The To Be Continued Brass Band (or TBC Brass Band) plays every Wednesday at Celebration Hall on St. Bernard Avenue in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans, but their performance on Wednesday August 20 was special, as it coincided with the birthday of the band’s deceased saxophone player Brandon Franklin. Any TBC performance is spirited, but this night was especially significant, and they opened with a traditional reading of “Just Over In The Glory Land” as a tribute. It was a steamy hot night, the musicians covered with sweat by the second tune, but nothing stopped the second-liners and buckjumpers on the dance floor in front of the stage. Aside from members of another local brass band (without instruments) talking smack during the intermission, it was another one of those memorable New Orleans nights.
There’s not a great deal of reggae activity in Memphis (perhaps because our city has very few Caribbean residents), but we do have one really good reggae and dub band known as the Chinese Connection Dub Embassy, so when I saw that they were playing on the outdoor stage at Handy Park downtown on August 15th, I called my homeboy Otis Logan and he and I went down to check them out. Early in their show, they provided the backing for former American Idol participant Lil Rounds and for the rapper C Beyohn, but it was on their own set of songs that I was most impressed. After an original opening, they launched into a reading of the Dramatics classic “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get’, followed by a ska classic instrumental known as “Rockfort Rock”, and finally with the timely political original “Tyrant”, which the lead singer skillfully connected to the recent police shooting of Michael Brown and the militarized police response to peaceful protesters in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite that somewhat grim reminder, the vibe of the evening was good times and good fun.
I knew that live music went on at Brinson’s in downtown Memphis, but it had been years since I had been there, so when I read that the Concrete Soul Band would be playing there, I decided to drive down and check it out. Concrete Soul proved to be a very funky, tight band, playing both smooth jazz and some neo-soul, and after the intermission, we got a special surprise as former Memphian Arean Alston came on stage to perform. Alston had been in Memphis all week, and had performed elsewhere, but it was great to see her in the city again.
The Cooper-Young Gazebo in front of Strano Sicilian Kitchen has seen a lot more live music activity this summer than in past years, and a great deal of it has been neo-soul, which is a refreshing change. Whereas music at the gazebo last summer was largely restricted to Thursday nights, this summer has seen live music pop up there on Tuesdays and Wednesdays as well as Thursdays. The other night, when I was enjoying an outdoor deck dinner at the Slider Inn, I saw a tweet that indicated that Memphis neo-sooul singer Apollo Mighty was performing at the gazebo in Cooper-Young, so as soon as I was finished eating, I headed straight over there. I had heard Apollo Mighty once before, at a Memfix party in South Memphis, but there he had been by himself, performing without his band. On this particular night, he had the full band, including his drummer, who recently moved to Memphis from Nashville. They are a first-rate group of musicians, and Apollo is a young but gifted singer with a lot of future potential. I was especially impressed that he didn’t do strictly covers as so many Memphis singers do, but also some of his original compositions as well.
My bass-playing friend Monte Butts had asked me to come down to Tupelo and play a gig with him at the Linc Center, and when the gig was over at 9:30, I didn’t just feel like turning around and driving back to Memphis. So I used my Hangtime app on my phone, and saw where a band called the House of Funk was playing at Woody’s Steakhouse on Gloster Street. I had always thought of Woody’s as an upscale steakhouse, and not the sort of place to book a band with a name like House of Funk. But I dutifully headed over there anyway, and discovered that far in the back of Woody’s is a place called the Captain’s Den Lounge, with a stage area for bands, and there the House of Funk was, playing a delightful mix of soul and rhythm and blues, with a room full of their fans in the bar. They took an intermission, but only a brief one, and soon returned with a fiery latin instrumental, and then performed a couple of vocal originals that were actually really great songs. I was actually disappointed when their performance ended for the night.
Tupelo, Mississippi has always had a big-city ambiance that belies its relatively small size. It has a large regional mall, its own TV station, a zoo, a large convention center and arena and a fairly big downtown, complete with tall buildings. Now, Tupelo also has a big-city steakhouse called Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen on Main Street downtown, opened by the same people who run the Neon Pig in North Tupelo. KOK is not just a great steakhouse with great food and an attractive ambiance, but it is also a burgeoning part of the locavore movement, a trend toward restaurants locally sourcing almost everything. A wood-burning pit downstairs fills the restaurant with an inviting aroma, and this is where steaks are grilled and shucks of corn are roasted. My expertly-cooked filet mignon was accompanied by fingerling potatoes, which were delicious, and I had substituted a husk of roasted corn (also amazing) for the vegetables. The large upstairs dining room is bright and cheerful, with local art works on the walls and plenty of windows, but there is also seating around a downstairs bar near the pit. Although I’m not a beer drinker, there is a decent selection of craft beers, many of them regional, for those who like that sort of thing. Altogether, I had a great meal and good fun at Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen, and will certainly be back.
Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen
124 W Main
Tupelo, MS 38804
Great espresso-based drinks are not always easy to come by in Northeast Mississippi, so I was thrilled when I heard about the new AC’s Coffee in New Albany. The attractive little coffee house is located at the head of the new Tanglefoot Trail, a walking and biking trail from New Albany to Pontotoc that follows the right-of-way of the old Kentucky, Ripley and Ship Island Railroad built by Colonel William Falkner (whose son would add a “u” to his name and become a famous writer). On my brief stop at AC’s, I tried a breve latte, and was quite pleased, and was told that they also have frappes, some baked goods, and occasionally live music as well. AC’s has an address on South Railroad Avenue, but there is actually no such street, although it appears on maps. It fronts onto the Tanglefoot Trail, a block south of Bankhead Street, and can best be accessed by parking on Bankhead or North Railroad, and walking down the Tanglefoot Trail until you see the coffeehouse on your left.
102 S Railroad Av
New Albany, MS 38652
When Memphis’ African-American repertory company the Hattiloo Theatre moved to new digs in the Overton Square area earlier this year, many probably wondered what would become of their old location on Marshall Avenue, closer to downtown. Those questions were answered recently when a portion of the space became the Dizzy Bird Lounge, a place that states its intention to become a jazz club in Memphis, something that our city has badly needed since the closure of Cafe Soul a couple of years ago. The space is relatively small but comfortable, with a downstairs lounge decorated with African-American artwork, and a small upstairs loft with tables and chairs. Although the theme of the place is jazz (“Dizzy” refers to Dizzy Gillespie, and “Bird” to Charlie Parker), the music on stage the night I visited was a soulful singer-songwriter from Memphis named Barbara Jenice, who was performing with keyboardist Timothy Moore and a percussionist, as well as a couple of special guests who sat in. Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, the Dizzy Bird intends to have spoken word or neo-soul type events on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and more mainstream jazz on weekends. They currently offer fruit and cupcakes, and are otherwise BYOB, at least for the time being.
The Dizzy Bird Lounge
652 Marshall Av
Memphis, TN 38103
While walking back to my car, I spied this interesting chair on a porch in Treme. The text on the top of the chair says it is a throne of St. Expedite (St. Expeditus), a Catholic saint who is extremely popular in New Orleans and amongst practitioners of voodoo in the city. The rest of the chair is covered with “veves”, drawn symbols that represent the spirits (or “loas”) of voodoo. The names of two of the voodoo loa, Baron Samedi (the lord of the cemetery), and Legba (the guardian of the crossroads) are emblazoned on the seat and legs of the chair. The cult of St. Expeditus in New Orleans is interesting in its own right. Tradition says that Saint Expeditus was a Roman soldier killed by the Roman Empire for converting to Christ. Supposedly, when he decided to become a Christian, Satan tried to deter him in the form of a crow, which called out “Cras, cras”, which is the Latin word for “Tomorrow.” Expeditus is said to have replied, “No, I’ll become a Christian today”, and threw the crow to the ground, stomping it to death. Much of the iconography of St. Expeditus pictures him saying “Hodie” (“Today!”) while crushing the crow beneath his feet as it is saying “Cras!” (“Tomorrow!’). But how Expeditus made his way to New Orleans is less clear. The best (and funniest) story is that during the French colonial period of New Orleans, some statues of saints were shipped to a church in New Orleans, perhaps Our Lady of Guadeloupe. Most of the crates were labeled with the name of the saint whose statue was within, but the last one was stamped only with the French word “Expedite” (literally “Rush!”). According to this story, the people at the church assumed that Expedite was the name of the saint whose statue was within the box, and it was set up in the church with that name! At any rate, St. Expedite soon became a favorite saint with the older Marie Laveau, the voodoo queen of New Orleans. When she fixed love potions, or perhaps cast spells or curses, she taught her followers that prayers to St. Expedite would make everything happen sooner! And I’m reliably told that Expedite is much beloved in the Black Spiritual churches of New Orleans too.
Somehow, on previous visits to Treme, I had never come across this little neighborhood bar called the Little People’s Place, but when I saw it, I immediately recognized the name as a place that had once been famous for live music in the Treme neighborhood. I could only imagine how thrilling it was to see Kermit Ruffins there, or one of the brass bands. Unfortunately, the Treme began suffering the depredations of gentrification even before Hurricane Katrina, and two of the earliest wealthy newcomers filed a lawsuit against the club in 1998 to stop the live music. I hope that one day perhaps the live music can be brought back to little neighborhood spots like this.