Words by: Scott Schinder | Images by: Jacob Blickenstaff
Ponderosa Stomp :: 04.28.09 & 04.29.09 :: House of Blues :: New Orleans, LA
In its eight years of existence, the New Orleans-based Ponderosa Stomp - the brainchild of Big Easy anesthesiologist/music fiend Ira "Dr. Ike" Padnos - has emerged as a beloved institution, with a devoted national audience much broader than the cadre of record-collecting fanatics that was its initial constituency. In the process, the Stomp has outgrown its original location in the pleasantly funky Rock 'n' Bowl, in favor of the more corporate (but better-sounding and more centrally-located) House of Blues. In addition to its annual two-night smorgasbord of veteran R&B, soul, rockabilly, garage-rock, swamp-pop and country performers, the Stomp now also encompasses a daytime music conference that includes a memorabilia-packed museum exhibit, screenings of music-themed documentary films, and panel discussions featuring a variety of musicians and behind-the-scenes movers and shakers.
|The Legendary Stardust Cowboy :: Ponderosa Stomp '09|
But, the Stomp's mission remains the same: To honor the cult legends, unsung heroes and forgotten visionaries who first put rock 'n' roll on the map, and to showcase these still-vital survivors in an appropriate, respectful and fun manner. In contrast to the purist vibe that undermines so many roots-oriented music fests, the Stomp presents a stylistically diverse array of artists whose common thread is their musical and emotional authenticity. Those qualities were out in force in the Stomp's 2009 installment, which featured the fest's most impressive lineup yet, with more than 50 acts on two stages over the course of two marathon nights, which ran from 6:00 p.m. to around four in the morning.
This year's Stomp encompassed an epicurean assortment of performers, offering a spicy mix of old favorites and obscure rediscoveries. The highlights were so many that it was easy to lose count, but standouts included muscular sets by seminal female rocker Wanda Jackson, rockabilly progenitor Dale Hawkins and venerable blues harpist Lazy Lester, all of whom were joined on stage by the brilliant guitarist James Burton (Elvis Presley). Beloved '60s garage-rockers The Remains summoned up sufficient fire to demonstrate why they're local legends in their hometown of Boston, while the great Memphis songwriter/producer Dan Penn managed to hold the rowdy crowd's attention with a mesmerizing low-key duo set in tandem with veteran session keyboardist Bobby Emmons. But the Stomp's single most mind-blowing feature may well have been a transcendently raucous reunion set by Flamin' Groovies founders Roy Loney and Cyril Jordan, ably backed by New York slop-rock anti-geniuses the A-Bones (who had served the same function the previous evening for Texas R&B/rockabilly visionary Ray Sharpe).
|Wanda Jackson :: Ponderosa Stomp '09|
One of the Stomp's most distinct pleasures is the opportunity to discover lesser known and/or rarely seen regional artists, whom the Stomp regularly rescues from obscurity. Among this year's nicest surprises were a high-energy set by Roddy Jackson, who recorded some spectacular rock 'n' roll singles for the Specialty label in the '50s; 83-year-old former Duke Ellington Orchestra vocalist and R&B soloist Lil Greenwood, whose riveting set belied her age; unsung Sun rockabilly aces Carl Mann and Alton Lott; fabled boogie-woogie pianist Little Willie Littlefield, whose recording career stretches back to the 1940s; the legendary Louisiana blues guitarist Classie Ballou; and the great Dallas soul auteur Bobby Patterson.
|Lil Greenwood :: Ponderosa Stomp '09|
Nowhere is the Stomp's commitment to quality more apparent than in the consistently first-rate house bands that provide backup for most of the performers, and which provided a powerful contrast to the inept and/or unsympathetic pickup combos that are an occupational hazard for veteran performers. The versatile roots-rock guitarist Deke Dickerson and his Eccofonics provided stellar support for several rockabilly and blues acts. Equally noteworthy was another Stomp backup mainstay, veteran Louisiana blues guitarist Lil' Buck Sinegal and his band, The Topcats, including Stanley Dural (aka Buckwheat Zydeco) on soulful Hammond organ. Sinegal, Dural and company were the backbone of a New Orleans-themed mini-revue that included "Barefootin'" originator Robert Parker and Mardi Gras poet laureate Al "Carnival Time" Johnson. And the legendary studio band of Memphis' Hi Records label memorably reunited with Otis Clay, to revisit some of the triumphant soul sides they cut together in the '70s.
The two-night sonic orgy finally wound down on an appropriately delirious note, with an extended set by Chicano garage-rock pioneers Question Mark & the Mysterians. Ever-flamboyant frontman Question Mark's over-the-top antics left the hardy late-night throng exhausted, elated and ready for Ponderosa Stomp 2010.
Continue reading for more pics of the Ponderosa Stomp...