Neville Brothers: Mardi Gras Mambo Tour

cpas_neville_brothers_11Still deeply funky after all these years, the Neville Brothers are now traveling around the U.S. on their “Mardi Gras Mambo” tour, a double-bill with Dr. John’s band.

Here’s the link to my Nevilles story, as published in the St. Petersburg Times. I spoke with saxophonist Charles Neville.

And below is the story:

Quint Davis, longtime producer and director of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, often calls the Neville Brothers “the heart and soul of New Orleans.”

Keyboardist Art “Poppa Funk”, saxophonist Charles, singer Aaron and percussionist Cyril indeed are often treated as their hometown’s official musical ambassadors. They regularly bring their infectious mix of New Orleans R&B, funk, jazz and African and Caribbean sounds, and socially conscious messages to festivals and concert halls around the world.

But the Nevilles, playing the “Mardi Gras Mambo” tour on a double bill with Dr. John, represent just one variety of the Crescent City’s musical gumbo, Charles said. The concert trek comes to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota on Saturday.

“People ask, ‘Is what you’re doing New Orleans music?’ ” he said by telephone last week. “Well, New Orleans music is not just us. Fats Domino is New Orleans music. Satchmo (Louis Armstrong) is New Orleans music, and Harry Connick, and the Marsalis family, and Dr. John. When you listen to the brass bands – that’s New Orleans music. New Orleans music covers a broad spectrum of styles and genres.”

The Nevilles, together and separately, have played New Orleans rhythms and melodies and harmonies for more than five decades, beginning in 1954 when oldest sibling Art put together the Hawketts. That band’s “Mardi Gras Mambo” became a huge hometown hit.

Later, Art formed monstrously funky quartet the Meters, which eventually included Cyril, and Aaron in 1966 scored a national hit with gorgeous soul ballad “Tell It Like It Is.” The Nevilles’ first notable appearance together on record was with Mardi Gras Indians, on the classic Wild Tchoupitoulas in 1976, and the next year they teamed for the debut Neville Brothers album. Their most recent label-affiliated CD, Walkin’ in the Shadow of Life, was released in 2004.

Which Neville Brothers albums are among the band’s best? Charles’ names Yellow Moon, the popular 1989 album helmed by revered producer Daniel Lanois, and Live on Planet Earth, released in 1994.

“Lanois was able to, in the studio, capture the spirit and the feeling of the music, and capture what we do and what we mean with the music,” he said. “What we do — the spirit of New Orleans is in our music. It’s the spirit involved in those rhythms. Those rhythms are the ones handed down (from) voodoo.”

The Nevilles play tonight in Charlotte, N.C., and the final stop on their current round of tour dates is May 3, their traditional second-Sunday set closing out Jazz Fest (the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival).

2-25 Charlotte, NC Blumenthal Performing Arts Center More Info
2-26 Columbus, GA Rivercenter For the Performing More Info
2-28 Sarasota, FL Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall More Info
3-01 Tallahassee, FL The Moon More Info
3-02 Naples, FL Philharmonic Center For the Arts More Info
3-03 West Palm Beach, FL Kravis Center for the Performing Arts More Info
3-13 Las Vegas, NV Las Vegas Hilton Theater More Info
3-14 Las Vegas, NV Las Vegas Hilton Theater More Info
5-03 New Orleans, LA New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival M

Quint Davis: Jazzfest “The Greatest Entertainment Value for the Money”

Quint is right. He was quoted in a story that ran Dec. 17 in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Thanks to Jazzfest font of knowledge Swag for alerting me (and others) to the story. Here’s the text of the piece:

STELLAR SOUNDS: Unveiling its lineup early, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival offers up a strong bill of old favorites and new headliners

Wednesday, December 17, 2008
By Keith Spera

By 1970, the first year of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Tony Bennett had been a star for two decades. The members of scruffy rock band Kings of Leon were not yet born.

Both are bound for the 40th Jazzfest, now presented by Shell.

They’ll join Aretha Franklin, Sugarland, the Dave Matthews Band, James Taylor, the Neville Brothers, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, Wynton Marsalis, Emmylou Harris, Wilco, The O’Jays, Pete Seeger, Ben Harper, Solomon Burke, Erykah Badu and hundreds more at the Fair Grounds April 24-26 and April 30-May 3.

Producer/director Quint Davis announced the 2009 roster Tuesday at the North Rampart Street offices of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation, the nonprofit that owns Jazzfest and spends its profits on cultural initiatives and free events throughout the year.

The festival has never unveiled its full lineup in December. The early rollout is intended in part as a hedge against a grim economic forecast that may cut into leisure travel next spring.

Ticket prices are unchanged from 2008: $40 per day in advance, $50 at the gate. Also, a new weekend package prices tickets at $35 a day. Tickets for children age 2 to 11 are $5.

Compared with the $125 cost of a single floor ticket to Britney Spears’ March 3 concert at the New Orleans Arena, Davis noted, a three-ticket package for Jazzfest’s entire first weekend is $105.

“And you can see Dave Matthews; James Taylor; Joe Cocker; Wynton Marsalis; Earth, Wind & Fire and many more,” he said. “This is the greatest entertainment value for the money that there is.”

In conjunction with festival co-producer AEG Live, Davis’ Festival Productions Inc.-New Orleans started booking acts in the summer. They scrambled in the past week to confirm as many as possible before Tuesday’s announcement.

“It was like trying to build a house,” Davis said. “You look at it with a week to go and think, ‘There’s no way this will be finished.’ ”

All headlining slots are filled except one second-weekend opening.

First-time Jazzfest performers include Bennett, Spoon, Sugarland, Kings of Leon, rapper Common, Cuban hip-hop band Orishas, soul singer Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings and Washington, D.C., “go-go” music pioneer Chuck Brown.

— Return visits —

The schedule is also laden with veteran acts: Bonnie Raitt, Taylor, Cocker, Buddy Guy, Etta James, Los Lobos, Robert Cray, Hugh Masekela, John Mayall, Maze, Johnny Winter, Seeger — who plans to celebrate his 90th birthday at Jazzfest — Toots & the Maytals, the Del McCoury Band and the hundreds of Louisiana acts that are the festival’s foundation.

In a sneak peak at the day-by-day schedule, Davis said the closing day’s Acura Stage lineup boasts Allen Toussaint, Franklin and the Neville Brothers, in that order.

Trumpeter Marsalis closes out the festival’s opening day by reprising his “Congo Square” composition with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and Ghana-born percussionist Yacub Addy. They premiered the piece during the 2006 French Quarter Festival in Armstrong Park, site of the original Congo Square.

The Dave Matthews Band, which last appeared in 2006, is scheduled for the first Sunday.

Several multi-artist tributes acknowledge the legacies of departed local legends. Irma Thomas joins Mavis Staples and Pamela Landrum in a salute to Mahalia Jackson.

The late jazz banjoist and raconteur Danny Barker is the subject of a tribute by trumpeter Leroy Jones and a reunion of the Fairview Baptist Brass Band, which Barker developed into a farm team for local brass bands.

Deacon John hosts a “Dew Drop Inn Revisited” set featuring Wanda Rouzan, Eddie Bo, Allen Toussaint, Robert Parker and Al “Carnival Time” Johnson.

The Meter Men features three of the four original Meters: Guitarist Leo Nocentelli, bassist George Porter Jr. and drummer Zigaboo Modeliste. They first performed as a trio in August at the Democratic National Convention in Colorado.

Sugarland is this year’s contemporary country headliner. The band employs a New Orleans rhythm section consisting of bassist Annie Clements — daughter of local guitarist Cranston Clements — and drummer Travis McNabb. McNabb will perform with Sugarland the second weekend and with his “regular” band, Better Than Ezra, the first weekend.

— Plenty of rockers —

Perhaps taking a cue from competing festivals, Jazzfest has bolstered its roster of upstart rock bands. In addition to Kings of Leon, the list includes Wilco — the band’s bassist, John Stirratt, grew up in Mandeville — Spoon, Ben Harper and the Drive-By Truckers with guest keyboardist Booker T. Jones.

In another sign of the torch being passed, Bob Dylan’s son, Jakob Dylan, is slated to perform a solo acoustic set.

In years past, Jazzfest has featured the music and culture of countries from Africa and the African diaspora. Several international acts will return, including the Crocodile Gumboot Dancers of South Africa.

For 2009, Jazzfest has augmented its selection of premium packages. The Big Chief VIP Experience includes access to raised, covered viewing areas at the main stages and other amenities. The cost is $850, or $1,000 with daily reserved parking, for the first weekend; $900, or $1,100 with parking, for the second.

The Grand Marshal VIP pass offers access to reserved viewing areas in front of several stages, at a cost of $550, or $700 with parking, for the first weekend; $600, or $800 with parking, for the second.

A new premium package, the Krewe of Jazzfest, provides seating at the main Acura Stage only. Krewe of Jazz Fest packages are $350, or $500 with parking, for the first weekend; $400, or $600 with parking, for the second.

— Marketing challenge —

Disposable income may be in short supply for many people next spring. Already producers of Prospect.1, the art extravaganza on exhibit throughout New Orleans until January, have cut their own attendance projections by half.

As the national economic outlook grew ever gloomier throughout the fall, Davis and his team realized they would need additional time to market Jazzfest.

“As the days and weeks went by, it became more important to have the greatest momentum we could so people can get excited and make plans,” Davis said. A national promotional campaign kicks off after Jan. 1.

With the early announcement, they also wanted to pre-empt other festivals that compete for entertainment dollars. Davis is also quick to distance Jazzfest from the competition.

“No other festival has an imperative to present 85 percent local music,” Davis said. “Austin City Limits, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Coachella — they’re not this. This is different.

“We like to think that if you’re going to do one thing, you’re going to do Jazzfest, rain, shine, flood or pestilence. Now we’ll put that to the test.”

Tickets are available through Ticketmaster, at the New Orleans Arena box office and at the Louisiana Superdome box office (gate A, ground level). Ticket prices do not include service charges.