When I tell people that I’m going to Mardi Gras, it seems like they always have the same vision of my trip. It’s the public image of the French Quarter, Bourbon Street, and swarms of massively drunk frat guys bartering beads for a flash of boobs. While I can’t deny that I have experienced that part of Mardi Gras, that is the part of New Orleans I am looking to avoid during Carnival season. No, what keeps me coming back is the music, and it always sounds better in New Orleans.
While Mardi Gras technically has a fuller season of over a month before the start of Lent, the final weekend before Fat Tuesday is where the action reaches its peak. It’s right here at the heart of Mardi Gras that some of the best bands playing in New Orleans funk can be seen all over town. Just about every year you can expect to see the likes of Trombone Shorty, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, G. Love and the Special Sauce, or Galactic’s well renowned Lundi Gras show that rocks until sunrise. No matter what though, I always try to make it to the Howlin’ Wolf for three nights of free shows – two from the Rebirth Brass Band, and one from Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk. Playing to a New Orleans crowd during Mardi Gras always has a funkier feel to it, and the bands seem to know it. “It’s the spirit and vibe that Mardi Gras brings to the city everyone in the band was born and raised in,” Ivan and Ian Neville of Dumpstaphunk said. “We can’t help but have some overflow of all that music, energy, culture, and everything else that makes up New Orleans and Mardi Gras.”
For Rebirth, it all comes back to the audience and how they interact with the band. “Every set has it’s own identity,” they said. “Most of that is centered on the crowd. We don’t do set lists, so we’re able to adjust to each audience. No matter where we are, we live for the chance to feed of the emotions of our fans. There is no bigger high in the world. Except maybe when we won the Grammy.”
In this world of musical commercialization, it certainly made me wonder why they would keep giving their product away for free for over 10 years. The answers are the essence of New Orleans. “Mardi Gras in New Orleans is the biggest free rager of party to be found anywhere. Not much in life is free but this is one of those rare treats. Free party and free funk. Can’t go wrong. They go hand in hand,” said Ivan and Ian Neville. Rebirth had similar sentiments, saying, “We’ve always been pretty busy during Mardi Gras, so this was a perfect way to hit a late night crowd already in a good mood. That we get to do it in a great room like the Howlin’ Wolf is even more of a bonus.”
You can’t really go wrong with three nights of free shows from bands with those kinds of attitudes. They’re still in this for the audience, and that’s the most amazing part.