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A Little Slice of New Orleans

Tank and the Bangas
Gus Bennett, Jr./Courtesy of the artist
Tank and the Bangas

The Trombone Shorty Voodoo Threauxdown Tour just finished its California run, showcasing a multi-generational spectrum of musicians from the legendary city of New Orleans.

Since first visiting New Orleans on a business trip in 1998 (no, really, someone thought that was a good business decision), I’ve stayed a big fan of the scene there. In the following years, I’ve returned three times, twice for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, a yearly celebration of music and culture from the area.

Just about every element of American culture became a little better once it was filtered through New Orleans – the food, the style and arguably most important, the music. It’s known after all as the birthplace of jazz. Home to a history of musical pioneers such as Louis Armstrong, Professor Longhair, Malcolm John Rebenack Jr (better known as Dr. John), and both the Neville and Marsalis families – New Orleans has enough unique culture to practically be its own country.

Bo Diddley and a very young Trombone Shorty
Bo Diddley and a very young Trombone Shorty

Troy Andrews, otherwise known as singer, bandleader and multi-instrumentalist ‘Trombone Shorty’ made his first Jazzfest appearance at four years old as a guest of Bo Diddley. He led his first brass band at age six. Now, in his mid-30s, he leads a tour: Trombone Shorty’s Voodoo Threauxdown. It started in 2018 but went dark in 2109-2020 due to the pandemic and only began again this year. I had a chance to catch the show in Santa Barbara on August 13.

A traditional New Orleans Brass band, Soul Rebels lit the fuse for an explosive night of all things New Orleans. As if they had been plucked from the French Quarter during Mardi Gras, it was the perfect high energy keynote to start the evening.

After Soul Rebels was Dumpstaphunk. Founded in 2003 to play a gig at Jazzfest, singer/organist Ivan Neville (son of Aaron Neville) and his cousin Ivan Neville on guitar, and their band took the stage for a set of songs from The Meters, a band including Art Neville, often mentioned alongside James Brown as early developers of funk. They were joined by George Porter Jr. (original bassist/vocalist of The Meters) and Cyril Neville (Ivan’s uncle) on vocals. The Meters defined the slinky, dirty funk sound with hits like Cissy Strut and Look-a-Py-Py. Funk doesn’t get much better. Dumpstaphunk treated the material with the love and respect due the elder statesmen of NOLA who joined them on stage.

Next was the highlight of the evening for me, Tank and the Bangas featuring Big Freedia. From New Orleans, Torianna “Tank” Ball and company won the 2017 Tiny Desk Contest, combining soul and hip-hop for something truly their own. A Tank and the Bangas show is a spectacle to witness. The music is tight and groovy and all over the map while Tank’s smart, progressive hip-hop flavored vocals fall somewhere in between Beyoncé, Sharon Jones and Nina Simone. Freddie Ross Jr “Big Freedia” joined Tank and the Bangas for several songs. The “Queen Diva”, as Freedia refers to himself, helped to make bounce music – a form of booty-shaking rap with a heavy beat, mainstream. His voice was sampled by Beyoncé in her song Formation, and he worked with Tank and Co. on their song and video Big. An already high-energy show got hotter when Freedia hit the stage for Big and some songs form his catalog. I’ve attended countless concerts over the course of several decades, and this was the second time I’ve been awestruck by a Tank and the Bangas show. The vibe is positive, even on songs that take on heavy subjects and the music makes it impossible to stand still. Their presence rolls over you like, well, a tank.

I’ve attended countless concerts over the course of several decades, and this was the second time I’ve been awestruck by a Tank and the Bangas show.

Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue closed the night. They’re touring on the new album Lifted. Shorty is a mixologist when it comes to music. He’s well-versed in New Orleans jazz but adept at rock and soul and you get a lot of all of it during one of his shows. The music is high energy throughout with ample space given to his two guitarists, tenor and baritone sax players, and even his back-up singers get to solo in the spotlight. Several of them even joined him on a lap around the expensive seats trading solos. Later in the set Shorty dueled with bassist Mike “Bass” Ballard, sans the rest of Orleans Avenue, taking their licks into experimental territory. When the band returned, Shorty stepped in as conductor in a call and response where he clapped out a rhythm and directed them to play it back to him in sync in a great display of how tight such a large ensemble can play.

Various circumstances over the last few years have kept me away from Jazzfest. This show will be a nice snack to hold me over, until next spring.

Dave Jackson curates the music on JPR's Rhythm and News Service, manages music staff and hosts Open Air, JPR's hand-picked house blend of music. He loves discovering great new music and sharing it.