New Orleans musicians have long gained attention around the country, but this year’s crop appear to have the kind of diversity that harkens back to the golden 90’s. Whether we’re settling into a new era of New Orleans influence remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt the entire local music community is showcasing a stylistic diversity that’s never been a secret to people who live here. Add in some controversy in the clubs, and we’re boiling much faster than a gumbo pot. Here’s 13 musical happenings of the last year, and 5 to watch out for in the New Year:
1. Dumpstaphunk – The Ivan Neville-led outfit made waves across the country with a new album and hosted Outside Land's first ever Superjam in San Francisco, cementing them as masterful collaborators and improvisors. With a new album, Dirty Word, the funk combo ensured all of their new listeners had a place to hear the new tunes. The music is seriously impressive and the artists behind the instruments keep it light and playful enough to make even the most novice of artists comfortable melding into their sonic missives. To have Dumpstaphunk known far and wide for their live shows is to pretty much tell the rest of the world “we told ya so.”
2. Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue – With yet another acclaimed album under his belt, Trombone Shorty continues to dominate at home and abroad. While he’s a perennial player on this list, we’d be hard-pressed to leave him out in the year that he rose to the pinnacle of New Orleans music by closing out the Acura Stage at JazzFest. As Quint Davis said, “The torch has been passed.” Meanwhile, the album, Say That to Say This is a topical examination of Shorty's roots and a straight deviation into R&B that showcases the vocal prowess, the booming, yet welcoming persona and the nuance that makes Trombone Shorty's singing seem to rival his horn work.
3. Bantam Foxes – The indie band of brothers (and a friend) saw a banner year that had their music featured on MTV as well as licensed for use on the Discovery's many networks. Bantam Foxes are a quintessential college band gone national. Though the trio bills themselves as garage rock, they're a multifaceted group that draws as much from the hiss and fuzz of a laid back jam session as the stringent composition work they perfected at Loyola.
4. Civic Theatre — While plenty of bands made a big impact in 2013, one of New Orleans’ newest venues was an equally big player on the local music scene. The 100-year-old Civic Theatre is now nicely loaded with a state-of-the-art sound system and fresh look thanks to a massive renovation. A packed calendar over the last quarter of the year showed that there’s plenty of room for a downtown spot that mixes national and local acts. In the New Year, shows from B.B. King, Neko Case and Neutral Milk Hotel, keep the momentum going.
5. Kermit Ruffins’ “Retirement” — While the trumpeter and local extradordinaire’s decision to quit playing on Thursday nights at Vaughn’s wouldn’t be looked at as a highlight for most music fans, there’s no doubt it made an impact on the scene. Aside from shaking up the Thursday schedule, Ruffins addition to the “Ain’t Dere No More” list reminded us that the weekly gigs we take for granted may not always be there, even when they seem like they’ve always been around.
6. Hurray for the Riff Raff — With plenty of traveling under her belt over the last several years, Alynda Lee Segarra’s project found a home for releases on the nationally-released ATO Records this year. Segarra has never stopped traveling, but she traded train-hopping for touring, and the years of hard work bore much fruit this year. With 2013’s My Dearest Darkest Neighbor and her first ATO release, Small Town Heroes, due in February, the Riff Raff are proving to be some of the most prolific New Orleans musicians around.
7. The Revivalists — Another hometown band that’s logged countless road miles, The Revivalists were offered much more than a NoDef column in 2013. The alt-rockers inked a deal with Dave Matthews’ Wind-Up Records this fall, setting up an early 2014 nationwide release for City of Sound. Already a hit on the fest circuit, look for the septet to build new audiences in the coming months.
8. BUKU Fest — The post-Carnival fest at Mardi Gras World branched out from strictly EDM, and ended up letting most of the city hear what they were about for their sophomore edition in 2013. While the noise complaints didn’t necessarily leave them in prime position with locals, the team — including Winter Circle Productions — behind Buku is set to return with another big bill in 2014 that includes The Flaming Lips, Kaskade, David Guetta, Explosions in the Sky and more.
9. Jimmy’s Music Club — The Riverbend rock club that was looking to return to glory had a much tougher road than the CBD theatres. Jimmy Anselmo ran into a liquor moratorium and a City Council battle as he tried to reopen nightclub that was once a prime haunt on the local new wave circuit. Eventually, the Council relented, giving the club the right to rock — provided they shut things down at 2 a.m. Look for the official return in the new year.
10. Mimi’s in the Marigny — Another club that faced off with neighbors, a lawsuit filed by neighbors against Mimi’s ended up moving DJ Soul Sister’s beloved Hustle gig from Franklin Ave. to St. Claude. For now, live music is back on with some stipulations. But the neighbors plan to appeal the permit that allowed live music to plug back in.
11. Brass-a-Holics — This year’s brass band entry on this list goes to the originators of Go-Go-Brass-Funk. With the release of a new album and an increasing presence, this group is likely to be with us for many years, fests and events to come. Even if part of their sound is imported from D.C., the NOLA spirit of keeping the party going all night is alive and well.
12. Twerking — Not quite like clockwork, Miley Cyrus catapulted the posterior motion that New Orleanians have been doing for decades into the national spotlight with her VMA action on Robin Thicke.. New Orleanians could only scoff at the talk-show uproar that resulted. Fortunately, Big Freedia already had enough notoriety to partially push back against the Miley-triggered assault, and Free reclaimed Bounce’s top dance move by setting the twerking world record later in the year.
13. PJ Morton — The Crescent City addition to Maroon 5 became a solo artist in his own right in 2013. A keyboardist with the pop-rock outfit, P.J. Morton signed to Young Money and released a solo album this year. Evoking the critics who compared Frank Ocean to Stevie Wonder, Morton enlisted the legend himself for his single “Only One.” The cut also earned him a Grammy nod. Morton already has a gramophone, but the fact that he’ll arrive at the January ceremony under his own name heralds yet another great local musician coming into his own on the national stage.
5 to watch 2014
1. Cardinal Sons – Cardinal Sons are way ahead of the game when it comes to putting on a show. The band took their mix of Make an EP and random compositions to brand new heights when set loose onstage. With a slew of videos and demand for more music, the trio need only hit the studio.
2. Gasa Gasa – The burgeoning venue on the thriving Freret corridor is making a name for itself with repeat visits from indie darlings across the NOLA music scene as well as drawing national acts you'd expect to see in larger markets. Gasa Gasa makes the case that bands like Sebadoh and Lucius (who are both set to play the venue in early 2014) not only need to be heard but have fans aching to hear them. A much-needed step towards diversifying the day in and day out of music in the big easy.
3. Voodoo Experience – The quintessential Halloween festival appears to take two steps forward one year and three steps back the next. The Voodoo Experience stands as one of the largest New Orleans festivals and yet one of its most volatile. As Live Nation looks to right the ship once commandeered by Rehage, rumors swirl of the erection of permanent stages and a touring festival. Voodoo is one to watch with the keen eyes of a skeptic. Will it grow to rival such powerhouses as Coachella and Lollapalooza or will it run out of steam completely?
4. Dusty Money — A hip-hop crew that happens to share a name with a Sissy Nobby song, Dusty Money is making waves around the NOLA rap scene. Their 2013 album ‘Ain’t No I in Team is already gaining traction and even picked up a NOLA Hip-Hop Award, and their beat-making abilities combine NOLA’s old school triggerman-happy with a touch of more recent conventions. Whether they can rise to the level of the past groups that ruled New Orleans is for the next year to show.
5. Hot 8 Brass Band — The local street legends released their first CD, The Life and Times of… in 2013, but 2014 could prove to be their crowning year. Hot 8 could join Rebirth in the category of brass bands that have won a Grammy, but we’ll have to wait until the end of January to find out if they won.