The To Be Continued Brass Band (or TBC Brass Band) plays every Wednesday at Celebration Hall on St. Bernard Avenue in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans, but their performance on Wednesday August 20 was special, as it coincided with the birthday of the band’s deceased saxophone player Brandon Franklin. Any TBC performance is spirited, but this night was especially significant, and they opened with a traditional reading of “Just Over In The Glory Land” as a tribute. It was a steamy hot night, the musicians covered with sweat by the second tune, but nothing stopped the second-liners and buckjumpers on the dance floor in front of the stage. Aside from members of another local brass band (without instruments) talking smack during the intermission, it was another one of those memorable New Orleans nights.
Every Wednesday, the TBC Brass Band plays at Celebration Hall on St. Bernard Avenue in the 7th Ward of New Orleans. All brass band performances are fun, but the ones in neighborhood spots like this one are particularly fun, as the band is playing for its friends, neighbors and relatives, and there’s just a different vibe from when they play for tourists in or near the Quarter. The dancing is more exuberant, the music more blazing. The crowd was full of people I recognized from other bands, the Hot 8 and the Stooges Brass Band. My homeboy Darren Towns was rock-solid on the bass drum, aided by a snare drummer and at least two cowbell players. And the cowbell players play an important role in brass band music in New Orleans, helping to convert the feel of the music from traditional marching patterns to something more Caribbean or perhaps even African. At the end of the night, the band marched to the door to lead us all out, but nobody wanted to leave. You really never do when the music and the footwork are this good.
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.