Words by: Aaron Lafont
George Porter Jr. 60th Birthday Bash :: 12.26.07 :: Howlin' Wolf :: New Orleans, LA
Apart from countries that celebrate Boxing Day, the day after Christmas typically doesn't hold much significance. But, in New Orleans, December 26 is a very special date. On this day, the Howlin' Wolf club holds an annual birthday party for native son and bassist extraordinaire, George Porter Jr. Over the years, these gatherings have turned out more than their fair share of memorable performances, but this year's fest, commemorating George's 60th, lived up to the billing "A Celebration of a Lifetime."
At 9:00 p.m., the full-on brass charge of Bonerama rang in the evening as guests enjoyed plates of red beans and rice, gumbo and jambalaya. With four trombones sliding to the accompaniment of a guitar, drum and sousaphone, the septet's unique blend of funk, jazz and rock reaffirmed their position as one of the most innovative and original outfits to come from the Crescent City. On choice cuts such as "Bayou Betty" and the New Orleans titled "Baronne" they pushed the limits of stride all the way to the edge of the swamp, shattering every traditional boogie-woogie brass band convention along the way. Also recognized this evening was Bone co-founder Mark Mullins, who celebrated his 40th birthday earlier in the week. His wah-rigged trombone solos enlivened the evening's spirit, echoing a pathway across the psychedelia of Hendrix's "Crosstown Traffic."
Next, following an introduction by his daughter, George Porter Jr. second-lined his way through the crowd up to the stage. Upon thanking those in attendance, he was greeted by a city official, under the decree of the mayor, who declared December 26 to be a citywide holiday in honor of the "funkiest bass player in the history of music." Subsequently, the Porter family treated the audience, that included such legendary New Orleanians as Dr. John and Art Neville, to a video tribute chronicling Porter's career.
As pieces of birthday cake were passed around the room, local favorites, Dumpstaphunk, took the stage. Led by Ivan Neville, the heavy funk brigade got the merry crowd bouncing to their own brand of ruckus. Over the course of their set, they saluted their host along with their homegrown roots, popping off two Meters covers; the undulating "Love Slip Up On Ya" and the good times jam "No More Okey Doke." With drummer Raymond Weber pushing the stank and Ian Neville's guitar licks raking up and down the wake, Ivan's keys swirled in and out of the slaps and pops of bassists Tony Hall and Nick Daniels' foot stomping solos. Before yielding the stage, Dumpstaphunk had the audience shaking their "beautiful booties" to the cadence of "Meanwhile" and chanting, "Just put it in the dumpster."
At this point, soul singer Juanita Brooks and piano prodigy Davell Crawford appeared for a welcomed surprise, serenading the crowd with a cover of Etta James' "At Last." As the songstress and the "Prince of New Orleans" rolled through the classic, Porter made his way onto the stage, presenting a bouquet of roses to his wife, whom he then invited up for a dance. Once the dance drew to a close, Porter strapped on his bass, which remained at his side for the rest of the night.
| Bonerama :: 12.26 :: Porter 60th Bash :: By T. Walsh|
Following the unexpected duet, George called for his Runnin' Pardners to join him. The large ensemble features a full brass section in addition to the quartet of Brit Anderson (guitar), Russell Batiste (drums), Michael Lemmler (keys) and Porter. Despite playing a minimal number of gigs over the last few years, this extended family had no problem finding their groove. Incorporating the flavors of New Orleans R&B into a hefty dose of funk, they spiced up the mix as their leader stirred the pot. Midway through the third number, the Meters' "I Need More Time," Ivan Neville grabbed the chair at an unaccompanied keyboard and Galactic's Stanton Moore jumped behind an unmanned drum kit. As the set progressed, the jams grew thicker as the slide guitar, trumpets, slide trombones, keyboards, saxophones and drums rose to a peak on "Just Kissed My Baby," a song Porter dedicated to his wife. With the birthday banter in full swing, Porter handed the tune over to his mates, allowing them to close the set while he passed out copies of his latest album, It's Life, to fans.
Sealing the soiree were headliners, PBS (Porter-Batiste-Stoltz), the power funk trio that's become Porter's vehicle of choice in recent years. Before getting down and dirty, local drum guru Johnny Vidacovich and the Runnin' Pardners horn section sat in with the three-piece for a jazzy rendition of Curtis Mayfield's "Here But I'm Gone." Instantly locked together, the hometown posse cut loose, sparking the crowd with the beefy pulse of their hearty grooves. Porter let it all hang out during this final hour, rattling home the swells of Batiste's rumbles and Brian Stoltz's guitar riffs. Bonerama's Mark Mullins rejoined the jubilee to round out "Moving to the Country," which developed into a dynamic horn showcase. Ivan Neville plunged into the closing number, "Fiyo Lamp," easily the night's best. Seemingly enthralled with the outcome of the evening, Porter, always a class act, sent the audience home with gratitude, thanking them for inviting him to "their" party.
| PBS :: 12.26 :: Porter 60th Bash :: By T. Walsh|
Overall, the spirit of George Porter Jr.'s 60th birthday bash fittingly captured the spirit of New Orleans – a city held together by family, friends, good food and good music that endures through hard and high times. Porter has dedicated his career to extending this creed to the world, and his life serves as a testament to the authenticity of its merits.
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