The Crescent City is coming to Cleveland and we are welcoming her with open arms! In a few weeks a remarkable group of nearly 40 New Orleans musicians, tradition bearers bringing 70+ years of incredible music, will help us honor Fats Domino and his longtime collaborator Dave Bartholomew as American Music Masters.
I fell in love with New Orleans through the LP recordings of Professor Longhair, Fats Domino, Huey Piano Smith, and the Wild Tchoupitoulas—and one very well worn truckstop cassette compilation tape that featured “Carnival Time,” “Mardi Gras Mambo,””Iko Iko,” “Walking to New Orleans” and a handful of other songs. This blossomed when as a twenty-something I traveled there with Robert Gordon—not the singer but the Memphis-born music scholar and filmmaker—the perfect tour guide to what was clearly his second city. The trip started in Philadelphia when we climbed into a massive 1969 Cadillac Sedan Deville—and headed south. Somewhere in Virginia we realized that if we shut the car off it would not restart, so we kept it running all the way to Atlanta, added a passenger and continued directly to New Orleans.
As if on cue we picked up WWOZ as we blew by Gulfport and flowed into New Orleans. Our goal was to arrive by Thursday night so that we could catch a bunch of young kids with horns and drums killing it at a neighborhood bar—the bar was Thelma’s Glass House and the band was the Rebirth Brass Band. It was an incredible welcome party. From there things blurred over the next few days but included stops at Roccaforte’s Half Moon Café, Whitey’s Seafood and Billiards, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, the Camellia Grill, Cooter Brown’s, Rockin Doopsie on stage somewhere (maybe Tipitina’s or the Maple Leaf), a Sunday night “rehearsal” party with the Wild Magnolias—who we then marched with on Fat Tuesday—and through it all incredible music and warmth from the people.
New Orleans has been hit hard since then. Many of those venues likely don’t exist and in some instances the people are now gone as well, but the music endures. The music endures. This beautiful mixture of blues, rock, soul, funk, jazz, rumba, gospel, field chants, hand claps, syncopated rolls, and marches, all boiling together to make a music that is so powerful, so rooted in its place, that it transports you there—and in so doing, takes you to the very beginning of rock and roll and back.
This spirit will fill the Palace Theatre in Cleveland on November 13 when American Music Masters week culminates with a tribute concert featuring Dr. John and the Lower 911 as the house band (yes, the house band!) joined by Hall of Fame Inductee Dave Bartholomew, Hall of Fame Inductee Lloyd “Mr. Personality” Price, Irma Thomas, Robert Parker, Toots and the Maytals, and my pals from twenty-something years ago, the Rebirth Brass Band.
To learn more about this year's American Music Masters event and/or to purchase tickets, click here.