There are New Orleans traditions that belong mostly to our visitors (Bourbon Street) and those that belong uniquely to locals, but there are a few traditions we all share. We all eat beignets, we all love Mardi Gras (though often for different reasons) and we all love the Tuesday night tradition of Rebirth Brass Band playing the Maple Leaf. Rebirth is the first brass band to ever win a Grammy. The world has heard them in many soundtracks dating back to Reginald Hudlin’s Boomerang starring Eddie Murphy in 1992. Last years’s hit Girls Trip included the band’s original, Do Watcha Wanna – practically a city anthem.
I’d been to the Maple Leaf in the 90’s during a location scout for a film and not much has changed. The service was fantastic – a winning balance of fast and friendly. Outside, women sold home-cooked plates of fried chicken, corn, some type of tasty chicken casserole dish and more. It was the perfect set-up to fuel a night of dancing.
Rebirth’s mix of local favorites, pop covers and iconic originals is made for dancing. Our nation’s former President said Tuesday at Maple Leaf was on his Bucket List. Naturally, the band played at the White House in 2016 for International Jazz Day along with Aretha Franklin, Herbie Hancock, Sting and New Orleans’ own Trombone Shorty.
Despite their grueling tour and performance schedules, Rebirth makes their way back to the bar that gave them a break over 25 years ago. Formed in high school, the band was known for playing the best corners in the French Quarter but Maple Leaf gave them a home and gave the city a new tradition. So when my out of town guests asked what to put on the list for this trip, we agreed Rebirth was a must.
I danced myself silly non-stop for both sets. I’ve seen Rebirth a BUNCH of times but being in the Maple Leaf transported me back to the 90’s and I realized how different it all was, how different I was. Now, all of the music was familiar. When they played Casanova, I told my friends that was the song they played inside the Superdome whenever the Saints win a game. The 2018 version of me has years of memories of leaving the Dome bopping to Rebirth’s cover of Casanova after another victory (and during a few funeral second lines).
Derrick Tabb, the band’s supernatural snare drummer, provided the band for my wedding. He founded The Roots of Music after Katrina, a non-profit providing music lessons, music history and theory, school tutoring, a hot meal and a ride to the door for hundreds of kids 8-13. Now, Derrick and I’ve been friends for years. It was like the room was a time machine where I saw the 90’s version of me who always knew I’d end up living here (when I retired, I thought), and then was transported back to myself, living the life I was meant for all along.