This past weekend has become one of the more jam-packed of the year including events like Hogs for the Cause, the Revolution Second Line, the Congo Square Rhythms Festival and the Class Got Brass competition. Hogs for the Cause has moved it’s rather large festival to City Park, but weddings and birthdays kept us from the festivities benefitting families facing pediatric brain cancer. But we did manage to hit all the Armstrong Park-centered events. The annual Revolution Social Aid & Pleasure Club Second Line starts at Armstrong and winds its way through city streets gathering paraders as it goes.
The costumes this year had a construction theme and the band was the TBC Brass Band. For this not in the know, a second line is basically a rolling block party (for more about second lines and what they are, click here). It was a gorgeous day for a long walk through the streets of the city. I love the people dancing on porches and rooftops, the guys dragging coolers with beers for sale, the children learning the dance traditions, the smell of bar-b-que and the off-ramp traffic waiting patiently as we sing and dance past. It’s a great way to spend a day – but we bailed halfway and made our way back to Armstrong Park for the rest of the day’s festivities.
The Kumbuka African Dance Collective was onstage at the Congo Square Rhythms Festival when we arrived. Beautiful women in daffodil-yellow dresses swirled around then invited audience members to join them. We watched as we ate a tasty Satchmo Dog ($7) from Dreamy Weenies and Bread Pudding w/ Butter Rum Sauce ($4) from Olivier’s Creole Restaurant. Tents peppered the wooded trails with artisans selling hats, carvings, paintings, soaps, jewelry and more.
Then it was time for the 2nd annual Class Got Brass contest. Bands from middle and high schools compete for $10,000. This year, there were 13 schools from New Orleans, the Westbank and Baton Rouge: Edna Karr, Joseph S. Clark, KIPP McDonogh #15, Martin Behrman, McDonogh #35, Medard H. Nelson, O. Perry Walker, Park Forest, Sophie B. Wright, St. Mary’s Dominican, Warren Easton and West Jefferson.
The bands are judged on tradition, originality and innovation. They each have 5 minutes and must open with a traditional dirge. I love that this city keeps it’s history alive and certainly the kids are the only way to keep that going. I’m all for innovation but I loved the schools that incorporated traditional second line dancing complete with umbrellas. Third place winners, Joseph S. Clark, were a cut above musically and I loved their drummers. KIPP McDonogh #15 came in second with instruments they bought with last year’s winnings. I’m flustered to say my photos of them were blurry but I have some great video. “The Chosen Ones” of O. Perry Walker came in first and were certainly the most traditional of all.
With few exceptions, the talent was phenomenal. We are so spoiled silly here for music that even our kids can bring down the house. The panel of luminaries judging the bands included Brice Miller, Gregg Stafford, Gregory Davis, Dr. Michael White, Big Sam, Shamarr Allen, Gerald Howard, Glen David Andrews, Ben Jaffe, Virgil Tiller, Kerry Brown and Big Chief Donald Harrison. I can’t imagine the pressure those kids felt playing for such established musicians and the large crowd but I never saw them sweat. Heck, most of them looked like they were having a blast.
Afterward, we stayed for the Stooges Brass Band. Formed in 1996, this jazz/hip hop band just keeps getting better. They’ve won the Red Bull Street Kings battle and the title of “Best Contemporary Brass Band” at the 2011 Big Easy Music Awards. Last year, the band was selected as cultural ambassadors to New Orleans on a 2 week tour through Pakistan then toured parts of Europe. All I know is that I still love to Wind it Up for Michael Buck! Buck was the stepfather of one of the band members who second lined with the Black Men of Labor Social Aid & Pleasure Club and did a fun dance he called the “wind it up.” Now we all get to do it!
Some restaurants offer a dish 3 ways on one plate like fried shrimp, boiled shrimp and shrimp remoulade. That’s how Sunday felt – like a second line 3 ways. We started with the real thing, then to keeping the tradition alive through our youth, then dancing like Michael Buck to a band that has brought its second line roots to the rest of the world. What a day.
Enjoy the videos of the Revolution Second Line and the Class Got Brass contenders. Photos also include Stooges Brass Band, DancingMan504, Spy Boy Ricky and more.