This Year’s Fourth of July – A Cause for Hope?

Today’s show begins with an Allen Toussaint song of unity and tolerance and ends with Delfeayo Marsalis’ erudite dissection of the slogan “Make America Great Again.” Perhaps in this the 244th year of our nation, we can make real progress toward the equitable society imagined in our Declaration of Independence. Let the show begin.

President Obama was only in office a few months when Allen Toussaint took the stage at the 2009 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and sang “We are America – we are some of yesterday and we are some of tomorrow. . .” as an intro to his “Yes We Can Can.”

Seven years later, trombonist and bandleader Delfeayo Marsalis released “Make America Great Again” with its title song featuring a narration by Wendell Pierce (a high school mate of Delfeayo) that indicts the phrase with “there will always be those of us who long for “the good old days,” either because we weren’t there or we’ve simply forgotten what those days were actually like.

What a difference an administration makes! And yet as even the State of Mississippi finally gets around to doing the right thing, there appears to be room for optimism.

Smoky Greenwell

The show’s first full set is introduced by veteran blues musician Smoky Greenwell, speaking from New Orleans to introduce two songs from his latest album (one of my favorites of 2019) “Common Ground” and “Get Out and Vote.” Smoky celebrates a birthday on Fourth of July.

In addition to Smoky’s birthday, I celebrate four other birth anniversaries. Lee Allen, the tenor sax that brought us New Orleans rock n’ roll, would have turned 94 on July 2. You’ll hear three of his songs and a good argument for why Lee Circle, currently named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee should be renamed after the Lee Allen song “Walkin’ with Mr. Lee.”

New Orleans favorite son Pete Fountain would have turned 90 on July 3. Fountain’s clarinet was the soundtrack of my childhood, a favorite of my clarinet playing father who taught at Tulane in the 60’s. You’ll hear a couple of his songs with his good buddy Al Hirt.

Reggie Houston – Photo by Hunter Paye

Reggie Houston lives in Portland now but is New Orleans through and through. Bless him for making a major move late in life that seems to have been good for him and Portland — as attested by his work with the annual Waterfront Blues Festival. His “Before I Grow Too Old” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” just seemed perfect for the show. Reggie turns 73 this week.

I suspect Matt Perrine is well known in the music industry as one of the world’s finest sousaphone players but its not like that distinction scores you the cover of Esquire Magazine — though it might get you a cameo in The Simpsons. He turns 51 and while I could do a whole show of his performance given his prolific studio work — I limited him to two of his own songs. He turns 51.

Lots of other music to enjoy in today’s show including Leigh Harris with “Make a Better World,” Walter “Wolfman” Washington with “Trials and Tribulations,” and Cowboy Mouth’s new “Oh Toulouse.” Thanks for tuning in. Stay safe this weekend.

Portland Blues Festival serves up a sweet NOLA line up

Portland’s Waterfront Blues Festival seems to have a serious jones for New Orleans music.

In previous years, the festival has held Second Line parades, filled its dancing stage with Zydeco and Cajun music and featured New Orleans acts such as Rebirth Brass Band, Galactic and the Stooges Brass Band. But this year, as we approach the 10-year anniversary of Katrina, the festival doubled down putting together a stellar New Orleans line up for its Friday (July 3) show.

Yes, we’ll get a return performance by Galactic, a versatile funk and soul band that hit the I-5 Tour as recently as February.  This time, the band will feature Macy Gray on vocals as the band harkens back to its soul and R&B roots when Theryl “Houseman” DeClouet fronted the group. Galactic takes the Brewery Stage at 9 p.m.

Allen Toussaint looking over his shoulder at a Paddlewheeler cruising the Misssissippi while performing at French Quarter Festival this year. He'll be playing by the Willamette River this Friday.
Allen Toussaint looking over his shoulder at a Paddlewheeler cruising the Misssissippi while performing at French Quarter Festival this year. He’ll be playing beside the Willamette River this Friday.

But the headliner for the day is Allen Toussaint (7 p.m. Brewery Stage).  This uber-talented composer, producer and pianist extraordinaire is closely aligned with the New Orleans R&B and funk sound. He was there from the beginning and now at 77, he continues to prove he can do full justice to his amazing legacy of songs.

“Working in a Coal Mine,” “Mother-in-Law,” “Lipstick Traces on a Cigarette,” “Fortune Teller,” “Sneaking Sally through the Alley,” “Night People,” “On Your Way Down,” “Ride Your Pony,” “Yes, We Can” and so many more song that you’ll recognize.  This guy has made a boat load of money from others singing his songs. The pleasant surprise is how ass-kicking good he is when he sings them.

He started his own New Orleans-based record label in the 60’s and he was the first to do a major recording in New Orleans (with Elvis Costello) after Katrina. He’ll have just returned from performing in London when he takes the waterfront stage on July 3 and I’m struck how the Portland setting is so similar to the French Quarter Festival stage where I last saw him perform in April. His band and performance will be as sharp as the suit he’ll be wearing.

Another New Orleans star attraction is Charmaine Neville. Daughter of saxophonist Charles Neville of the Neville Brothers, Charmaine has toured the world but has stayed closer to home in recent years. She and her band will dish up a jazzy soul set at the Brewery Stage starting at 5:15 p.m.

(From Left) Jeff Mercurio, Ben Ellman, Dan Vogel, Jeff Raines and Stanton Moore.
Galactic will perform at the Waterfront Blues Festival on Friday as part of a New Orleans line up.

Likely to hop on the stage with Charmaine is her former band leader now Portland resident, Reggie Houston. This native New Orleans saxophonist has been making Portland a hipper place ever since he called it home in 2004. With over two decades of performing with Fats Domino, you know Houston and his Crescent City Connection band is going to rock the Brewery Stage (3:45 p.m.)

Other highlights include venerable guitarist Paul “Lil Buck” Sinegal (First Tech Stage, noon), Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band (First Tech Stage, 8:15 p.m.) and the Dog Hill Stompers (Front Porch Stage, 10 p.m.)

See you there, but if you miss it, I’ll be playing some of what I hear on my show on Monday.  Have a safe Fourth of July.