Easy to catch a lot of NOLA music in a short period of time

Catching as much music as possible in New Orleans ain’t hard. But some stamina comes in handy at times.

We arrived on Friday night and hustled down to see late night show of the Soul Rebels at d.b.a.  I’ve yet to catch them at their home bar, Les Bon Temp Roule but its always fun to hear and feel this talented brass band.

Saturday, we took the “Freret Jet” (#15 bus) to the annual Freret Street Festival, getting there in time to catch the swinging last half of the Mississippi Rail Company set. This New Orleans  R&B group is on my list to pick up when I get to the Louisiana Music Factory.

Mark Mullins (left) and Craig Klein are two of the "bones" of Bonerama. Billy Iuso, fronting his own band earlier, added some licks to a Bonerama number.
Mark Mullins (left) and Craig Klein are two of the “bones” of Bonerama. Billy Iuso, fronting his own band earlier, added some licks to a Bonerama number.

One of the advantages of visiting New Orleans is to learn about musicians that don’t get airplay outside of the area. Billy Iuso and the Restless Natives is one of those blues groups that sneaks up on you, starting off without much fanfare but blowing you away by the final beat.

The headliner for the festival was Bonerama — three trombones backed up by guitar, bass and drums. This group, which has played the Winthrop Blues Festival, was in excellent form.

We finished the day back at Frenchmen Street with The Maison’s evening closer Austin soul group The NightOwls.  They put on an energetic show that was almost overshadowed by some of the Spring Break-like antics of the crowd.

On Sunday evening, we braved Northwest-style rains and winds to sit in Bacchanal’s open courtyard to see The Roamin’ Jasmine.  Now, I’ve aired the Jasmine many times on the show but as usual its a delight to see the band in action, particularly with Taylor Smith, bassist and bandleader, singing.

Yesterday, we rented bikes and pedaled uptown to Carrollton, up Jeff Davis Parkway to City Park and back down Esplanade, stopping at Three Muses where Bart Ramsey, who fronts a Gypsy Jazz band called Zazou City, played a solo piano and sang for the early evening audience. I will definitely be playing some of his music when I get back on the  show in two Monday’s from now.

King James & the Special Men at BJ's Lounge
King James & the Special Men at BJ’s Lounge

I can’t close without mentioning my evening at BJ’s Lounge where King James and The Special Men held court for their regular Monday session.  This was bluesy, boogie woogie rock n’ roll fronted by Jimmy Horn,  who lived briefly in Seattle before stumbling into New Orleans in the 90’s. A disciple of Ernie  and Antoinette K-Doe, Horn seems to possess some of that same confident but endearing swagger. There is no stage at BJ’s.  No barrier between audience and musician and the give and take was, to be understated, uniquely entertaining. As his piano player banged out Fats Domino-like triplets on Blue Monday, I marveled at how I was probably no more than two miles from the Ninth Ward neighborhood bar that Antoine “Fats’ Domino was first discovered by Imperial Records while banging out the beat that became part of rock n’ roll history. A special treat was Jason Mingledorff sitting in with his saxophone.

Kim and I are chilling today but we’ll be catching a lot more beats in the days to come. Keep up with my posts by subscribing (upper right hand side of page.)

Freret Street event marks the start of NOLA festival season

If Mardi Gras marks the start of the Lent season, you could argue that the Freret Street Festival marks the end of it.  But Easter tends to wander about on the calendar so some years that just doesn’t work.

Freret Street Festival is usually the first weekend in April. This New Orleans neighborhood event heralds the start of the festival season.

What’s more clear is that the annual Freret Street event heralds the beginning of the New Orleans festival season. Later in the month, New Orleans will kick into festival high gear with the French Quarter Festival and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival–two events that together attract over a 1 million attendees. You won’t see that mass of humanity on Freret Street this Saturday (April 4), but this is not your usual neighborhood party.  According to organizers, eight blocks of the street will be blocked to car traffic, from Napoleon to Jefferson.  Three music stages will feature Mississippi Rail Company, Tank and the Bangas, New Breed Brass Band and Bonerama (to name a few).

Bonerama will close out the Freret Street Festival.
Bonerama will close out the Freret Street Festival.

I’m making it a point to be at this year’s event, even though the festival is 2,600 miles from my house. The corner of Napoleon and Freret is where I went to kindergarten and elementary school when the school there was called Our Lady of Lourdes. Yep, I wore the Catholic student khaki uniform.  (I’m also in town for the French Quarter festival. More on that soon.)

In those days (we’re talking 60’s) my home was a lot closer. I could buy a soft-serve ice cream cone across the street from the school (now a parking lot and site of a monthly art, food and flea market) and then, having spent my bus fare on that treat, walk past an odd assortment of businesses and store fronts to my house on Nashville Avenue. After Katrina, the district was revitalized. New clubs moved in like the acoustically excellent Gasa Gasa and the Freret Street Publiq House. Restaurants like High Hat Cafe, Freret Street PoBoys and Sarita’s Grill headed up a vanguard of excellent eating.

If the technology works for me this weekend, I’ll have a report from Freret Street that will air on my show this Monday. Ruby Ru, KAOS station manager and NOLA music lover, will host the show.