Dirty Dozen Brass Band brings Mardi Gras to Steamboat
If you can’t spend Mardi Gras in New Orleans, head to the Strings Music Pavilion, where the celebration will come to Steamboat Springs in the form of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
If there is a band that embodies New Orleans — the horns, the heritage, the beats that pound deep into your soul and make you smile and make you dance — it’s Dirty Dozen.
And if there’s a band that embodies Mardi Gras, it’s also Dirty Dozen.
On Fat Tuesday, the band will bring funk and fun to Strings.
“It’s gonna be high energy,” baritone sax player Roger Lewis said. “It’s gonna have music for the mind, body and soul. It’s gonna make you think, and make you wanna shake somethin’.”
The show starts at 7 p.m. March 4 with tickets starting at $25. Tickets can be purchased online at http://www.stringsmusicfestival.com.
A catalyst in the history of brass band music, Dirty Dozen has been transporting a joyfully raucous piece of New Orleans’ heart to the rest of the world for 38 years. Leading the way for a long list of bands that would follow, Dirty Dozen brought funk and freshness to traditional brass band music when it started playing in 1977.
This will be the first Mardi Gras show for Strings as well as a bit of an experiment, said Cristin Frey, advertising and marketing director and non-classical programing coordinator for Strings Music Festival.
The entire winter series still is new, Frey added, with a concerted effort to think outside the box and give locals something out of the ordinary.
The offseason “test run” concerts thus far have been a success, she said, with high attendance and demand. This year marks “the biggest winter we’ve had at Strings.”
In an effort to accommodate the whole party, including those who prefer to watch as well as those who can’t sit still (pretty much impossible at a Dirty Dozen show), one-third of the seats in the tent have been removed — the first time that’s happened in the Pavilion’s lifetime, Frey said.
Designed for chamber music and a quieter breed in general, the venue will get a good test in versatility with the band’s penchant for volume.
Fellow New Orleans musician John “Papa” Gros, of Papa Grows Funk, said he remembers the first time he heard Dirty Dozen. Growing up in the city, he was familiar with the marching bands in parades and at football games, but he’d never heard anything like Dirty Dozen until he saw them at Jazz Fest in 1987.
“It was an unbelievable wall of sound,” Gros said. “And just so funky — I was blown away by it.”
Gros started playing with founding Dirty Dozen members and brothers Kirk and Charles Joseph in Mardi Gras parades, which imparted on him an in-depth understanding of the brass band culture and heritage.
Adding elements of funk, rock, jazz and rhythm and blues to the traditional horns, Dirty Dozen’s style was revolutionary, and it profoundly influenced the next generation of musicians.
“It separated our music from the other brass bands,” Lewis said, and it was a new style that thereafter “just about every brass band out of New Orleans adapted to. We changed the history of New Orleans music without trying to change the history of New Orleans music — just by playing the music we liked to play.”
In the 1960s and ’70s, the Olympia Brass Band already was mixing genres, sousaphonist Kirk Joseph said, but “when the Dozen came along — it transcended the music for what it was.”
The band’s longevity can be attributed to its unique ability to honor traditions while merging with contemporary sounds and artists.
Lewis and Joseph also point to the gospel and church hymn roots of their sound.
“You’ve got to have gospel in your music,” Lewis said.
The band has grown and evolved along with its audience, Joseph said, and it forever is adapting to sounds to which its younger fans can relate.
“They’re so innovative in everything they do,” Gros said. “You can’t sit still, and you can’t stop smiling, either.”
Joseph “completely changed what the world thinks a tuba can do,” Gros said.
In addition to Lewis and Joseph, band members include Gregory Davis and Efrem Towns on trumpet, Kevin Harris on tenor sax, Terrence Higgins on drums and Jake Eckert on guitar.
Throughout its long career, Dirty Dozen has played and recorded with a distinguished list and wide variety of musicians, including The Black Crowes, the Dave Matthews Band, Elvis Costello, Dr. John, Modest Mouse, Norah Jones, Branford Marsalis and John Medeski.
The band will spend this weekend in Orlando at a charity event for kids with spinal muscular atrophy, hosted by Widespread Panic, a band with which it’s often teamed up throughout the years.
Spending a considerable amount of time on the road and in every reach of the globe, Joseph talked about the “give and take” between the musicians and the listeners, and the beauty of knowing “you’ve reached another soul.”
“When you see someone dance to your music, it’s a beautiful thing,” he said. “It takes a lot to make someone move. It’s a grand feeling, and the audience is just as important to the show as the band is. Don’t put all the work on the band; you’re part of it, too.”
In New Orleans music, there’s a lot of spirituality and an aspect of healing, Lewis said.
“For whatever might be ailing you, you can come to New Orleans and be healed,” he said.
It’s not easy to be away from their hometown on its biggest day of the year, Joseph said. But he also noted the joy in spreading a little Mardi Gras to the mountains.
“We love Colorado,” he said. “There’s always been great fans in Colorado — back to the ’80s. It’s always been a place receptive to New Orleans music.”
Lewis calls Colorado “one of our favorite places to play on planet Earth.”
For Lewis, Mardi Gras largely is a celebration honoring the Mardi Gras Indian history — rooted in a time during slavery when Native Americans and African-Americans “helped each other out,” he said. “We both was in the same boat, ya know.”
Mardi Gras also is that one day above all others when “you can do your thing.”
Joseph encourages those who find themselves at the Pavilion on March 4 to envision themselves out of the snow and into a parade on the streets of the old city that is more northern Caribbean than it is southern U.S.
Lewis said he hopes someone is standing by with a couple tanks of oxygen. Watching them blow their horns, it’s hard to imagine having such powerful lungs in the bowl below sea level that they call home, much less at 7,000 feet up.
In terms of the venue designed more for classical musicians, Lewis said he’s not one to brag, but having played “all over the world for different types of people from every walk of life,” including the “so-called aristocrats where they just don’t do that,” the band never fails to get people moving. “They can’t help it — they have to get up and shake something.”
He said he doesn’t care who you are, or who you think you are, you are going to want to get up and have a good time. Especially on a Mardi Gras day.
“If you have any inkling what Mardi Gras is about and you’re not in New Orleans, you want to be where Dirty Dozen is,” Gros said. “They can’t help but live it 365 days a year. It’s the biggest celebration of life we have as a community, because the next day is about fasting. And to spend it with people who understand New Orleans musically and culturally, and in the mountains, you just can’t get much better than that.”
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