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Grammy-winning Rebirth Brass Band Makes 30, Celebrates with Two Nights of Music at Howlin' Wolf
The band that Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist, Flea, calls “hard as hell” and “free as a ray of light” celebrates its 30th anniversary this weekend with two shows at the Howlin’ Wolf. Inside and outside the city, people recognize Rebirth Brass Band for its edgy blend of brass, hip-hop and funk that always draws a full crowd.
Founded in 1983 by Philip and Keith Frazier and Kermit Ruffins, the group graduated from performing in their high school band to performing on a national stage. While now the band plays to a primarily adult audience, Rebirth’s initial inception came as a result of a fortuitous alcohol restriction.
“We got a couple of guys together to play at the Sheraton hotel, but they were serving alcohol at the function,” said Rebirth bass drummer and co-founder Keith Frazier, who remembers being turned away from the venue as a result. Under age and instruments in tow, they switched gears to the only place that welcomes underagers, Bourbon.
“We went down to Bourbon Street and played for tips,” said Frazier. The Bourbon street fluke would turn into a summer long gig.
“I can remember the first time playing in the French Quarter,” said Frazier, who can hardly believe thirty years have passed. “It doesn’t seem that long ago. That was a quick 30. I’m looking forward to the next 30.”
Over those three decades much has changed. Not only has their following reached enormous numbers across the US, but they have also opened up their music to a wide range of styles.
“When we first started, we played traditional songs like “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and now we incorporate songs from every genre,” said Frazier. “We play reggae, R&B, funk, traditional; all types.”
Although frequently on tour, the group that once featured Kermit Ruffins embraces its New Orleans roots with a weekly Tuesday night gig at the Maple Leaf. While turning 30 at the Maple Leaf might have been sentimentally appropriate, the small venue couldn’t hold their ever-growing fan club.
“Since we’ve grown so much Howlin’ Wolf [fits because it’s] probably one of the larges venues and not far from where we started,” said Frazier.
After Hurricane Katrina, the term Rebirth took on a deeper meaning as the city began to rebuild. Despite destroyed neighborhoods, FEMA fallouts and funky fridges, music like Rebirth laid the firm cultural foundation that allowed the city to move forward. Among their many awards, they earned their first Grammy for their 2011 album ReBirth of New Orleans.
Despite their mainstream success, Rebirth remains inextricably tied to New Orleans. The band shares their label, Basin Street Records, with other legendary locals such as Irvin Mayfield, Dr. Michael White, and Jon Cleary.
Basin Street's co founder, Mark Samuels, said the milestone reflects the band's commitment to their craft. "I am amazed as a record labelist that has been working for 15 years that a band has been together for thirty. As someone who has managed and booked and tour managed bands I know how hard it is to keep a band together and that is an amazing accomplishment," said Samuels.
Before hanging up Frazier encourages people to “continue to support live music and the Rebirth Brass Band.”
Friday’s show features the “queen of rare grove,” DJ Soul Sister, and special guests, while Saturday’s show features Jermaine Quiz.
Both nights begin at 10 pm with doors opening at 9 pm.
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