By Andy J. Gordon
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival draws many great musicians as well as thousands of people from around the world. In the days between festival weekends, there are an abundance of shows that take place at the many nightclubs throughout the city. None of those shows had the amazing collection of musical talent that the New Orleans Musicians for Obama fundraiser gathered on Tuesday May 1st at Generations Hall. There were so many big names and incredible performances that it was a non-stop barrage of talent.
A confluence of events brought together the incredible lineup and excited fans to Generations Hall. The upcoming presidential election inspired one of New Orleans musical royal family members, Gaynielle Neville (Cyril Neville’s wife) to put together this unique musical event. She was disappointed with the negativity that the Republican Party presidential candidates were using in their campaigns and decided to do something to support President Obama. With the Jazzfest dates scheduled and performers announced, she personally contacted many of the musicians that would be in town and asked for their time to support the Obama campaign with a fundraiser concert. The response was incredible. With the help of Jimmy Anselmo, the retired former owner of Jimmy’s Music Club and Jan Ramsey, the Publisher of Offbeat Magazine, the event came together.
Generations Hall is a large two story event space with several bar areas, comfortable seating, dance floors and room for multiple stages. The Obama fundraiser had two stages with bands performing throughout the night. The central room had four area food vendors selling regional cuisine. The upstairs VIP area had a great view of the main stage as well as a complimentary food buffet. Academy Award nominee Alfre Woodard was master of ceremonies and Cyril Neville acted as musician at large. Woodard introduced each band and offered some strong words in support of President Obama between sets. The first band we saw perform was Father and Sons of the New Millennium, a special gathering of the Batiste family with sit-ins by Irvin Mayfield, Nick Daniels (Dumpstaphunk) and Cyril Neville (The Neville Brothers and Royal Southern Brotherhood). It was a tight, funky soul set by the Batiste family and friends.
The next band was Dumpstaphunk. Ivan Neville and the band got the crowd dancing to “Everybody Wants Sum” and “Meanwhile.” Things settled down a little after their brief set as songwriter, singer and pianist Allan Toussaint was introduced. He only played one song on a beautiful grand piano, but the audience appreciated his regal performance. Next up was a make shift all-star group with Papa Mali and Matt Hubbard (7 Walkers), Cyril Neville and Charlie Wooten (Royal Southern Brotherhood) and young blues guitarist Kipori Woods. They opened with an extended jam version of Mali’s “Do Your Thing.” Trombone Shorty came out to join the band and blasted a typically amazing solo. As Shorty left, Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. came out and led the band on a raucous version of Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago.” The next band was Walter “Wolfman” Washington & the Roadmasters. Washington is a great singer, guitarist and entertainer. He dazzled the crowd with his singing and guitar magic (playing a solo with his teeth!) Jimmy Carpenter nailed a few saxophone solos and mid-set guest Deacon John took over on vocals and some slide guitar for the classic “Statesboro Blues.”
After a short break we got bombarded by Rejected Youth Nation, the hip hop/metal band fronted by Omari Neville (Cyril and Gaynielle Neville’s son). With a sound like Rage Against the Machine and amps turned up to eleven, it was a decidedly different set from the rest of the night. Thankfully things got back to a classic New Orleans vibe as Brass-O-holics, a nine piece horn group, took the stage after the Youth Nation. Brass-O-holics delivered some nifty horn arrangements and a sound that crossed over from traditional brass to modern funk.
The night had many great artists, but there was special anticipation building as the next act got ready to hit the stage. Rumors had been swirling that a rare Meters reunion would occur during the event. Alas, it wasn’t quite to be as Art Neville was a no show. However, the gathering of talent that did hit the stage included the three other Meters (Leo Nocentelli, George Porter Jr., Zigaboo Modeliste) as well as Dr. John, Bill “Buhdda” Dickens and Charles Neville – not too shabby! They cooked on classics like “Fire on the Bayou” and “Right Place Wrong Time.” The stage got crowded as Cyril Neville and Big Sam Williams joined the jam. Although it was a bit disappointing that Art Neville did not make it, the audience was thrilled with the great performance.
Cyril Neville’s current project, Royal Southern Brotherhood came next. With Devon Allman and Mike Zito trading guitar riffs, Yonrico Scott and Charlie Wooten thumping the low end and Cyril on percussion and vocals, the mini set sizzled. They played a couple of songs from their new debut album and the Albert King blues standard “Born Under a Bad Sign.” Guests for the set included Jimmy Carpenter and Kenny Neal.
Piano diva Marcia Ball hit the stage next with another talented group thrown together for this night only. Joining her were Matt Hubbard, Jimmy Carpenter and a few other great horn players. The long night did not seem to adversely affect the audience as they boogeyed to “Red Beans.” Maria Muldaur came onstage to join Ball on vocals for “Sing it One More Time Like That.” Ball thanked the crowd for helping to raise money for the Obama campaign, but said it was not enough. “Please, please, everyone, remember that you have to register and vote in November. Every vote is important!”
The night of amazing music wound down at about 2AM. Everyone in attendance enjoyed the once in a lifetime event and regardless of political affiliation, music united the masses.
Photos courtesy of Andy J. Gordon and ©2012 Jim Brock Photography