By Jenny Peters and Andy J. Gordon
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival always takes place over two extended weekends in late April and early May. But that’s not the only place where music is celebrated, for the action around town on Monday through Wednesday – the days commonly known as the “In Between” sandwiched between the Jazz Fest weekends — has really stepped up in recent years. City-sponsored free concerts, club shows and well-constructed daytime musical lineups can be found at venues throughout the city. We sampled some of the bounty of tune-filled shows taking place in the Big Easy leading up to Jazz Fest weekend two and were not disappointed once.
Chickie Wah Wah, a Mid-City dive bar, hosted a jam session of local and out-of-town talent on Monday night, May 1, 2017. Papa Mali and Cris Jacobs led a quartet through some blues-rock improvisations. Mali is a longtime local who is a master of swamp blues, Grateful Dead reinterpretations and diverse, guitar-driven songs. Jacobs is a Baltimore-based singer, songwriter and prolific guitarist who has come to Jazz Fest for the past few years to jam with some of the local talent.
Their session at Chickie Wah Wah included Brady Blade from Anders Osborne’s band on drums and bassist Eric Vogel, formerly in Big Sam’s Funky Nation. Blade had to work with a streamlined drum kit until Kirk Joseph, one of the founders of Dirty Dozen Brass Band, showed up with some much-appreciated cymbals and drums. Turkuaz drummer Michelangelo Carubba sat in for a couple of songs as did Sasha Brown, the guitarist from Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds. The late-night jam ended with extended covers of Dr. John’s “I Walk on Guilded Splinters” and the Grateful Dead’s “Turn on Your Love Light.”
Tuesday, May 2, 2017, was a gorgeous, sunny day – perfect for an outdoor afternoon-into-evening concert. The Greater New Orleans Foundation hosted a free show at their headquarters in the Warehouse District as part of the GiveNOLA Day 2017 festivities taking place around the city. That 24-hour event is designed to inspire people to give generously to nonprofit organizations in the New Orleans area. Nearly $5 million dollars was raised, benefiting over 700 charities. The free concert featured performances by Irma Thomas, Big Sam’s Funky Nation and Rebirth Brass Band, whose band included an adorable 10-year-old drummer boy. Hundreds of attendees enjoyed the music while local vendors sold food and booze, with proceeds going to the cause.
Later that night, another group of musicians held an intimate jam session at Chickie Wah Wah. This time, the combo consisted of Anders Osborne, John Fohl, Johnny Sansone and Cris Jacobs. The small club was packed with guests as the musicians did a stripped-down set of steamy, blues-influenced rock tunes. All four artists sang, played solos and jammed as a cohesive unit. With no bass or drums, it seemed like an informal gathering in someone’s living room. However, the exceptional level of skill displayed by these musicians made it a highly rewarding nighttime show during Jazz Fest season.
Heavy rain poured down most of Wednesday, May 3. It washed out many daytime activities including the usually packed YLC Wednesday at the Square free concert, cancelled due to the wet weather that afternoon. We missed out on seeing the incomparable Kermit Ruffins and Marcia Ball, but were determined to make the most of the still-stormy evening.
That night, The Little Gem Saloon hosted a show that was a tribute to some old-school New Orleans funk. Marc Stone presented the New Soul Finders featuring Marilyn Barbarin, Paul Boudreaux, Eric Bolivar, Tom Worrell, Reggie Scanlon and Papa Mali. Many great records were made in the Crescent City during the 1960s and one of the most innovative funk recordings of that time came from Eddie Bo and the Soul Finders. Vocalist Marilyn Barbarin and bassist Paul Boudreaux both participated on that album back in the day. Worrell and Stone are alumni of Bo’s band as well. The other musicians that performed at The Little Gem grew up listening to and were strongly influenced by that album and funk songs from that era.
The show featured Barbarin’s amazing voice, nice harmonizing, some fierce guitar interplay between Stone and Mali, as well as groovy keyboard riffs from Worrell. Many guests at the supper club danced between tables and everyone in the audience enjoyed the night of great music that dug deep into the New Orleans funk catalog.
The second weekend of Jazz Fest starts Thursday May 4 and ends on Sunday May 7, 2017. Look for our reports on Jazz Fest and night shows taking place around town.