So when we started Jam in the Van we didn’t have any budget for fancy airplanes. The crew traveled in the van. Sometimes we slept on the side of the freeway, sometimes we slept in crappy motels. Now we have a little bit of wiggle room and our crew flies coach. For this trip though I wanted a little bit of nostalgia, and also, I had a lot of TV to catch up on. So I hopped in the van with Spud and we traveled from Venice, CA to New Orleans in the span of four days.
This was kind of a nostalgic journey for myself. I got to hang with my old pal and I also got to travel in the manner that we’d started this journey. In the back of our crazy van, traveling the freeways of the USA, getting honked at every stretch of the way, eyes brimming with curiousity at every gas stop. Questions always arising, some are impressed, some think we’re hiding something else in there, but most just smile and shake their heads. It’s sort of the American dream right? There’s no better place to play that out then on the open road. With Spud as the pilot I don’t have to worry much about answering any of the questions, he’s a big enough loudspeaker for the both of us. The perfect voice for the van. As unique as the vehicle he drives.
The trip itself was pretty flawless. I sat in the back with my dog and watched “House of Cards” while Spud drove and yelled at me when he needed clarification on “what the hell is that scumbag Frank doing this time?” We stopped for gas about every two hours, or less, because Spud loves stopping for gas. When he grew tired we pulled over and crashed at Motel 6 and watched basketball until we fell asleep, only to rise again and hop back in the van.
We went through fort Stockton, TX, where we tried to locate the whereabouts of the remains of the original Jam Van. Sad to say we couldn’t find it. We ate “Mexican food” in a restaurant where every other patron stopped mid-chew to give us the stink eye when we entered. We took pictures at rest-stops, and drank through our fair share of soda pop. When we finally made it to Louisiana we’d had enough fast food and went in search of something more substantial. We saw a sign for a barbeque restaurant, that led us about a mile off of the beaten path. When we pulled into the empty parking lot two gntlemen in a power company truck pulled up alongside us and started hollering back and forth with Spud in a jovial manner, admirers of the van. They told us that the restaurant was closed, but that they knew the girl who worked there and they would make her open up for us. A photo shoot and some damn good ribs later, Spud and I were back on our way tackling the last stretch of road before New Orleans.
The digs for our stay were a one bedroom apartment near City Park. There were seven of us and two dogs (albeit one more like a rat) squeezing in there, so to say it was comfortable would be a lie. Luckily one of our camera guys was very petite, so that was like a half person, and he barely sleeps to begin with, so we made it work.
Our first day in New Orleans was a day of rest. Our second day was not.
We piled in the van and headed over to Harrah’s Casino. Although we did no gambling that day. Rather we took the sure bet, which in this case was pulling up on the sidewalk and parking in front of the Casino’s side entrance and pitching our tents. In a sense we were like the plethora of street musicians that perch upon the New Orleans pavement and busk. Only we were much bigger and our speakers tend to be louder than your average minstrel’s voice and instrument.
We spent two days in front of Harrah’s filming the likes of:
Theresa Anderson – Homegirl is quick on her feet. By that I mean she does crazy shit with her feet and looping pedals, it’s way legit.
The Deslondes – They brought a baby, that was a first.
Mia Borders – She was strictly business and her business was music.
Carousel – Have you seen our Cherub session from a couple years ago? These dudes were heady like that. The trippy kind of heady.
Cardinal Sons – Rock and roll proper.
Gold and the Rush – They describe themselves as NOLA rock and roll, so we will describe them as that as well.
The London Souls – Dude on the lead guitar sweated so much we had to give him a Jam in the Van shirt in the middle of the set. We did not have his size. It fit all the same, because you can wear tight shit when you’re rockin’ and rollin.
Royal Teeth – They asked me what type of dog I had, and I told them the bad type. Then my dog proceeded to snuggle up to them and prove me wrong.
We took a day off on Sunday because Eric Clapton was playing the main stage at Jazz Fest and that’s the kind of thing that it makes sense to take a day off for. We didn’t have tickets, because we’re not used to buying tickets, so we had to fenagle our way in there. As luck would have it a little birdie told us that there was a security guard by the name of (REDACTED) who had a gold tooth and a baseball cap on who might be inclined to help us into the festival if we helped him buy his supper, or beer, or whatever he might have been inclined to purchase with the wad of money that Spud handed him. At any rate, it was far less money than we would have spent on actual tickets, so we gave it a shot. This fella was none too hard to find, and once the deal was negotiated, “hey I hear you’ll walk us in for some cash?”
“Yeah, stand by that tree”
we were on our way into the festival via an elaborately planned-out scheme involving what we would come to find out was a large handful of the security personel on hand as well as the ticket-takers and even a police man. It seemed the only one not in on the gig was our conspirator’s supervisor, who was either told to keep his mouth shut, or told nothing at all. Either way, he didn’t stop us, and everyone else on the event staff happened to turn their backs precisely at the moment that we approached, and we eventually found ourselves staring at Eric Clapton for a very not Eric Clapton price tag. Wasn’t mad at it…
Clapton was Clapton, if you hadn’t seen him yet, you check it off your bucket list and are thankful you got the chance to. We also got the chance to watch a massive woman suck down an entire chicken leg in one pull at the Gospel Tent. Also bucket list stuff, Hallelujah.
In other news, sweltering heat and daquiries seem like a grand idea at the onset, but once violently ill from a migrain they seem like less of a great move. That’s what they make Advil for, right?
Our rental apartment was set a block back from City Park, so we figured we should use that quality location as a session location. So the following day we skipped down the block and met up with Bombino at about 2PM. They were originally supposed to be there at around 11AM but Bombino had to get his green card extended or renewed or whatever and he got stuck at the immigration office. Now if you’ve ever been to a government office you know how those things tend to take time. Imagine what that’s like in the city of New Orleans where instead of gathering around a water cooler folks gather around those Hurricane drink machines. Now imagine what that’s like during Jazz Fest.
So we understood why Bombino was late and we were thankful that he still felt like jamming in the van even after that ordeal, which could easily wipe out the best of us. Our friends from Ploom were on hand with a Pax which helped to lift Bombino’s spirits. So we did a session in the park, and while that was going down, who should jog by but our old friend Anders Osborne. He had hugs for everyone, because Anders is a hugging type of dude. He’s also a jogging type of dude, because when we met him at his house a couple of years prior he was just getting back from a jog. Nice to see he’s keeping that up. Oh how the times they do change…
Bombino was our only session in the park for that day, we had to pack it up and book it into the French Quarter to set up outside of the House of Blues where WWOZ was hosting a Piano Night. Of course when we arrived our reserved spot had been taken and we had to circle the block about fifteen times. The folks at WWOZ and the House of Blues were awesome helping us out, far more awesome than their neighbor, whose bar name I forget. It was his belief that a music discovery vehicle with live shows parked outside of his establishment would be bad for business and not attract people. He said he didn’t like people from out of town telling him what’s what and how it is.
I walked past his spot a couple of hours later, he stood solitary behind the bar pouring a drink for his singular patron. I smiled.
Posted properly out front of the House of Blues we loaded in our first band, Rotary Downs, who were not part of Piano Night, but just play damn good rock and roll. Six of them, all from New Orleans, they told me they gig mostly around town because they’ve got families and jobs and stuff like that holding them close to home. They said that their love of music and the band is what keeps them at it. They just like being able to get together and play, no big dreams, no desire to break out, if it happens, that’s great, but the music is all the drive they need.
Once Rotary Downs unpacked it was time for the shuffle of ivory twinklers. We stacked up some Lagunitas boxes and dropped our Korg keyboard on top of the makeshift stand on a slight slant and were ready for whoever wanted to drop in.
Those keys were graced by Davell Crawford, Jon Cleary, and Marty Sammon. Davell’s flamboyant showmanship brought a crowd and he sweated through his iridescant blue, paisley jacket for them. Messers Cleary and Sammon were equally stunning in their performances and Piano Night was an undeniable success.
The following morning we found ourselves back in City Park, this time we pulled up beside the entrance to the Botanical Gardens and across the street from a sculpture garden, it wasn’t tough on the eyes in the least. Rain had been threatening all week and finally decided to rear its head that afternoon. Nothing too scary though, a steady drizzle that grew into a light rain, and then scurried off to make way for the sun and humidity to return. These weren’t the best conditions for our solar panels, but we made it work. Same as we make it work when a band shows up with eleven members, including a brass section and two percussionists.
You might be thinking how does that fit in the van? To which we’d reply that it’s not even our largest number, so it fit with ease. Emefe, the band of New Yorkers in question even had enough room to do a dance routine during one of their songs. If you like synchronized dancing and whicked good trumpet solos, you will dig this. If you don’t like those things then you’re probably an ass.
The first time we went to New Orleans we met Anders Osborne outside of his house on Dumaine St. He was joined on guitar by a man named Billy Iuso. This time around we got Billy Iuso with his own supporting cast. He already had an autographed poster stapled onto the van’s interior, but this go around he got to sign the wall of fame.
I remeber watching Marco Benevento at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor when I was in college. He was performing with the Benevento/Russo Duo at the time and it was a pretty heady show until I got thrown out of it on account of standing in the wrong place. This idiot whom I knew and who we referred to as The Schwazz was throwing ice during the show, the bouncers thought it was me, and so they threw me to the curb. They were some pretty big Michigan Football player-type-bouncers, so I didn’t protest too hard. This go around nobody kicked me out of the show. I even got to break club rules with the performers, wink, cough, cough, wink.
It was told to us that a Mr. Paul Soniat was the man in charge of the Botanical Gardens and the dude who made it possible for us to plug our equipment in when the Sun finally let us down. It was also told to us that Mr. Soniat was a musician himself, and so it was only proper courtesy for us to let him have a stab at the van. He gave us some good old fashioned New Orleans tunes in return. It would seem we came out ahead on this transaction of pleasantries, and we’re thankful for the generosity and easy going nature we so rarely meet with when trying to find locations in our home town of Los Angeles.
We got even more New Orleans’ authenticity with our final act of the day. Luke Winslow King hit us with a song called “Travelin’ by Myself,” which got a standing ovation from Spud. “Man, that’s what I do! I travel by myself man, and I’m thinkin’ all a that when I’m rollin’ in the van man, yeah, that’s what I do.” Thanks Spud, I’ll take note of the sentiment next time we’re traveling together and you’re yelling at me to dictate to you what’s happenning on the television in the back of the van.
Mr. Spud was on fire that particular evening. It must have been all the pollen in the air from the Botanical Gardens. Because old Spud there struck up a conversation with a woman who ran a food truck called Nola Girl (both the woman and the food truck were called that). They got to talking and she got to promising him that she was going to throw a big party and he got to promising her that we’d bring the van to that party. Well, there was no party that I know of, but I do know that the following evening Mr. Spud was nowhere to be found when I went looking for him to watch basketball with. When he returned to the bed that he and I were sharing (yup, that was just said) I asked him where he’d been, and all he had to say for himself was “NOLA Girl took me out.” Upon further investigation in the morning it came to be discovered that he really only knew her by NOLA Girl, she cooked a mean crab gumbo, and her brothers were there hanging out with them. It is still unclear as to whether or not those were her biological brothers or brothas.
The following day found us back in the French Quarter, this time down the street from the Louisiana Music Factory, a renowned record store. They had a show going on inside of the store, but I to this day don’t know who was playing in there. Our show was out back. It included The Mike Dillon Band, Rebirth Brass Band, Glen David Andrews, and The Stooges Music Group.
Mike Dillon is just as out there as his music. His gruff voice awakened those on the street still clinging to their hangovers. It’s always time for a beer in New Orleans, and if Mike Dillon is playing in the middle of the sidewalk then you damn sure need one for that.
The Mike Dillon Band was followed closely behind by a band that needed no introduction in their hometown. Rebirth Brass Band have won a Grammy award and now they’ve jammed in the van. We’d recorded them before in a Yurt in Telluride, but that isn’t quite the same as the van. They appeared on the street one by one. Some biked, some drove, others walked up, they hopped in, blasted their horns, and stopped all passersby. Not everyone knew who was inside, but they knew that it was something worth standing in the heat watching.
While it is admittedly hard to follow Rebirth in New Orleans, Glenn David Andrews did his damndest at it. The day being at the peak of its hottest point, Mr. Andrews, who is well known to be a recovered alcoholic, proclaimed that the heat inside of the van might cause him to relapse. So perhaps that’s why he played his final cut so cool, “What a Wonderful World,” it certainly is when a man that talented serenades you with such a perfect song on such a perfect sunny day, in such an imperfect place, a dirty street behind the French Quarter, which is instantly rendered perfection upon hearing that tune.
The Stooges Music Group made their second appearance in the van. The first time I believe they were going by Stooges Brass Band, they didn’t have their current guitarist, who certainly stands out from the group, and they didn’t have their current keyboard player who gave me a lot of grief for being a Carolina Panthers’ fan. I returned the favor by pointing out that the Panthers had bested the Saints two out of two times this past season.
The Stooges had a roadie who went by the name of Flash. A gangly old gentleman with a New Orleans slang to his ebonics. Flash’s eyes lit up when I described an encounter with a homeless man I’d had while in search of a snack. The hobo had asked me if I knew the difference between a baby and a bag of cocaine. I had replied something unfit for print, as I wanted to scare the hobo off with an outlandish response, which I succeeded in doing. However, Flash was more interested in the words cocaine and baby, as he apparently had a friend who used to keep his cocaine under his baby’s crib. According to Flash it had been “that Peruvian flake,” and oh boy, did it do the trick.
We got rained on again, but The Stooges were our last act that day and the rain was polite enough to wait for us to snap the band’s picture and load up before really letting loose.
The days were blurring together at this point, and so what better of a place to balance ourselves then Mardi Gras World? The spot where they store all of the tripped out floats for the Mardi Gras parades. It was as magical as you would imagine it to be. Giant statues of every animated movie character and monster you can dream of. Massive floats that it was told to us cost tens of thousands of dollars to even begin thinking about making. We did quite a bit of exploring, my dog was afraid of most of them, but he posed for a couple pictures. Then The California Honeydrops swung by to film their second session in the van. A California band no doubt, but their sound translated quite well to New Orleans. They hit us with another medly that paid homage to their inspirations and a couple originals as well. We in unison all tried to find rolling papers, but alass, we were not in California, and that didn’t translate as well. So Lagunitas had to do…
Mardi Gras World was playing host to an event that evening called The Royal Family Ball. A funk conglomerate with members of the Royal Family performing all through the night. Alan Evans Trio, AKA Play on Brother, were the first on stage at the ball and the first on stage in the van. It turned out to be all the funk we needed because it was all the funk we got. The other Royal Family members seemed to be having some sort of a tiff and they were in no mood to hop in a van with one another. Having shot a hell of a lot of bands up to that point we counted it as their loss and decided packing up early and heading home for a recharge sounded lovely.
Gaza Gaza is a new venue in New Orleans, situated on Freret Street, which is becoming a hip little section of town. They opened their loading zone to us and we acccepted those open arms by rendevouing with guitar prodigy Quinn Sulivan, The Lost Bayou Ramblers, and rock and roll royalty, Devon Allman.
For years I’d been told by a rather unpleasant fellow whom I went to college with that I needed to check out Quinn Sullivan. I had watched him on the internet and agreed with my recommender that the boy was damn impressive. I’d unfortunately never gotten a chance to see him live. However, now, having shaken his hand, had him pet my dog and chatted with him on a number of trivial yet amusing topics, it gives me a slight bit of selfish pleasure to know the guy who told me about Quinn Sulivan will most likely see the awesome videos we shot with him, and seeing as that guy isn’t such a nice dude, it kind of feels nice to know he’ll be a little annoyed that it happened in my van. Selfish reasons aside, Quinn has the soul of a blues man inside the body of a fifteen year old boy. It’s impressive to think of what he’s going to do when he’s all growns up, if this is what he’s doing now.
The Lost Bayou Ramblers were playing like four shows in one day, and we were the first of them. So they paced themselves on the beers, but rambled with a fervor in the van. Swamp boogie indeed.
Devon Allman’s last name carries a weight with it. His voice sings with all of that weight. He’s also a fan of comic books, I know this because when he left his phone in the van I tracked him down in a comic book store. It was a damn cool comic book store. You sometimes forget that New Orleans is just a regular city, with comic book stores and people who buy the comics and stuff. You can get lulled into thinking it’s like a music amusement park. People are just there to gig and booze in smokey rooms where butt’s float in half empty cups, and men shuffle black cases to and fro, from stinky-sticky-floored room to stinky-sticky-floored room.
We had one more day there, and of course a night proceeded that. Another spent in one of those dingy rooms watching The Stooges, and watching people who were watching The Stooges. Everyone’s alike in those rooms, dim lights and happy faces.
We had one more day off in the amusement park of NOLA and we spent it under the sun at Jazz Fest. Our friend with the gold tooth made sure we didn’t miss The Boss’ performance and that Spud got a chance to watch ladies shake with the spirit in the gospel tent one last time.
Our final day in the city of New Orleans found us at another staple, Kermit Ruffins’ Mother in Law Lounge in the Treme.
The last time we’d met up with Kermit he had a spot called Kermit Ruffins’ Speakeasy, The Mother in Law Lounge was a little grander, with a great big yard out back for Kermit to host his barbeques and parties. The man is always “paaaaartyyiinn’!” That’s his line, “we partyin'” That’s how he makes his days and lives his life, with an effervescent attack for the good things in life, music, food, dancing.
On our previous encounter with Kermit, his washboard player, a man by the name of Dirty Rice, served as our unofficial liason to Kermit’s place. This time was no different. The man, who now introduced himself as just Rice, although he presumably was no cleaner, guided our chugging vessel through a gate and into the backyard.
We set up shop and hung out with Andrew Duhon and his band, three guys bouncing from gig to gig playing beautiful music and thinking about finding a place to swim for the rest of the day. All the while men and women shuffled through the lounge for their post church libations. That was a site to be seen. The ladies of Treme taking to the air conditioned darkened bar, chirping up the most recent gossip while old men watched basketball on the walls.
Keller Williams was the next to walk through that lounge and on into the backyard with a guitar case. Most of our crew wasn’t familiar with his music, and they were quite amazed at what the man does with his fingers. Spud said he hadn’t ever seen a man play guitar like that, he meant it. So now he’d had an oyster and seen Keller Williams play guitar, not a bad trip.
Then to close it all out with the man himself, Kermit Ruffins, that’s a propper order to things. Kermit did not disappoint, because that is not what Kermit Ruffins does. He plays the trumpet, and he sings songs for New Orleans, and he parties. For a good couple of weeks the van tried to add to that party, made a damn good stab at it too. It felt correct to leave after Kermit’s Session, so we didn’t linger long. Bags were packed and at the ready and we were gone before daybreak. On to the next watering hole, where they probably won’t have as many crawfish, but we always find some soul.