On Thursday, June 13, I flew to Nashville, directly to SIR (Studio Instrumental Rentals), for rehearsals of the Rock & Soul Super Jam at Bonnaroo.
It was all-star: John Oates (guitar & vocals; Hall & Oates), Jim James & Carl Broemel (vocals & guitars; My Morning Jacket), Zigaboo Modeliste (drums; the Meters), Larry Graham (bass; Sly & the Family Stone), Cyro Baptista (percussion; Herbie Hancock these days), Brittany Howard (vocals; Alabama Shakes), Kevin McKendree (keys; Delbert McClinton), Steve Mackey (bass; Nashville sessions), Bilal (vocals; Robert Glasper and other NYC jazz and hip-hop projects), Lee Fields (vocals; the Expressions), Bekka Bramlett (vocals; daughter of Delaney & Bonnie — a band so great Eric Clapton toured with them for fun — onetime member of Fleetwood Mac, and a firecracker), Wendy Moten (session singer deluxe), the Preservation Hall Jazz Band horns (sousaphone, trombone, trumpet & tenor sax), and my brother Jim Hoke, horn arranger and soloist on alto sax and harmonica. Oates and James were the nominal leaders, but the work was as informal as it was intense.
Bonnie Bramlett came in to see Bekka sing, a major thrill for me. As Bonnie told show-biz stories that would curl your hair, Oates spotted her, ran down and greeted her like a queen. When I told him this all-star crew felt like a band already, he said pulling it together in just two rehearsals had been difficult, but he loved its sound as he sat briefly there in the “audience” of half a dozen.
During lulls, Jim Hoke launched trad-jazz numbers for fun and the Preservation Hall guys lit up and jumped in. Trombonist Ronell Johnson especially loved these impromptu numbers. As Brittany Howard crushed “Satisfaction,” Oates grinned and said, “She really brings it, doesn’t she?”
On Saturday, show day, the band van picked us up (Jim, our nephew Noah, visiting from Pennsylvania, and me) at Jim’s house and took us to Bonnaroo HQ in Manchester for more rehearsal in a hotel ballroom. Then the van took us inside, backstage at This Tent — Bonnaroo stuff is called What Stage, Which Stage, etc. A Ferris wheel lit up the dusk beyond This Tent; later, big fireworks hit in intermissions. Jim and I went out front and watched Beach House totally delight the 12,000-15,000 fans packed into This Tent.
For dinner, a golf cart hustled us to the Artist Hospitality area. Our Artist wristbands admitted us into a tent village with a giant buffet (GOOD food, too! — grilled salmon, tofu and T-bones; baked potatoes; cauliflower; broccoli; sweet potato fries; fresh rolls and bread), salad bar, juice bar, dessert bar, open drinks bar, picnic areas and a barbecue shack. The Lumineers were playing outside: very cool dinner music.
Then the golf cart took us back to This Tent, where the sound effects-comic Michael Winslow came out unannounced in Hendrix wig and clothes and uncannily imitated Hendrix’ Woodstock “Star Spangled Banner” with mouth noises and effects-pedals. Astounding!
When the Rock & Soul Super Jam hit at 12:35 a.m. it was joy supreme: old soul and rock songs, done right and with spirit by pros/fans. When they finished “Thank You Falettinme Be Myself” — Larry Graham led the big bunch of Sly songs — and went off, the crowd kept chanting the refrain for five minutes, really together and really loud. Then the Super Jam crew came back onstage, introduced guest R. Kelly and they tore up “Change is Gonna Come” and “Bring It On Home to Me.”
Then out swaggered Billy Idol for “Bang a Gong (Get It On).” Neither Kelly nor Idol made rehearsals, so nobody knew if they’d make the show. Both raced over after their own sets and threw themselves completely into the music, delighting the musicians. Brittany Howard roared through “Satisfaction,” Otis Redding-style, and Idol stuck around singing everything: When my brother Jim Hoke raced down front from the horn section for his harp solo “I Want to Take You Higher,” the last song, he bumped right into Idol and they both laughed. Standing in the media pit between the stage and the crowd with a dozen photographers and a video crew through the whole show, it was really thrilling to be that close to so much energy.
A big backstage hang with lots of drinks followed: Everybody was in a great mood and really friendly backstage because they knew they had just destroyed the place and the crowd loved them and the songs. Most times when an artist wants the crowd to “Wave your hands in the air,” they get maybe 30 to 50 percent: but when Larry Graham did it, he got about 300 percent. The band van got us back to Jim’s Nashville home at 6 a.m. when it was already getting light. I haven’t done a rock ’n’ roll all-nighter in years and neither had Jim.
Jazz Fest at SPAC
When the Preservation Hall Jazz Band played Bonnaroo, I worried about how they’d go over: older guys — clarinetist Charlie Gilbert is 80 — in black suits playing antique music. But the same people who had just loved Beach House on the same stage loved PHJB, too.
So, don’t worry when the band plays on Sunday at the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. They’ll play with that infectious bouncy joy that only two sousaphones, some trumpets, trombones, saxophones, drums, piano and bass can put on what New Orleanians call traditional jazz.
Freihofer’s has many other big-name players, known from gigs here: On Saturday, there’s Big Sam’s Funky Nation (from New Orleans, like PHJB; they played Red Square recently), pianist McCoy Tyner (solo, years ago at the Van Dyck), trumpeter Arturo Sandoval (Proctors) and saxophonist Gary Smulyan (the Van Dyck and A Place for Jazz).
On Sunday, there’s guitarist Kevin Eubanks (the Tonight Show Band), the Zulu choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo (The Egg, Troy Savings Bank Music Hall), Tony Bennett (the Palace, Proctors), bluesman Buddy Guy (The Egg and every rock or blues bar going back past J.B. Scott’s), and pianist Fabian Almazan (Terence Blanchard’s group, in many venues).
As at Jazz Fest in New Orleans, Bonnaroo, Wilco’s Solid Sound at MASSMoCA, the small-name players often offer the biggest surprises.
Those semi-knowns and un-knowns could become lifelong faves: Rudresh Manathappa’s Gamak, Gilad Hekselman, Carmen Souza, Ingrid Jensen, Donny McCaslin, Brianna Thomas, Chris Bergson.
I won’t tell you any more about them, but depend on this fest: I’ve only ever seen two weak sets there. I won’t tell you ticket prices, either: It’s worth it, for the known masters and the discoveries. Visit www.spac.org.
Clinton alive at five
Through decades of constant cultural change, personnel shifts and show-biz troubles, George Clinton has led various Parliament and Funkadelic crews to the heights of funk. Here they come to do it again: today at 5 p.m. at Alive at Five in Albany’s Riverfront Park. Funk Evolution opens, and it’s free,
Reach Gazette Columnist Michael Hochanadel at [email protected]