A New Orleans ‘Take Me to the River’

IMG_6296It’s less than a half a year to Fat Tuesday, but the heart of Mardi Gras is on the road, in the form of the “Take Me to the River” tour.

The caravan, headlined by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and featuring such figures as Ivan Neville and George Porter Jr., is built around the upcoming documentary ”Take Me to the River: New Orleans” — a sequel to the 2014 original that concentrated on Memphis soul stars working with young hopefuls.

Both were directed and produced by Martin Shore, who introduced and played some congas in the background during the stop Wednesday at the Hamilton in D.C. By now the whole “Take Me to the River” operation is meant to bolster music education, both financially and in giving talented young people a chance to get on stage to share their skills amid some legends.

In the upcoming film, it’s Irma Thomas who shows the younger singer Ledisi around one of her classics in a clip that preceded the live music. Live, it meant young performers like singer Joelle Dyson and bassist Dillon Caillouette are on board with New Orleans legends. But they could hold their own.

Dyson (at least I think that was her name; it wasn’t listed anywhere) started with a pair from Irma Thomas — the sassy “(You Can Have My Husband But Please) Don’t Mess With My Man” and the classic “Time is On My Side,” which she proves more true for her certainly than it does, for say, the Rolling Stones, who famously also recorded it.

That’s the point of this show – that the young people have time on their side to advance this indigenous soulful music. And she could have asked for no better backing band than one with Ivan Neville on keyboards, George Porter Jr. on bass, Terence Higgins on drums and the Dirty Dozen’s Kevin Harris on saxophone.

It was unclear whether it was more inspirational or intimidating for Caillouette to play his bass in the shadow of the Meters’ great bassist Porter.

Roots is the reason for these tours, and just as the blues and soul basis of Memphis were explored in the past project, the New Orleans-flavored “Take Me to the River” includes the exotic carnival revelry of the Mardi Gras Indians, brought to the modern day with its essential rhythms by the 79rs Gang led by Jermaine Bossier, chief of the 7th Ward Creole Hunter gang and Romeo Bougere, chief of the 9th Ward Hunter gang.

As fancifully as they were dressed in glittery, feathery costumes, they were necessarily outdone by the neon red feathered finery of Big Chief Monk Boudreaux. With more tambourines on stage than maybe  the Hamilton has ever seen, their percussive insistence recalled the deep rhythms of D.C.’s own homegrown sound, go-go, as they went through classics like “Hey Pocky Way” and “Shallow Water.”

Amid this trance-inducing rhythm came Ivan Neville playing  Professor Longhair’s famous tinkly clarion call to “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” with more musicians joining the fray and Dirty Dozen’s Gregory Davis handling its famous whistle.

The breadth of Louisiana culture and music was shown with the appearance of what was called the Lost Bayou Ramblers Duo — two members of the Grammy-winning Cajun band from Pilette, La. Andre Michot played a series of accordions as well as handling vocals for the first time in his career; he was accompanied by Eric Heigle on triangle and rhythm guitar.

Ivan Neville took over to play his incendiary “Money Talks” that seemed to take on greater weight two blocks from the White House, before moving into Wilson Pickett’s “Something You Got,” and the even funkier “People Say,” which included just about the best bass solo you’ll ever hear from Porter.

They paid homage to Allen Toussaint with his “Yes We Can Can” before moving further into Crescent City roots with “Fire on the Bayou” at just about the time an electrical glitch seemed to make the fire go out of Neville’s keyboard. Young Ian Neville tried to keep things going on electric guitar, though.

During a rendition of Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin,” came D.C.’s own sax man Ron Halloway came onto the crowded stage to insert a solo. He stuck around during a lot of Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s abbreviated closing set that began with “Unclean Waters,” and “Use Your Brain” with its James Brown funk quotes. Bandleader Davis made sure to take the opportunity to rub in the recent Saints win over the local NFL team.

How many people can fit on the Hamilton stage? It was a test during the encore finale of the title song of the tour, topped by a conga-line “Down by the Riverside” that had Sousaphone player marching through the dance section, dropping the bell of his tuba-like instrument onto the unsuspecting noggin of anyone in his way. The lesson is: there’s no stopping the music of New Orleans.

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