trombone, Seva Venet on guitar and banjo, Lars Edegran on piano, Chuck Badie on bass, and for this show Shannon Powell was on drums. 

Here’s a video of the band at the dimly lit Palm Court playing traditional New Orleans jazz the way it was meant to be heard.

Time for the first food of the day. I had been looking forward to a Cajun duck po’boy from Crescent Catering in Covington, Louisiana, since last year. This was a real treat, moist and flavorful shredded duck "dressed" New Orleans-style and packed into real po-boy bread. If you get it, though, remember that hot sauce is a must. Laurie got a platter with seafood au gratin, spinach and artichoke casserole, and sweet potato pone from Ten Talents Catering, also in Covington. She reported that the seafood was rich and melty; the casserole was buttery, with plenty of onion, garlic, and spinach; and the sweet potato pone was a yummy thick bread. The spinach and artichoke casserole also got bonus points for being very green.

Strange that we picked these two vendors for our first food today because the respective booths, located next to each other in one of the two main food areas, are run by sisters. Peggy Miranda and her husband, Jim, run Ten Talents. Peggy's sister, Gail Troncoso, and her husband, Kenny, run Crescent Catering. The Mirandas have been vendors at Jazz Fest for 25 years; the Troncosos for 23 or 24 years, depending on how you count it; they skipped Jazz Fest in 2006 after Katrina reduced their home and office on Lakeview Drive in Slidell, Louisiana, to pilings and a slab. (The storage container with all their Jazz Fest equipment was found a half-mile down the road, upside down on a house trailer.) Approximately 40 members of their extended families work in the two booths, the sisters estimate. Read their complete stories here and get an idea of the hard work involved in running the food booths at Jazz Fest.

Cedric Watson and his band Bijou Creole at the Fais Do Do Stage were next. Watson, a fiddler, accordionist, singer, and songwriter, is recognized as one of the brightest young talents to emerge in Cajun, Creole, and zydeco music.

Watson didn’t grow up in the proverbial family band. "My parents don’t play French music," says Watson. "So I damned sure didn’t have the throne handed down to me." Still, somewhere along the line, Watson became enchanted by and had to have a fiddle. His grandmother promised him one if he could first prove himself on guitar. So, armed with a cheap guitar and a handful of zydeco and Cajun recordings, he learned enough to play by ear, ultimately earning his prized fiddle.

His mentors in San Felipe, Texas, introduced him to countless musicians and recordings, and he began performing with the fiddle and accordion when he was a teenager. A year out of high school he moved to Lafayette, Louisiana, where he immersed himself in French music and language. He eventually hooked up with the Pine Leaf Boys, who at the time were just what Cajun music needed — a hungry bunch of traditionalists who weren’t afraid to kick it hard.

Later, to satisfy his creative desire to channel his diverse ancestry (African, French, Native American, and Spanish) into his own sound, he formed Bijou Creole, which currently consists of Kyle Gambino on sax, Desiree Champagne on scrub board, Tyler Sonnier on bass, and Ryan Poullard on drums.


Unlike many of his contemporaries, Watson is also a prolific songwriter. This is significant because Cajun and zydeco music has traditionally been only renditions of old songs.

He is very aware of the Native American part of heritage and brings to his zydeco music a mix of African, Caribbean, and Native American ceremonial rhythms. Other songs draw heavily on La-La, the old-time Creole music which emphasizes the downbeat. Most of his vocals are in Creole French. "The language comes along with the culture," Watson says. "Creole just so happens to be the language of this culture, so in order to stay true to my Creole roots, I’m going to have to sing in Creole." His two-row Hohner Erica accordion emits the mellowish, "wet" sound often associated with island music.

Whatever its origin, Watson’s swamp-soaked polyrhythmic dance music was positively infectious. It won't let your feet stand still, nor actually will their occasional waltzes, sweet and graceful. I found the unique combination of Watson’s accordion or fiddle with the saxophone to be really cool. Here is audio of an entire performance at the GlobalFest in 2010 and here's a video of a concert and interview at KEXP radio in Seattle and one of a performance in downtown Lafayette. Lafayette might be a place to visit sometime.

Now, for something completely different, we headed off to the Gentilly Stage to check out the Canadian first nations turntablists known as A Tribe Called Redthree DJ's who mix native pow wow chants and drumbeats with hip-hop and dubstep into what they call the electric pow wow. If you see them in a club, they project scenes from old westerns (images ranging from thought provoking to ridiculous) that portray the stereotyping of the native tribes. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see that component of their performance.  


ATCR's Ian Compeau, also known as DJ NDN, sang in a pow wow group when he was a kid in the Nippising first nation, north of Toronto. The band started when Compeau and DJ Bear Witness were working at the same club. Compeau took a loop from a pow wow song, Bear Witness put a beat under it, and that's when it all clicked. Two years ago, Compeau and Witness brought on Dan General, aka DJ Shub, a two-time Canadian turntable battle champion.

Here is the transcript of an interview MTV did with these three very interesting musicians. When asked why they sample images or references to indigenous people from Hollywood movies and pop songs, Bear Witness says, "Reclaim, repurpose and reuse. We make these images our own. Taking away the power they have to harm us and reclaim it for ourselves. It’s like how we and many other young native people like to wear things like the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves logos. We have made these images our own."

See a Tribe Called Red performance for yourself here. And here is a 45-minute compilation of them with their visuals. Rolling Stone said this in their write-up on Jazz Fest: Their non-stop set was dense, fluid and proudly topical, with propulsive loops of drum-circle percussion speared by samples of ritual singing: North America's first dance culture powering a new one. There was heavy metal in the charge, dancehall and bhangra cadence in the rapping that flew overhead and a knockout shot of the Raiders' 1971 hit Indian Reservation – so obvious you didn't expect it, so hip when it jumped out of the mix. (Find that about 20 minutes into the long video.)

This is why we have become Jazz Fest semi-lifers. We more than likely never would have experienced or even heard of artists like A Tribe Called Red anywhere else. We let it soak in while waiting for a gelato from La Davina Gelateria. WWOZ relayed their story here. I had bananas foster, while Laurie had coconut thai. This stuff was really, really good. Good enough to return to once ... or maybe twice.

We enjoyed our gelato while heading over to the other end of the Fair Grounds and the Jazz Tent to catch a few minutes of the set by Jason Marsalis.

Jason is the youngest son of the New Orleans piano legend Ellis, and younger brother of Wynton, Branford, and Delfeayo. He started on toy drums at age 3, moved to violin, then back to drums for good at 12. At age 14, he made his first appearance on a record. Jason plays vibes in addition to drums, and he does both really well. His original music bridges traditional jazz to modern jazz with a distinctive polyrhythmic style that reflects everything from New Orleans second lines to Brazilian native tribes, with hard bop, Latin jazz, and the funk and fusion of the 1970s between.

While studying classical percussion at Loyola University, he worked as a sideman in contexts ranging from his father’s modern trio and other local straight-ahead combos to funk fusion bands, a Brazilian percussion ensemble, and even a Celtic group. He also co-founded Los Hombres Calientes (here's a video), a unique cross-cultural group which fuses Latin, Afro-Cuban, African and other styles with modern jazz to create a gourmet New Orleans gumbo. He left that wildly successful group at the height of its popularity to explore other musical avenues with the Marcus Roberts Trio (video).

"I want to bring a lot of new ideas into jazz, and expand on the tradition," he says. "If jazz is to keep moving forward, all of the musical styles in jazz history have to be advanced while including musical styles outside the jazz realm."

With Marsalis on vibes, the quartet was rounded out with Austin Johnson on piano, Steve Gordon on drums, and Jason Weaver on bass. At one point, he played alone, delivering an extended solo that built steadily from soothing quiet to rhythmic passion. Outstanding. We didn’t see nearly as much of this set as we would have liked. Here is an excerpt of the quartet’s performance at the Louisiana Music Factory that also gives an idea of Jason’s great personality.

We were really cramming in a lot of music this afternoon, and our next stop was back at the Fais Do Do Stage to see the Lost Bayou Ramblers. We took the long way around the turn of the racetrack next to the Acura Stage so that we could listen to some of the set by the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars.

Since 2004, when it was founded by musician Tab Benoit, Voice of the Wetland’s mission has been to make the world aware of the importance of South Louisiana wetlands. The Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars help to create that awareness by touring around the country acting as Wetlands Ambassadors. 

The primary members of the All-Stars are Tab Benoit, Cyril Neville, Corey Duplechin, Johnny Vidacovich, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Johnny Sansone, and Waylon Thibodeaux. However, you never really know who is going to be in the group at any given time. Dr. John, Anders Osborne, Marcia Ball, Michael Doucet, Stanton Moore, and George Porter Jr., among others, appear with touring band on select dates.

Here’s an example (Monk Boudreaux doing Hold Them Joe) and another (Anders Osborne's Oh Katrina) of what the All-Stars do on stage. Here’s one from another show with Benoit and Osborne just incredible on their guitars. And because we didn’t get to see too much of this show, how ‘bout Ain’t No Funk Like Louisiana Funk? and Louisiana Sunshine. And definitely check out the Voice of the Wetlands to see what they are doing for Louisiana. We just listened as we took the long walk around the turn to the backstretch of the track, but stopped for a few minutes to way at the back. The crowd at Acura by this time was huge, waiting to hear Billy Joel in the last cube of the day.

When we reached the Fais Do Do Stage, the riotous Lost Bayou Ramblers, yet another band from Lafayette, Louisiana, had just begun. We worked our way up toward the front of the stage (if you approach it from the Congo Square side it isn’t too hard to do) and had another one of those only at Jazz Fest moments of jaw-dropping discovery. 

After years of playing strictly Cajun tunes, the Ramblers found themselves needing to grow, to create a new sound that included more than just the sounds of their heritage. The idea was to incorporate rock stylings and effects into the traditional instrumentation. The results speak for themselves; their use of a mammoth in the title and illustration on their latest recording, Mammoth Waltz, is no accident. The sound of this band is massive; even the fiddle and accordion take on a modern dynamic. If a fiddle can be shredded, front man and lead vocalist Louis Michot does some serious shredding.

Besides Michot on fiddle, the members of the band Andre Michot (brother of Louis) on accordion and lapsteel, Pauly Deathwish on drums, and Cavan Carruth on guitar. These guys demonstrate how Cajun music and rock can be fused without violating the spirit of either. They do it by putting the two side-by-side rather than watering each down. So the fiddle and accordion play the original melody and syncopation while the guitar plays a drone and the drums hammer out a staccato stomp. The lyrics are still in Cajun French. It shouldn’t work but it does. "Everyone calls us Cajun punk," Louis says. "I don’t know what that means."

Here’s a great article about Louis Michot, his wife and their first date (a trip to collect a song from an old Cajun sorcière, or medicine woman), family history, and how he’s building a house in southern Louisiana using traditional techniques (bayou bricolage made from spanish moss and sunken cypress logs, plus salvaged shacks, architectural heirlooms, and family junk) – plus wi-fi.

So here ya go, the Lost Bayou Ramblers at Jazz Fest, and yes that’s a Cajun French version of the Who’s My Generation at the end. And here’s a stunning version of Daniel Lanois’ O Marie. And here’s the Pine Grove Blues. Wow. Just wow.

Still two more cubes to go, both at the Gentilly Stage. So before we headed over there, we hit the food areas for the last time today. I had Cajun crawfish rice from Smitty's Seafood Restaurant of Kenner, Louisiana, while Laurie had the Cajun stuffed crab with a side of potato salad from Stuf Hapn' of New Orleans. These were both good, but not worth a lengthy report. I mean, Smitty's sells a crawfish boil, too, so you know they do the crawfish right, and the Cajun seasoning for the boil is what goes into the rice and, well, it's rice. On the other plate, stuffing is stuffing and potato salad is potato salad. Both were flavorful and not heavied down with a lot of mushy bread in the case of the stuffing or mayonnaise in the case of the potato salad. 'Nuf said. Or should I say 'Stuf said.

At Gentilly, it was time for one of our faves, Dumpstaphunk. We sang the praises of Ivan Neville's two-bass funk juggernaut last year, and over the summer we caught them at The Hamilton in downtown DC, and I will say that I absolutely will not ever miss an opportunity to see this funky, funky organization with great personality and who really have fun performing with one another. Here they are having fun during an AXS TV interview under a big poster of Ivan singing with the Neville Brothers at Jazz Fest when he was in high school.


Today, Ivan on keyboards as always, his cousin Ian Neville on guitar, Nikki Glaspie killin' it on drums, and Nick Daniels and Tony Hall on bass were joined by the Grooveline Horns, which only added to the funkification. 

But let's not waste time with any more of my b.s. about Dumpstaphunk. Put this full concert on, turn it up, and let it go. 

After the Dumpstaphunk crowd moved on, I know not where, we moved up to the front of the Gentilly Stage, as close as we could possibly be for the final cube of the day, that being Ben Harper playing with blues harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite. As we waited for the show to start, I went on a beverage run and Laurie, ever the outgoing one, struck up a conversation with an interesting guy wearing a fez of all things, and a oval-shaped name tag that said "Bubbles" pinned to his shirt. We would see him again, next weekend, on the giant TV screen during Patti Smith's performance, also at the Gentilly Stage. Bubbles is one reason why, of the two main stages, we prefer Gentilly. The artists are a bit more on the quirky side, and the crowd absolutely is. Much more New Orleans than the mob at the Acura Stage.

For me, Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite in the late afternoon sun at the Gentilly Stage were one of the highlights of this year's Jazz Fest. I've been a fan of Harper for years, and when he teamed up with the 68-year-old Musselwhite, it went onto the cube markup as a must, even if Billy Joel was at the Acura Stage at the same time (and that was tempting). 


If you don't know them, Harper is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who plays an eclectic mix of blues, folk, soul, reggae, and rock music and is known for his guitar-playing skills. He was born in 1969 and raised California. His father was of African-American and Cherokee ancestry, and his mother's heritage was Russian-Lithuanian Jewish. He grew up in his mother's family after his parents divorced. He began playing guitar as a child, with a foundation of blues picked up in his grandparents' folk music store. Leonard Cohen, Taj Mahal, and David Lindley were regular visitors. Bob Marley was another important influence. In his teens, he picked up the slide guitar, mimicking the style of Robert Johnson (here at the Crossroads). He then refined his style, taking up the Weissenborn slide guitar, and got his first big break when Taj Mahal invited him to play on tour (don't miss this one) and on the recording Follow the Drinking Gourd in 1990. 

Harper, 25 years his junior, discovered Charlie Musselwhite in his grandparents' store. He recalls, "Charlie had a record called Memphis Charlie, and it has a cartoon on the front. I was a kid, I loved cartoons, and I loved this cover. I played that record and remember just loving it. One song on there is called Takin' My Time and it’s a 10-minute instrumental. I’ll never forget thinking to myself, 'Is that a harmonica or a guitar?,' because I had never heard a harmonica sound like that."

Musselwhite was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, in 1944, of American native descent. His family considered it normal to play music, with his father playing guitar and harmonica and his mother playing piano. The family moved to Memphis when he was three. When he was a teenager, rockabilly, western swing, electric blues, and other forms of African American music crashed head-on in Memphis and the result was rock and roll. While immersed in the Memphis musical scene, he was supporting himself by digging ditches, laying concrete, and running moonshine in a 1950 Lincoln. He eventually moved to Chicago and made the acquaintance of such blues legends as Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Sonny Boy Williamson, Buddy Guy, Howlin' Wolf, and Little Walter. Wow. You are officially a better person if you listened to all that. 

In Chicago, Charlie lived in the basement of, and occasionally worked at, the Jazz Record Mart along with Big Joe Williams. He worked as a driver for an exterminator, which allowed him to observe what was happening around the city's clubs and bars. At this time he also forged a lifelong friendship with John Lee Hooker. In the mid-1960s, he formed his own blues band and released the first of more than 20 albums. He has appeared on countless others. 

Harper and Musselwhite finally met through Hooker, who, after working with them on his last recording in 1997, told them they needed to work together. Something like, "Yeah, yeah, you guys ... that’s good, yeah, yeah. You should stay with that. Do that." It only took 15 years for it to happen.

Harper and Musselwhite began their show at Jazz Fest with my personal favorite from their album Get Up: I Don't Believe a Word You Say, with Harper’s lap-steel slide guitar and Musselwhite's harmonica fused into a Delta blues groan. As they continued, Musselwhite selected harmonicas from a small steel suitcase propped open next to his chair. Harper, too, swapped out a variety of stringed instruments, mostly Weissenborns, the hollow-neck, acoustic, Hawaiian lap-slide guitars that are his trademark. He also had a gorgeous National resonator guitar.

Harper switched to a conventional six-string electric guitar for the plaintive Don't Look Twice, another highlight. Musselwhite's harmonica gave I'm In, I'm Out and I'm Gone a rough edge. Harper's repetitions in I Ride At Dawn could have gone on all evening. Another highlight was the swampy Homeless Child (there are some excerpts of this on my video). Get Up! featured the bass guitar of Jesse Ingalls. The other members of the band were Jason Mozersky on guitar and Jordan Richardson on drums. Ingalls also played piano on occasion.

They each did a couple of songs from their individual catalogs, the highlight of these being Musselwhite's The Blues Overtook Me. Fast women and whiskey apparently caused some problems earlier in his life. Here's Make It on Home to You by Charlie.

As the show felt like it was winding down, the band suddenly blasted a Zeppelin-esque When the Levee Breaks, with a fantastic harmonica clarion call. (It would not be the only time we heard this song during the week.) Harper used the National steel guitar over the band's hand clapping on We Can't End This Way. They did You Found Another Lover (I Lost Another Friend) as just a duo, the harp and acoustic guitar beautifully intertwined. The quiet All That Matters Now on which Musselwhite's harp was absolutely mesmerizing, ended the show and sent us off to the bus back downtown, ending one of the best Jazz Fest days of either year we have attended. 

Here's Part One and Part Two of an entire Harper-Musselwhite show if you want to take the time. It's not the best sound, but still recommended. 

There was nothing special for dinner tonight. We just ate leftovers in the room because we had to get freshened up and find a cab to get us up to the Mid-City neighborhood for an 8:30 show (we had learned in advance that these folks do start on time) at Mid-City Lanes, otherwise known as the Rock 'n' Bowl, where you can eat, drink, dance, and knock down a few pins on one of the 16 bowling lanes, all while listening to some of New Orleans' and southern Louisiana's finest musicians. Seriously.

The cab, surprisingly our first in the city, was no hassle at all, as we just had to walk across the street to a stand in front of the W Hotel. We were at Mid-City Lanes in minutes. The only (minor) hassle was figuring out where the will-call was located, but this place wasn't alone because all of the clubs we went to on this trip suffered from that. But hey, it's the Big Easy, so relax and go with the flow, right? 

Once were inside, the Iguanas, the first of three acts tonight, were playing in a large room with a huge elongated U-shaped bar in the back. On the left were a dozen or so picnic tables and to the left of that were the bowling lanes. The window where you can order food was way in the back. Lights are strung above the area in front of the stage and over the bar, giving the music and bar area an outdoor-deck sort of feel. There is a real deck outside in the entrance area. Surprisingly, the bowling doesn't interfere with or distract you if you are in the music area. I took a bad video so you can get an idea of the place while listening to the Iguanas. 

We caught a few minutes of the Iguanas at Jazz Fest last year, and their unique music is positively infectious. It just grooves along as you listen or dance; either way you're going to be moving as you soak up its hybrid of blues, classic R&B, zydeco, Cajun, Tex-Mex, and roots rock. 

In 1989, vocalist and guitarist Rod Hodges, who began playing guitar in San Francisco Bay area blues and rock bands at age 14, was playing with a blues band in Colorado when he rediscovered the conjunto music that was a part of his mother's Mexican heritage. Inspired by master accordionist Flaco Jiménez, he took up the accordion as well. Vocalist and saxophonist Joe Cabral was raised in Nebraska, and his first musical experience came as part of his father's Mexican band. In college in Montana, he discovered Chicago blues, New Orleans R&B, and the honking saxophone style. You can see where this is going. Bassist Rene Coman was a native of New Orleans. Drummer Doug Garrison rounds out the band.

They are probably better seen in a darkened dance hall, but here are Part One and Part Two of the Iguanas at the Louisiana Music Factory, so you can hear an entire show. What they did at the Rock 'n' Bowl was jam out on all of the songs, so the show was about three times as long. These guys are really good and deserve to be known nationally. Then again, I don't think that a lot of the local bands really aspire to that and prefer just to hang out and play locally. 

By the end of the Iguanas set, the place was really crowded, and to us it seemed like it was mostly touristas, people who had the Rock 'n' Bowl on a list of places they needed to see or be seen. So maybe Saturday night during Jazz Fest might not be the optimal time to hit a place like this. Nonetheless, we perservered because Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers were next. 

We love Kermit. Who doesn't? He's an easy-swinging, traditional-style New Orleans trumpet player and singer, who we saw last year on the Gentilly Stage. He has a personality to match his music, as in it is always party time when Kermit is performing. In fact, on this night he was incessantly promoting his new recording, We Partyin' Traditional Style, but he was doing it in such a good natured and tongue-in-cheek manner that you actually enjoyed it as part of the show. 

While he projects a lackadaisical demeanor on stage and freely jokes with his band mates and his audience through the course of a show, Kermit's abilities as a bandleader and songwriter are outstanding. He writes about what he knows. He'll pick up a phrase he overhears in New Orleans and turn that into a memorable song. One example of this is his song, When I Die, You Better Second Line, a phrase he'd heard the old men at a local hangout repeat numerous times through the years.

Credit is also due to the Barbecue Swingers, Yoshitaka "Z2" Tsuji on electric keyboards, Kevin Morris on bass, and Derrick Freeman on drums and vocals. These guys are rock solid, more than just a backing band.

Kermit is famous at home in New Orleans for his frequent barbecue bashes at the bars he and his band perform in. Weather permitting, he'll set up his grill on the sidewalk in front of a club and serve bar staff, band members, and patrons some barbecued chicken or beef during the breaks between his usual three sets, hence the name Barbecue Swingers. As of yet, he hasn't figured out a way to take this aspect of his show on the road. In the meantime, he has become a restauranteur, opening Kermit's Treme Speakeasy on Basin Street a few blocks north of Armstrong Park, complete with an industrial-strength barbeque out front on which Kermit prepares the daily specials.

At one point during tonight's show Kermit created a Soul Train style dance line (this one to Aretha doin' Rock Steady) down the middle of the room. Then he brought out the third artist on tonight's bill, Rockin' Dopsie Jr. (pronounced Doop-see) to mess around for awhile. Here is a video and another taken during a couple of Kermit's shows at the Rock 'n' Bowl that give an idea of the scene there. New Orleeeee-ans! We partaaaaaaaaaaay-in!

By the time Rockin' Dopsie Jr. and the Zydeco Twisters came on, we had pretty much decided to call it a night. It had been a long day filled with a lot of great music. For the record, Dopsie has carried as leader the band from his father, who died way too soon. Dopsie Jr. is one of the few if not the only leader of a zydeco band to play the scrub board instead of an accordion. The band includes his brothers Tiger Dopsie, who plays drums, and Anthony Dopsie, who, like his father, is a great accordion player. They mostly did zydeco versions of old rock 'n' roll songs, but we would definitely give them a try at another time and place because Dopsie Jr. is certainly charismatic. Here's one video, and here's another. And here they are at the Louisiana Music Factory.

We easily got a cab back to the hotel to end the day.


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© Jeff Mangold 2012