New Orleans Suspects groove on back from below sea level to 6,900 feet for free Friday show
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The New Orleans Suspects are back in town, fresh off a week of vacation and ready to groove at the Steamboat Mountain Music Free Concerts series, starting at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 19, at the Steamboat Stage in Gondola Square.
The Suspects have been playing for Steamboat audiences for a decade — it’s one of the first towns the group played at once they began touring, said Suspects guitarist Jake Eckert. The Suspects originally got together in 2009 at the Maple Leaf in New Orleans.
“When it first started, we were just doing it to have fun — there was no point to it, other than to have fun,” Eckert said.
Each of the members had a career with other bands, at that point, and they’d each spent years — decades, even — playing music all over the world. No one was looking to start a new official band.
“None of us are spring chickens,” Eckert chuckled.
But the chemistry and quality of the players together was undeniable. The Suspects run the gamut from funk to jazz, R&B to Indian to Southern rock to Mardi Gras music, always danceable, always grooving and always proudly representing New Orleans.
“New Orleans is a feeling, a spirit,” Eckert said. “It lives inside of people, and it lives and breathes on its own. There’s a soul and a swagger, and it’s a little bit greasy.”
What: New Orleans Suspects at Steamboat Mountain Music Free Concerts
When: 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday, July 19
Where: Gondola Square, 2305 Mount Werner Circle
The Suspects played that, and people loved it.
“The management came to us, booking came to us,” Eckert said. “It was kind of unintentional and to me that’s a good sign that it was good.”
In 2011, the Suspects began touring full-time.
Each member comes from a distinct background: “Mean” Willie Green was the Neville Brothers’ drummer for three decades and has recorded tracks with The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Edie Brickell; Eric Vogel played bass in groups of every genre, from the North Mississippi Allstars to Fred Wesley; Eckert played lead guitar in the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, performed in the 2009 Grammy Awards ceremony and is a producer and Grammy-Award-winning recording engineer; CR Gruver is a classically trained pianist who’s toured with Outformation and Angie Aparo; and sax player, engineer and producer Jeff Watkins, who played with the James Brown Band for 12 years and produced, engineered and acted as bandleader for Joss Stone.
“We’re the sum of the parts, swimming independently of each other. Then, when it all comes together, it doesn’t sound like any one of us — it sounds like us,” Eckert said.
The New Orleans Suspects’ character isn’t limited to the band members, either.
“The most fun part of a show is when the audience realizes it’s a symbiotic relationship,” Eckert said. “When we give a whole lot of energy, and they give it back, that’s when the cycle starts to reproduce and everyone’s having fun.”
This year, the Suspects mark their 11th year together. They’ve released five albums and are about halfway through writing their sixth, which they’re putting together single by single. They’re also working on a side project called New Orleans Suspects: Tribal Gold, a collaboration between the Suspects and Big Chief Juan Pardo with the Mardi Gras Indian Golden Comanche tribe, merging the Suspects’ sound with the tribe’s drum-based, funk-infused style and cultural traditions.
“I’m excited for that,” Eckert said, “for somebody to really present it right.”
The Steamboat Mountain Music Free Concerts are free to attend and run from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the stage at the base of Steamboat Resort. They are preceded by a happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. Snacks and beverages will be available for purchase, and humans are asked to leave their pets at home.
“Bring out your dancing shoes, and get ready for a little bit of the New Orleans sound to come to the mountains,” Eckert said. “We’ll be getting down.”
Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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