After dinner, I faced something of a dilemma, as the Treme Brass Band was playing at Kermit Ruffin’s Mother-In-Law Lounge on Claiborne, but the 21st Century Brass Band was playing at a club on St. Bernard Avenue that WWOZ listed as Cocktails. Since I am more of a contemporary brass band fan than a traditional one (although I appreciate both styles), I opted for the 21st Century gig, which, as it turned out, did not start at 6 PM. I knew of the 21st Century Brass Band only through YouTube clips, and this was my first time seeing them live. The woman that was managing the club explained to me that they were all students at Xavier University, and that their gigs helped with the expenses of going to school. She also explained that the club had a long tradition of brass band gigs, having once been called Sharon’s, featuring Dirty Dozen and Rebirth gigs, and more recently had been called Nola’s Finest Bar & Grill (which was still on the sign out front). The 21st Century played two rousing sets divided by a brief intermission.
Every Wednesday, the TBC Brass Band plays at Celebration Hall on St. Bernard Avenue in the 7th Ward of New Orleans. All brass band performances are fun, but the ones in neighborhood spots like this one are particularly fun, as the band is playing for its friends, neighbors and relatives, and there’s just a different vibe from when they play for tourists in or near the Quarter. The dancing is more exuberant, the music more blazing. The crowd was full of people I recognized from other bands, the Hot 8 and the Stooges Brass Band. My homeboy Darren Towns was rock-solid on the bass drum, aided by a snare drummer and at least two cowbell players. And the cowbell players play an important role in brass band music in New Orleans, helping to convert the feel of the music from traditional marching patterns to something more Caribbean or perhaps even African. At the end of the night, the band marched to the door to lead us all out, but nobody wanted to leave. You really never do when the music and the footwork are this good.
The Stooges Brass Band is another of the new and talented young brass bands on the New Orleans scene, and one that I had become familiar with through their weekly Thursday night gig at the Hi-Ho Lounge, where I once witnessed an epic battle between them and the TBC Brass Band. Unfortunately, the Hi-Ho came under new management, and the Stooges gig was a thing of the past, but fortunately a new club called Spice Bar & Grill has opened on North Broad Street, featuring the Stooges Brass Band every Thursday night. The club is big and spacious, and has none of the hole-in-the-wall ambiance of the Hi-Ho, but it is a neighborhood bar, and draws the kind of audience that loves brass band music and buck jumping, and that’s what went on all evening long.