Given the flood of new young brass bands coming out in New Orleans now, it’s hard to imagine that the brass bands almost died out completely in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. If Danny Barker hadn’t formed the Fairview Baptist Church Brass Band in the early 1970’s as a way of keeping young people out of trouble, there might have been no brass bands at all today. Fortunately, the success of the Rebirth Brass Band and the Dirty Dozen encouraged a number of other young people to form bands of their own, incorporating a youthful, hip-hop swagger to the style. Arguably, the best of this second generation of New Orleans brass bands is the To Be Continued Brass Band, also known as the TBC. At one time, regular gigs were hard to come by for the TBC, but nowadays they play weekly at a couple of venues, including their regular Wednesday night appearance at Celebration Hall on St. Bernard Avenue.
Celebration Hall is located just north of the I-10 overpass in the 6th Ward, and is the kind of New Orleans venue I like the best. Located in the inner city, it’s nothing fancy, just a nondescript building on a street corner with barbecue grills smoking out in front and a crowd of people milling around the entrance. Inside is dark, except for the rows of Christmas lights just under the ceiling, but a crowd has come to see the To Be Continued band, and it’s their hard-core fans from the neighborhood. They yell encouragements and come out of their chairs to do the second-line dancing in the large dance floor in front of the stage where they’re playing, and before you know it, the place is so packed that you can hardly move around. There’s no better atmosphere to enjoy authentic brass band music, and when it was time to leave, the crowd begged for one more song. TBC obliged by playing “When Somebody Loves You Back” while marching out to the front door and onto the sidewalk in front, ending another of those quintessential New Orleans moments.
New Orleans really is an island, and approaching it from any direction, you must cross water, or at least swamps, so from Ponchatoula south to LaPlace, I-55 is strictly bridges, threaded between Lake Maurepas to the west and the much larger Lake Pontchartrain to the east. The area is beautiful, but very remote, with only one community to speak of, a place called Manchac, named for the Choctaw Indian word that means a pass, because the town is on the pass between the two lakes. Manchac consists of a church, a sheriff’s substation, a couple of fishing camps, a waterfront bar accessible only by boat, about 50 or so houses, and a world-famous restaurant called Middendorf’s.
Middendorf’s Seafood Restaurant has been around since 1934, and the name of the game there is catfish. They have many other options, and they offer both thick and thin catfish, but it is the unique, paper-thin fried catfish which has made Middendorf’s famous, and justifiably so. It is light, flaky and delicious, without even a trace of greasiness, accompanied by equally-good french fries. There is a full bar as well, and an outdoor deck and bar that is quite popular in good weather, since it has a beautiful view of Pass Manchac.
Unfortunately, at one time the future of Middendorf’s was in doubt. The historic restaurant has been buffeted by fires and floods, including a particularly destructive flood caused by Hurricane Ike, but the owners have rebuilt from each setback, and remain a favorite with people around Lake Pontchartrain as well as tourists on their way to or from the Big Easy. Middendorf’s is open for lunch and dinner on Wednesday through Sunday.
Middendorf’s Seafood Restaurant
30160 Hwy 51 S Manchac
Akers, LA 70421
The Blues Ball is an annual event in Memphis sponsored by the Memphis Charitable Foundation to raise money for worthwhile causes, and is the largest annual ball in the United States. This year, the event was held outdoors on Lt. George W Lee Avenue between the Westin Hotel and the Gibson Guitar Factory, and featured a large stage at each end of the street, as well as a third stage on the outdoor rooftop of the Gibson factory, and food from about 20 or so of Memphis’ best restaurants. In addition to great Memphis food, attendees were also treated to great Memphis music from Ruby Wilson, Will Tucker, Preston Shannon, Sam Moore of Sam & Dave fame, and Memphis rap icon Al Kapone with his band. At one point in the evening’s events, fireworks were set off from the roof of the adjacent Rock and Soul Museum, and the heat from them could be felt down on the street in front of the stage. Seen in the crowd were Memphis rappers Tune C and Young AJ, Select-O-Hits’ music buyer Wes Phillips, James Alexander of the Bar-Kays, Memphis soul legend Don Bryant and his wife Ann Peebles and Knox Phillips of Knox Music.
Kris Kourdouvelis fell in love with Memphis enough to move here, and since he has been here he has become one of our city’s biggest cheerleaders, and has tirelessly given his time and money to the cause of Memphis music, as well as many other charitable and philanthropic causes. As if all that wasn’t cool enough, he also bought and restored a historic old warehouse in the South Main Arts District and turned it into his private residence, but he turned its large downstairs into an amazing party room/venue/museum of Memphis Music called The Warehouse, which has hosted numerous charity events, Memphis music events and concert after-parties. The Warehouse turned 100 years old this weekend, and to celebrate, Kris threw a major bash featuring performances from the Greenville, Mississippi-based Kattawar Brothers and Memphis rap godfather Al Kapone, as well as great barbecue from the nearby Double J Smokehouse, of which Kris is a partner. The party was festive and bright, despite the chilly, wet evening outside.
Although the annual Southern Heritage Classic in Memphis is a football game, Black college football classics are never JUST football games. It’s just as much about the pageantry and battling of the drumlines, bands and majorettes, the cameraderie and fun, good food and general good times. The Jackson State University Sonic Boom of the South is consistently one of the best marching bands in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, and Tennessee State’s Aristocrat of Bands is also well-known and well-regarded. In addition to the mandatory halftime show, bands from Black colleges often engage in an after-game ritual known as the “Fifth Quarter”, in which the two bands compete for crowd acclaim by playing tunes back and forth at each other after the game. Although this tradition has been somewhat restricted and shortened in recent years, it is still very much a part of the Black college football tradition.
As the day wears on, the crowds at the Southern Heritage Classic tailgate get bigger and bigger and more and more joyful. Many people have a really good time without ever going inside the Liberty Bowl.
Coors Beer sponsors a huge party and concert each year at the Southern Heritage Classic, at the far northern end of the Fairgrounds near Central Avenue. Because the mayor and other important city officials attend it, it has traditionally been difficult to get inside the event, as it technically is invitation only. However, this year, a man in a Coors shirt waved me through the gate just in time to see the introduction of WDIA’s Bev Johnson as the announcer. She in turn introduced Ecko Records’ recording artist Sweet Angel, who came out on stage with her band and did a full set of her trademark suggestive blues songs, as well as a demonstration of her saxophone skills. Her performance was followed by that of a band called Fifth Element, which was first-rate and which did a series of Earth, Wind & Fire covers.
Tiger Lane is named for the University of Memphis Tigers, but by an odd coincidence, the Southern Heritage Classic pits the Jackson State Tigers against the Tennessee State Tigers, so it’s appropriately named for the event. The gates open to tailgaters at 8 AM on game day, and the place becomes something like a small city, with tents, stages and recreational vehicles everywhere, and the sounds of music and the smells of barbecue drifting over the whole area. Many of the parties hire DJ’s for their day of fun, and every once in a while, a tent will have a live band. And although this year’s weather was hot, there were plenty of vendors with things like Italian ice or snow-cones to cool you off.
The Star Steppers are yet another popular youth majorette program, and the drummers they marched with this year in the Southern Heritage Classic parade were the famous Baby Blues, who are probably Memphis’ best-known and most well-travelled youth drumline.
The Sparkling Diamondettes are a fairly-recent Memphis majorette squad, and they have a drumline that plays the cadences for the young girls to march to during parades, such as the Southern Heritage Classic parade in Orange Mound, 9/14/13