Words by: Aaron LaFont
Big Sam's Funky Nation :: 11.16.07 :: Tipitina's :: New Orleans, LA
In 1978, George Clinton and his Funkadelic crew struck back against an excessively commercial music scene with their own freaky national anthem, One Nation Under a Groove, an album that defied corporately dictated boundaries to bring folks together in an atmosphere of true freedom. Well, 30 years later, in the capitol of funk, New Orleans, one group fully embodies Clinton's creed, steering the grooves that unite while they blast past the mass-produced, soul-lacking riffraff.
| Big Sam's Funky Nation:: 11.16|
Big Sam's Funky Nation blends the dirty bump and mind wringing psychedelia of P-Funk with the deep soul and raw, earthy rhythms of The Meters. Add to that a trombone wailing, funky struttin' frontman named Big Sam and an equally fiery tenor sax counterpart, Calvin Johnson, and therein lies the essence of BSFN, whose sound is as uniquely funk as it is distinctively New Orleans.
For OffBeat Magazine's 20th anniversary celebration, The Nation sought to make two things clear:
1. There ain't no party like a New Orleans party.
2. There ain't no party in New Orleans like Big Sam's Party.
Around midnight, with the crowd already loose thanks in part to the jam driven, funk-reggae-hip-hop fusion of Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band, BSFN brought their wall of sound to the stage, thoroughly prepared to direct the funk parade into the wee hours of the morning. From the first few bars and for the next three hours, the crowd shook, dancing nonstop to the full-on frenzy unfolding before them.
Rather than pausing between songs, BSFN simply took their jams further, expanding on improvised melodies that materialized from an increasingly vast array of grooves pushed hard by the monstrous beats and slamming bass of their rhythm section. Guitarist Casey Robinson's Scofield-meets-Hazel playing heartily meshed with the almost funk-metal core, his twisted rhythms and jazz drenched solos further solidifying BSFN's foundation. Also spicing up the mix was organist Adam Matasar, who energized the heavy pitch with a danceable pulse and gave Johnson and Big Sam a rich canvas to scribble on.
| Big Sam's Funky Nation:: 11.16|
Many know Big Sam from his days with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, his numerous sit-ins with Widespread Panic, and his featured role on Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint's recent tour. Undeniably the evening's primary catalyst, his massive trombone squalls fueled the Nation's funk while his steadfast boogieing brought its spirit to life. As the night progressed, he reeled in the crowd until a hand clapping, foot stomping semicircle huddled around the stage.
After spitting a few bullets with the Rebirth Brass Band's Shamar Allen, Sam set in motion the evening's liveliest moment, an impromptu take on the "Cupid Shuffle" where he enlisted the assistance of 30 audience members to "walk it out" with him onstage. That opened the door to a loose, jam free-for-all finale built around the hooks from Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy," The Fugees' "Ready or Not," Kanye West's "Good Morning," OutKast's "Mrs. Jackson," Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love, and Understanding," The Meters' "Cissy Strut," Sly and the Family Stone's "I Want to Take You Higher" and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Give It Away."
Since Hurricane Katrina, perhaps the most overlooked - and arguably the most significant and profound - aspect of New Orleans' rebuilding process can be found not in the lights of the French Quarter but within a revitalized local music scene. As long as groups like Big Sam's Funky Nation helm communal happenings like this one the funky fever is bound to spread.
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