The music at Monterey Jazz Festival on Saturday may have started in Monterey but it took a detour through the Vieux Carré to Rampart Street and Congo Square, made a side trip up the Mississippi to Memphis and ended up in Sly & the Family Stone territory.
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In one of the more unique afternoons in Monterey history — and I'm not referring to the fact that the sun actually showed up, but the afternoon lineup of New Orleans favorites — a major rock star singing vintage soul tunes and a furious jam at the end of the afternoon had a packed-to-the-treetops Garden Stage area rockin' to a medley of Sly tunes.
The Soul Rebels Brass Band started things off by marching through the main arena, trumpets, tubas and trombones a-blazing, bringing a festive Mardi Gras-parade atmosphere to the packed, sun-kissed arena.
The all-brass and percussion band from the Crescent City was part of "An Afternoon in Treme: The Musical Majesty of New Orleans" that also featured trumpeter and barbecue master Kermit Ruffins, the funk band Dumpstaphunk and special guest Terence Blanchard, who seems to be everywhere at this year's festival (he played Friday night with the Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band).
From that intro the band kicked into Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City" and the afternoon in Treme, the famed neighborhood in New Orleans that is home to most of its musicians and carries a rich musical tradition, including being the site of Congo Square, which many consider the birthplace of jazz in its most rudimentary form.
Soul Rebels was soon joined by the ebullient Ruffins, who launched into one of his signature tunes, the Afrobeat-styled "Skokiaan" that segued into the pop hit "The Lion Sleeps at Dawn."
All this New Orleans richness was pulled together by guest emcee Wendell Pierce, a renowned character actor who plays randy trombone player Antoine Batiste in the hit HBO series "Treme."
"In New Orleans, if you're doing something, it's got to be funky," he almost shouted to the audience, who was eating all this up like a crawfish etouffee and an ice-cold Abita.
That signaled the entrance of New Orleans funk band Dumpstaphunk, which features two members of that city's royalty, keyboardist/singer Ivan Neville, son of Aaron, and guitarist Ian Neville, son of Art, of the iconic Neville Brothers band.
Dumpstaphunk, which was joined by Blanchard, another NOLA favorite son and a late fill-in for trombonist Glen David Andrews, proceeded to lay down some furious Treme funk with tunes like "Shake It Off" and "We Gotta Help Those People Out."
Then the Soul Rebels came back on stage to join Dumpstaphunk, Ruffins and Blanchard to slip into the old Meters' classic "Cissy Strut," followed by a nod to the festival's history with Dizzy Gillespie's jazz standard "A Night in Tunisia," and bringing the whole affair to a close with the funky call-and-response "Turn It Up!"
I like to think that the warm, inviting spirit of New Orleans helped bring out the sun, which, let's face it, hasn't been present much lately, and to keep the fog at bay.
The New Orleans segment served to warm up the audience for the first-ever appearance of Huey Lewis & The News on the fairgrounds' main stage. Lewis wasn't here to play his rock hits but to sell some sweet soul music to the assembled masses, which had swelled to near-capacity for this pop-rock icon.
Lewis and band recently released a tribute to the classic soul label Stax with its "Soulsville" album and most of the songs, which feature tunes from soul artists such as Wilson Pickett, Johnny Taylor, Otis Redding, Solomon Burke, the Staple Singers, Isaac Hayes and Rufus Thomas.
Lewis and The News' set was highly entertaining, not veering very far away from the original recordings, but didn't really soar until the last few songs, when Lewis broke out a few of his rock hits ("Heart of Rock and Roll," "I Wanna New Drug," "The Power of Love") mixed in with the classic soul songs.
An a cappella version of "Sixty Minute Man" showed off the group's considerable vocals chops and the Staples' version of "Respect Yourself" was launched into the stratosphere with the powerhouse vocals of Lewis' two backup singers, Sandy Griffith and Daunielle Hill, who could be a star in her own right.
Hill, in fact, was having so much fun Saturday that she joined Dumpstaphunk at its incendiary Sly Stone funk-a-thon on the Garden Stage that provided the festival this weekend's Trombone Shorty moment.
You may recall Shorty was the big hit at last year's festival with his star-making performance on the Garden Stage almost exactly a year ago. Dumpstaphunk will be remembered in the same way (as will Japanese pianist Hiromi, who set two stages on fire Friday night with her incredible piano skills).
By the time Dumpstaphunk — which was joined by drummer Greg Errico (giving the band two drummers), Huey Lewis saxophonist Johnnie Bamont, Mitch Woods' trombonist Mike Rinta and singer Hill — finished with Sly's classic "I Want to Take You Higher," the Garden Stage audience was in a dancing delirium.
Maybe the festival should have a New Orleans afternoon every year. There's certainly enough great musicians and groups to keep things fresh every year without repetition and NOLA artists (including Harry Connick Jr. last year) have certainly shown they can make a big splash. Sounds like an easy call to me, or in this case, a Big Easy call.
Mac McDonald can be reached at 646-4351 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
·What: The 54th annual Monterey Jazz Festival
·Where: Monterey County Fairgrounds, 2004 Fairground Road, Monterey
·Tickets: Grounds tickets, $55 today; youths (ages 2-18) $20; single-day arena is $142 today, available at 925-275-9255 or montereyjazzfestival.org. Premier Access Club, Family Discount Package and Locals' Package also available.
If you go