I have seen the future of New Orleans music and it is good. For me, the first day of French Quarter Fest was a relaxing journey through established local bands – people with Grammy nominations and wins and stacks of CD releases. Day 2 had all that with Dr. John, Kermit Ruffins and Rebirth Brass Band, but the day really belonged to the kids. The weather was insanely beautiful as we started our morning in Jackson Square for a tasty Duck Po-Boy ($8) from Jaques-Imo’s Cafe.
On our way to the Abita Stage, we stopped at the Louis-Louis Stage for awhile to listen to Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Revue. He voice was as bright and exuberant as her dress. I love when the riverboats and giant barges roll down the river behind that stage.
Honey Island Swamp Band was onstage when we arrived. I’ve heard about the band for years so I was glad to finally see what all the fuss was about. Their high-energy bluesy rock inspired many in the audience to dance along. Born when 4 band members found each other in San Francisco after evacuating during Katrina, they spent their time marooned far from home developing their award-winning sound.
Next up on the Abita Stage was Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers. They played plenty of standards and city-favorite, Treme Song, as well as originals. But the clear highlights were the young ladies invited to shine for a moment. First up was the stunningly beautiful and talented Nayo Jones with a powerful version of At Last. She had the crowd in the palm of her hand throughout her set. Then Kermit’s daughter, Kaylin Orleans Ruffins, sang Over the Rainbow and sent us over the moon.
The crowd was PACKED for Dr. John. We’d hoped the fact that it was a Friday afternoon would keep things loose but no such luck. A musician since the 10950’s, Dr. John has released over 20 albums and had a top 20 hit in 1973 with Right Place Wrong Time. He’s won 6 Grammys and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. In other words – he’s a legend. And we were all lucky enough to see him for free.
The crowd thinned after the show and we grabbed one of my favorite fest foods – a Cochon de Lait Po-Boy ($8) from Love at First Bite. I was about 2 heavenly bites in when I heard a giant band approaching from the street. I ran in time to catch The Roots of Music arriving with a flourish led by the Roots of Music Classy Dolls dancers.
The Roots of Music takes 9 to 14 year olds from low-income households and provides them with instruction in music history, music theory and an instrument as well as ensemble performance preparation. Additionally, they provide academic tutoring and homework assistance as well as mentoring. As if that weren’t enough, they also provide the over-100 kids with round-trip transportation and a hot meal 5 days a week, 12 months a year.
Not only does the program provide stability and discipline, the students enter knowing nothing about music and leave with the skills to play in a band. Who knows what future Grammy winners are being nurtured there, but what we do know is the program is amazing and their band is staggeringly impressive.
Grammy award-winning snare drummer for Rebirth Brass Band, Derrick Tabb, cofounded the organization and was on hand to introduce various guests as well as ask that people DONATE to this very worthy cause. A “CNN Hero” in 2009, Tabb realized how much his life had been changed by music and the band instructors he’d known and dedicates himself to expanding his reach to accommodate the over-400 kids on the waiting list for Roots.
Derrick Tabb’s brother, Glen David Andrews, was the first to join the kids onstage. I caught several of the kids looking to him, perhaps picturing themselves in his ridiculously talented shoes one day. Then, we were treated to a dance from the Classy Dolls to show off their considerable training from G G’s Institute Of Dance. Colorfully costumed young stilt-walkers put on an elaborate show with gravity-defying leaps and poses.
Trumpeter Glenn Hall led another tune before being joined by Glen David Andrews and Mayor Mitch Landrieu. The mayor first took a seat with the kids and played a trumpet – who knew? He even sang. At some point, he and Andrews got down on their knees to sing with 2 small children. I was struck with how humble it all was. Turns out, the mayor is an avid supporter of the non-profit and has donated resources and funds to the organization. Politics aside, it’s one thing to kiss babies, it’s quite another to care about the needs of children.
From the grand entrance through the festooned archway welcoming everyone to French Quarter Fest to the small boy who played trombone with Glen David Andrews at the end, I was blown away by the entire thing. It was an amazing show and a testament to the success of the program.
Last up was the 2012 Grammy-winning Rebirth Brass Band, the first brass band to ever win the honor. Like many of the bands at the fest, they have a new CD coming out and we were treated to many of our soon-to-be-favorite songs. They also played local favorites like Mardi Gras Indian anthem, Let’s Go Get ‘Em, as well as their own classics.
There were second line dancers with boundless energy and fast feet but I couldn’t help but notice a tiny tot sitting on a chair next to the drums. He tapped on his knees with sticks like the big boys have. Then Derrick Shezbie brought out an even smaller child with a trumpet. Like so many of our city’s musicians, his last name was Andrews. He didn’t have a microphone and who knows how he sounds, but he stood on the stage, front and center, playing that horn for the entire show.
While playing When the Saints Go Marching In, like many of the bands at the fest, Rebirth led us in a few rounds of Who Dats. I wonder if other cities have a year-round football addiction the way we do? I left the show dripping in sweat having danced from the first song to the last.
We passed Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas on the Bienville Statue Stage in the middle of Decatur Street on our way to the Jack Dempsey’s booth for Stuffed Crab and Baked Macaroni ($8) and Pork and Crazy Potatoes ($7). It’s important to remember that the concert is free because of the food and beverage sales, but it’s even more important to enjoy the fest food while we can!
Once again, apologies for not having the time to label all of the band members. You can find many of them on this site by searching their band name. And I may have gone overboard with the amount of photos but I lost the ability to edit the kids.