Later in the evening, my homebody Darren Towns of the TBC Brass Band had a gig with a pick-up band of musicians from various brass bands for a birthday party at Vaso, a club on Frenchmen Street. Since the City of New Orleans had put a stop to brass bands playing at the corner of Canal and Bourbon Streets in the Quarter around 2009 or so, bands often frequent Frenchmen, a funky, music street that appeals more to locals than tourists, although the police will occasionally run brass bands away from the Marigny neighborhood as well. On this occasion, the birthday girl wanted the band to parade up Frenchmen Street from Vaso to the intersection with Chartres Street and back, but at Chartres, there was another brass band playing at the entrance to a brightly-colored building that has always reminded me of the Caribbean. At least one of their musicians was wearing a shirt for the Young & Talented Brass Band, but Darren told me that the band was comprised of musicians from several different brass bands. As is often the case in New Orleans, the two bands confronted each other, although in a friendly manner, and they quickly locked in with each other on a version of the brass band standard “Tuba Fats”. The crowds of locals and tourists in the intersection near The Praline Connection were thrilled. Eventually, our band headed back down toward Vaso, leaving the other one on their corner. It was one of those serendipitous musical moments that happen frequently in the Crescent City.
Sunday nights at the Blue Nile have been a long-running regular set for the To Be Continued Brass Band (also known as the TBC Brass Band), who are one of New Orleans’ premiere brass bands. 2014 has been a stellar year for the band so far, as they just recently performed with the legendary Wailers tag the House of Blues, and at Jazz Fest. Even more impressive is the fact that, unlike many New Orleans brass bands these days, the TBC never uses the expedient of replacing the snare and bass drums with a set drummer, or of adding electric bass or guitar to the band when indoors. The combination of authenticity and youthful street swagger is what makes the TBC Band unique. Unfortunately, with Sunday evening being a holiday evening, the Blue Nile was filled far beyond the usual crowd level on a Sunday, and there was heavy drinking going on. Although the band was great as always, I soon found myself being bumped, then pushed, then showered with liquor from people around me trying to dance or second-line while they had cups in their hands. Working my way back from the stage didn’t work, because the place was filled far beyond capacity, so reluctantly I cut my losses and left.
Since the last time I had been in New Orleans, the great Louisiana Music Factory record store had moved from their longtime location on Decatur Street to new digs on the ground level of the building where Offbeat Magazine is headquartered at the foot of Frenchmen Street. While the new location is smaller (there’s no upstairs), there’s still plenty of selection. I can usually expect to spend about $100 in this store, and this trip was no exception. While vinyl and CD’s are the main attractions, don’t overlook the amazing book department, which is for the most part restricted to books about music or books about New Orleans (I’m especially partial to books that are about both). There’s also a fairly decent selection of DVD’s (mostly about Louisiana), some T-shirts, and an assortment of concert poster replicas. Don’t miss it.
Louisiana Music Factory
421 Frenchmen Street
New Orleans, LA 70116
Originally, the Money Wasters Social Aid and Pleasure Club was to have had a second-line on Sunday, May 25th, and when I planned my trip to New Orleans, I had planned to go on it. The previous year, they had rolled with my homeboys in the To Be Continued Brass Band, and it had been a whole lot of fun. Unfortunately, this year, something had happened, and the second-line was being reported as cancelled by WWOZ Radio. So, despite the beautiful weather, there was no second-line, so I parked on Elysian Fields and walked down Frenchmen Street toward the new location of Louisiana Music Factory record store. Frenchmen Street is a hotbed of night entertainment, and the best place to go for live music in New Orleans, but it is also attractive and colorful during the day as well.
I have discussed discussed the Frenchmen Street entertainment district in much more detail elsewhere in this blog, but suffice it to say that Frenchmen Street has replaced Bourbon Street as the street for music fans to encounter some of the best live music New Orleans has to offer. Even at midnight, the street was still going strong, with a large outdoor art market not only open but relatively crowded. However, I was disappointed to see that the vacant lot at Chartres and Frenchmen, which had become a familiar performance space for the Young Fellaz Brass Band had been replaced by a new Dat Dog restaurant location, although at least the new building was designed to fit the existing look of the street. I was not able to determine when or where the Young Fellas perform in that area now, if they do at all.
Of course, the highlight of the night for me was getting to see my absolute favorite New Orleans brass band, the TBC Brass Band at the Blue Nile on Frenchmen Street. These young men, most of them from the 9th Ward, had only recently come together prior to Hurricane Katrina, and for a time it seemed that the storm might have brought the band’s brief existence to an end, with members scattered to other cities. But the To Be Continued Brass Band beat the odds and came back together in New Orleans, and is a group that brings a rough, defiant, hip-hop attitude to the world of brass band music. So I was somewhat amazed to hear them start their Blue Nile set with a couple of tunes from the traditional brass band and jazz repertoire, something I had never heard them do before. Their reading of “I Found A New Baby” was joyful, upbeat and flawless, with a skill that belies their youth, and was a tribute to their versatility as a band. Eventually the set moved into their usual more contemporary material, but I left at the end of their show with a whole new respect for the TBC’s musicianship.
I had no problem finding free legal parking on Esplanade, and when I made the short walk over to Frenchmen Street, I was surprised to find a large brass band playing on the corner of Frenchmen and Chartres, opposite the Praline Connection, and the old corner where brass bands used to play, which was now occupied by a building under construction. I was somewhat surprised, because over the last couple of years, police have made a point of harassing brass bands on Frenchmen Street and running them off the street for lack of the appropriate city permits. Tonight they seemed to be playing to their hundred or so fans unmolested, and I could only assume that the current tolerance was due to two factors, the current mayoral election, where Mitch Landrieu is running for reelection, opposed by a couple of African-American candidates, and the city council’s current efforts to pass a restrictive noise ordinance. Mayor Landrieu probably would not want to strengthen his opponents by heavy police crackdowns on predominantly-Black brass bands, and with the city council trying to secretly pass a new noise ordinance, and already drawing opposition from musicians and community advocates, they would hardly want to animate the opponents by police harassment of the bands either. I even saw a brass band on Bourbon Street near Canal, the first one allowed to stay there in two years! At any rate, the brass band playing under the brightly-painted eaves of Yuki’s building proved to be the Young Fellaz Brass Band, a band closely associated with Frenchmen Street, where they first came to public prominence. They are really a lot of fun.
My homeboy Travis and I grabbed a dinner at Louisiana Pizza Kitchen on Saturday night with a couple of his clients, and then afterwards, we poked our heads in the Cutting Edge showcase at Vaso, and checked out the happenings on Frenchmen Street, which is always a cool place to hang out. It was kind of a great way to end this year’s Cutting Edge event.
The TBC Brass Band performs one of their signature songs at the Blue Nile on Frenchmen Street on Sunday night, 5/26/13
The TBC Brass Band performs the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There” at the Blue Nile on Frenchmen Street, 5/26/13