Words by Gabriela Kerson :: Images by: Robert Chapman
Batiste & Friends with The Bridge :: 12.14.05 :: Lion's Den :: New York, NY
How do you celebrate your birthday? Well, if you're famed funk drummer David Russell Batiste Jr. and you can't throw down in your hometown of New Orleans, you do the next best thing: have a New Orleans Musicians Benefit party in New York City, invite your family and some good, old friends to come jam with you, and then, my favorite part, invite the public to come watch.
Russell Batiste Jr. :: 12.14 :: NYC
Walking into the Lion's Den in the West Village on December 14, I was happy to get out of the cold and excited to see who would show up. The posted line up included Page McConnell (Phish, Vida Blue), Dave Dreiwitz (Ween), Gordon Jones (Dj Williams Projekt) on alto sax, members of Brotherhood of Groove, and singer/guitarist Cris Jacobs from opening band The Bridge.
The Bridge, out of Baltimore, did a great job of warming up the audience by playing a funky, jammy, hard rock, bluegrass mix of sounds. Each member seemed to play to a different rhythm, all coalescing in an unbelievable way. We were tight against the stage as the set ended with R. Batiste slipping into the drummer's spot behind the kit and beat-boxing MC Kenny Liner (The Bridge) switching to an electric mandolin for the final song.
The change over was quick. Within 20 minutes, the ten-piece band was playing. The family vibe was strong. A Batiste cousin, Jonathon, was playing the keyboard next to McConnell, both placed stage right. Russell's dad David Batiste was rocking a Key-Tar. Raymond Batiste, the "baby brother," played congas and shared hosting duties, singing "Happy Birthday" for those who didn't realize it was Russell's 40th birthday.
The Bridge :: 12.14 :: NYC
The first few tunes seemed to be a trial run, the funkiest sound check I've ever heard. By the third tune, "Come and Get some Funk Today," the musical hierarchy was established. Anyone on stage could and did play when R. Batiste gave them the go-ahead, whether this was shouting out their name, pointing with a drumstick, or just making vigorous eye contact. I've never seen a stage so well run from behind a kit. Even when R. Batiste was invisible behind the mass of guests onstage you could feel his powerful direction.
D. Batiste took center stage to rock the Key-Tar over his head and behind his back. Dreiwitz kept it quiet in his spot behind the three-piece horn section, but the bass line was steady and the look of contentment and his small smile once in a while were enough to see he was happy to be a part of it all. McConnell, on the other hand, seemed a little lost, a lot of the time. His hands were always poised over the keys, but it was rare for him to play. He did bust out during a rousing rendition of "So Second Line," and the hippy girls danced below him, smiling and happy.
Batiste & Friends :: 12.14 :: NYC
As they moved towards the end of the set, R. Batiste invited anyone in the audience to come on up, reminding them that it "wasn't show time at the Apollo." Instantly there were 17 people onstage - the drummer from The Bridge took over the kit, The Batiste brothers' sister, who was beautiful wearing an African-style headdress, played the congas. The family feeling was so strong, it was a privilege to be present. Russell played everything. He borrowed Jacobs's guitar for a moment, swung over onto the keys, and returned to his native percussion to tap a cowbell next to his girlfriend Rita Haugland, who had been keeping the rhythm and the grins on stage all night.
After a short set break, McConnell and Dreiwitz were done, but Adam Deitch (Lettuce) showed up. Deitch and Batiste have a similar, almost painfully good, funky style. Both can front a band from behind their drums, and both have intense musical relationships with their bass players. They worked the same set together for a while, Deitch standing beside and Batiste sitting, with their respective bass players watching and responding, Wammy on his knees so Stu Brooks (Dub Trio) could see. Then Batiste was up again, heading towards the front of the stage, leaving Deitch to the beat.
Batiste & Friends :: 12.14 :: NYC
Next, Eric Krasno (guitar) and Ryan Zoidis (saxophone) from Soulive came up on stage, Shaggy from BOG was hiding behind a column with his bass in his hands. It was a huge jam, based loosely on "Play Poppa Play." They all circled in towards each other and the drum kit. The different levels of energy were amazing. 25 year-old Kenny Liner, beat-boxing at center stage, was obviously in awe just being this close to R. Batiste. The family groove was there, the siblings shooting each other looks of empathy, humor, and understanding while Poppa D. played his heart out. The rest of the crew were just having a good time with their contemporaries. There was a lot of back and forth play between the musicians, and R. Batiste took a break leaning against an amp at the front of the stage, letting the song play itself out, until I realized Deitch had left the kit and Whammy, the bass player, was carrying the rhythm alone. R. Batiste returned to his drums and closed out the evening. There was no cheering for more; the encore had left us sated, full. The audience drifted away, smiling and saying "Goodbye" to the new friends they'd made while supporting and thoroughly enjoying the musicians of The Big Easy.
JamBase | NYC
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