The next morning, Sunday, was shear pandemonium. It seemed that everybody was wearing Saints black-and-gold, and StubHub was selling tickets right in the hotel lobby. I could have gotten a game ticket for $28, but I decided that a football game could be watched on television, but an authentic New Orleans second-line couldn’t. So I walked around the corner to grab a breakfast at the Cafe on the Square, and soon Rico Brooks and his friend met me there for breakfast. The street outside was already lined with Saints fans getting ready to head to the Superdome.
The Brass-A-Holics differ from most other New Orleans brass bands. They are not a marching unit, replacing the traditional drummers with a set drummer and a percussionist, and they incorporate elements of Washington DC go-go music into what they do. They are actually quite good and quite unique.
After the end of the Los Hombres Calientes show, I walked up to Bourbon Street to head toward the Brass-a-Holics midnight show at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse at the Royal Sonesta Hotel, but now there was a brass band playing in the street at Bourbon and Canal, not the To Be Continued Brass Band, but the Young Fellaz Brass Band, and they were quite good as well.
The legendary percussionist Bill Summers had come up to the Cutting Edge conference, and had asked me to come to his Los Hombres Calientes gig at Irvin Mayfield’s new I Club at the J. W. Marriott Hotel on Canal Street. I did, and was absolutely amazed. I had not understood a few years back when I first heard about the group why New Orleans musicians would have formed a Latin jazz group, but Los Hombres Calientes demonstrate on their gigs the relationship between Cuban and New Orleans musics. By the time they ended their set with “Hey Pocky Way” and “Shoo Fly Don’t Bother Me”, the similarities of the two genres were obvious to everyone in the room. They are masterful performers.
After dinner, everyone headed their separate ways. I walked up Canal Street toward Bourbon, thinking I would run back into the TBC Brass Band on the corner, but the Lucky Dog hotdog vendor said they had been there earlier and left. I soon heard the sounds of another brass band coming from the downtown side of Canal, but it proved to be a band coming outside from a wedding reception, so I walked down Bourbon all the way into the Marigny, but there was little going on there either.
Saturday, September 24, 2011 was the biggest and busiest day of the Cutting Edge NOLA Music Business Conference. Not only were many of the music panels on that day, but the NOLA Downtown Music & Arts Festival continued from 10 AM until late in the afternoon at Lafayette Square behind the Whitney Hotel. After speaking on the distribution panel, Rico Brooks and I joined the manager of the Brass-A-Holics for dinner at Drago’s Seafood next to Harrah’s Casino at the foot of Canal Street. Drago’s had the best chargrilled oysters I’ve ever eaten.
Little Joe Ayres decided to become a musician after noticing the enthusiasm that Marshall County, Mississippi residents had for bluesmen like Louis Boga and Junior Kimbrough. After teaching himself to play the guitar, Ayres began to learn from Kimbrough, and ended up becoming a member of Kimbrough’s band, the Soul Blues Boys. After many years of performing as a sideman and a solo artist, Little Joe Ayres has released his debut album Backatchya, a welcome collection of Kimbrough standards, hill country standards, and other familiar blues tunes that are adapted to the unique hill country style. Like all Devil Down Records releases, the album captures both a moment in time and a unique sense of place. Ayres’ guitar and vocals, as well as his spoken comments, were captured not in a recording studio, but on the front porch of fellow hill country bluesman Kenny Brown’s home. The resulting album has an intimacy that makes the listener feel as if he has spent a day with Little Joe Ayres rather than just listening to a record. Backatchya is a welcome documentation of one of Mississippi’s living blues legends, and is hopefully the first of many albums to come.
My friend Rico Brooks, who manages Gorilla Zoe, was in New Orleans for the Cutting Edge conference, and after we ate dinner at the Steak Knife, we headed over to Le Roux on Louisiana Avenue for the conference’s rap and R & B showcases. The hip-hop performances upstairs had ended early due to some artists on the line-up that failed to appear, but the R & B/soul showcases were still going on downstairs, including the Austin-based band Neckbone.
The Steak Knife is a historic New Orleans restaurant that few tourists ever see, since it is in an obscure neighborhood called Lakeview, which, as its name suggests is out close to Lake Pontchartrain. The Steak Knife is neither “New American” nor trendy, just consistently good basic steak and potatoes, with some inviting seafood dishes as well. It’s definitely worth a detour from the Quarter.
Stephanie Jordan performing at the NOLA Downtown Music and Arts Festival in Lafayette Square, New Orleans, September 23, 2011