I haven’t been to the YLC’s Wednesday at the Square in awhile. With events like Chaz Fest, Jazz Fest and French Quarter Fest, I’ve been spoiled silly for live music lately. But I made the effort to catch my pick for Favorite Musical Auteur 2012 Billy Iuso. “NOLABilly” band N’awlins Johnnys were onstage when I arrived. Lead singer Harry Barton, in a yellow tie and button down shirt, looked like he had come straight from one of the nearby law offices to the stage. Like many bands here, their sound was a fusion of genres including jazz, rock, swing, zydeco and funk. Most fun was when they covered a Professor Longhair song mimicking his complicated Calypso piano chords with a guitar. (“Fess” is the father of all modern NOLA jazz and the soundtrack to Mardi Gras).
During the break, I wandered the park and ate a tasty open-faced version of Martin Wine Cellar‘s Braised Beef Brisket on a bun with Creole Cane Slaw (no mayo) ($5).
I first started attending the Wednesday concert series in 2010 and I remember vividly seeing Billy Iuso & the Restless Natives, partly because Iuso brought his daughter Aria out with him at some point to sing. I was struck by how brave this 8 year old was. Now a preteen, she put out the word that she wanted us to wear tie-dye “for peace.” So I did. I even wore a peace sign necklace. The world needs kids who believe in peace. And the world needs kids who rally people.
One reason I chose Iuso as my Favorite Musical Auteur 2012 was because he is an “artist at large” playing with Anders Osborne, the Wild Magnolias, Iko Allstars and more. Another is because his Restless Natives are great. They played old favorites and new tunes from the just-released Naked CD. Some bands in New Orleans are known for their long jams – turning any song into a 10 minute journey through solos and crescendoed choruses. Turns out Iuso is a fan of the Grateful Dead, a band well known for their lengthy jams.
But the band has changed its tune a bit with Naked, focusing more on creating well-crafted 4 minute songs suitable for radio play. Some of the songs are beautiful and the focus on Billy Iuso’s voice allowed me to notice its Bob Seger qualities for the first time. The band did some great covers including Bob Marley and a fun funky version of the Talking Heads’ hit Once in a Lifetime.
During the encore, Iuso brought his daughter out once again to sing with the band. I was so new to living in New Orleans the first time I saw her. We’ve both matured since then. NOLA has been my heart’s home my whole life but it has been my body’s home since late 2009, long enough to watch a cute brave girl become a vibrant young lady.
The last reason I picked Billy Iuso as my Favorite was because, “he seems to be everywhere and there’s a party wherever he goes.” The party was definitely at the Square! The weather was perfect (80-ish with a cool breeze), the park was filled with happy music lovers and I ran into plenty of friends including my Treme husband, Rob Steinberg, my Django Unchained costar, Manny Edwards and New Orleans Movie Tours owner, Jonny Ray. There are 2 more Wednesdays left in the series. Can’t wait for Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue with Westbank Mike next week!