Down at the corner beer joint, dancing to the rock and roll
Sister wanna do it -- sister wanna loose control.
Uptown at Tipitina's, dancing on a fonky floor,
The girl's jeans fit her booty 'lil tighter than they did before.
--the funky Meters' take on "Hey Bartender"
I have always wanted to run away and join the circus. Maybe it's the inner (and occasionally outer) sideshow freak in me. Last Saturday night, Tipitina's Uptown invited everyone to a three-ring circus celebration of the club's 26th Anniversary--The Founder's Ball. The staff was decked out for the occasion: partygoers were greeted by a red-vested ringmaster and other assorted characters as they made their way into the venerated club. A couple of mimes frittered to and fro, amusing the crowd with pratfalls and Chaplinesque antics. Even Fess was dressed up for the occasion!
The music for the evening started off with Big Sam's Funky Nation. I had heard of, but not yet heard, this band. I was pleasantly surprised by the original music they pounded out. They had an energy and a tightness that reminded me of The JB Horns, in addition to fluid and skillful soloists. If they come your way, I highly recommend them.
Keeping the audience enchanted, a fire eater and a fire dancer took the stage between musical acts. Adam Shipley, Lee Frank, Stacy Fortenberry, Bryan Slate and all of Tipitina's staff must really be given credit for putting on a celebration of this scale--true New Orleans decadence at its best.
Being The Founder's Ball, Quint Davis, founder of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, took a few moments to recognize the 14 men and women who came together 26 years ago and opened Tip's. Originally opened as a juke joint where Professor Longhair could play, the club has hosted a who's who in music since 1977. I got a large portion of my musical education here, seeing everyone from the funky Meters to Dr. John to Widespread Panic. Pre-air conditioning. In August.
All reminiscence quickly came to an end as the main event took the stage. Coming together on stage were multiple generations of New Orleans musicians. The Founder's Ball Band was indeed an all-star group. The original rhythm section of the Meters was reunited: on drums, Zigaboo Modeliste (new Aahkesstra) and on bass, George Porter Jr. (Runnin Pardners). I hate to assume that everyone knows these gents, but everyone should! Zig literally defined the style of second-line funk drumming so prominent in New Orleans music. And George? George is the funkiest bass player alive.
Joining the foundation was a third member of the Meters, Cyril Neville, on vocals. One of the "next generation" of Nevilles, Ivan Neville, was tapped for organ. Rounding out the band was June Yamagishi (Papa Grows Funk, Wild Magnolias) on guitar. Whoever put the band together really knew what he was doing; like topping fried catfish with crawfish etouffee, there was also a tasty horn section composed of Mark Mullins (Bonerama, Harry Connick Jr) on trombone, Clarence Johnson III (Runnin Pardners) on saxophone, and Troy Andrews, an up-and-coming phenom, on trumpet.
Greeted by an extremely enthusiastic crowd, the band quickly got down to business with a first set that rivals anything I've seen in the past year for straight-up New Orleans funk. School was definitely in session. The horn section stepped up and shined through Porter's instrumental "Funksomethingness." Next, a huge Meters moment came creeping up like a diesel train screaming down the track: a slinky "Funky Miracle" followed by the classic "No More Okey Doke," with Cyril belting out the lyrics. A fine jam simmered down into a powerful "People Say," with the original Meters trading lyrics. An anthem for social conscious and awareness, the song is as relevant today as it was 25 years ago. Feeling the soul from the stage, my mind wished and prayed for the long sought-after original Meters reunion at Tips when the call and response of the song came: "Somebody end this madness/getting sigh and tired of this – bullshit!" The band took a breath as the crowd erupted, smiles abounding. Porter led the band through a rollicking version of the late Earl King's "Let the Good Times Roll" to remind the crowd that we were here for a party. As if we needed a reminder! Zigaboo claimed the spotlight for a few minutes as he showed off his musical prowess that has earned him the moniker "King of the Funky Drums." The second-line beat dropped deep into the groove for a rousing "Hey Pocky Way" to close out the first set.
Old friends and family as well as welcomed newcomers from across the country greeted each other with hellos, hugs and knowing nods--this was truly a special evening. DJ Dave Soul kept the crowd energized and the fire-breather returned to keep us entertained while the band took a quick break. Returning to the stage, the band quickly slid into the new standard "Blues for Ben" penned by Ben Ellman (Galactic). Ivan Neville stepped up and did his thing during "Same Thing," showing the crowd that the next generation of Nevilles is indeed poised to carry the torch of New Orleans music. One of the highlights of the evening came next during a huge version of "Africa." Everyone was hitting on all cylinders, taking the crowd back "to the motherland." For some, I'm sure their "motherland" was 26 years ago when they came together with a vision for Tipitina's. For me, it was Tipitina's in the early 1990s where a large portion of my musical journey started. Not to be outshined, the horns stepped up with full force for this jam--so much so that the band dropped out while the horns took it to the streets like a second-line parade. I think I know what the Pied Piper's tune must have sounded like!
George & Zigaboo
With great applause, the band was joined by Big Chief Bo Dollis of the Wild Magnolias for an insane medley tribute to the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian tribes who contributed as much to the New Orleans sound as jazz and brass. The Chief belted vocals out like a man possessed--a great feat for anyone, but even more amazing for a man who celebrated his 60th birthday earlier this week. After rousing applause, the band welcomed Ian Neville to the stage for a slow, fat-bottomed, "feels like I'm swimming in chocolate pudding" version of "Just Kissed My Baby." The most impressive solo of the jam came from Mark Mullins as he showed off his rock chops while playing his trombone through effects and a wah-wah pedal--a heavy metal horn technique he has perfected over the last ten years. The "Just Kissed" jam segued nicely into a chorus of "Let Me Have It All." Stopping just for a second, Porter paid tribute to the late Ernie K-Doe, the self-proclaimed "Emperor of the World," and his widow Antoinette who was in attendance. The band then jumped into the K-Doe hit "A Certain Girl." Grinning from ear to ear, Zigaboo dropped back into the rhythm that screams New Orleans and led the band through a rousing version of "Big Chief." Capping three-and-a-half hours of music, magic, and celebration, the band took a collective bow, waved goodnight, and gave the crowd the faith to keep the Tipitina's spirit alive for another twenty-six years.
Tipitina's 26th Anniversary | Founder's Ball
January 17, 2004
No More Okey-Doke >
Let the Good Times Roll
Hey Pocky Way
Blues for Ben
Wild Magnolia medley
Just Kissed My Baby >
Let Me Have It All
A Certain Girl
Words & Images by: Jeffrey Dupuis
JamBase | Louisiana
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