“I’ve been asked about 300 times tonight, ‘How did you get all these people to play,’” Cyril Neville said during a changeover on the Generations Hall main stage. “My wife got on the phone and asked them!”
That spirit of generosity and family ties pervaded the New Orleans Musicians for Obama concert on Tuesday evening. Promising a lineup packed with local stars major and minor, the show capitalized on the influx of Jazz Fest visitors and New Orleans’ continued fealty to the president. If the Democrats can throw another 10,000 of these parties, they just might give GOP Super PACs a run for their money.
Arriving around 8:30, I missed Allen Toussaint but caught Leroy Jones blowing on the smaller stage. To either side of him, flat screens featured a determined Rahm Emanuel. Following Jones, a powerful redheaded woman belted out Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” one of the 2008 election’s anthems. It’ll be interesting to see what songs the campaign adopts this fall.
Joined by Neville and Charlie Wooten, Papa Mali began with a smoldering “Do Your Thing,” then brought on Trombone Shorty, who absolutely smashed a very “St. James Infirmary”-esque version of “Fortune Teller.” Rockin’ Dopsie, Jr. replaced Shorty and burned through the well-chosen “Sweet Home Chicago.” Between songs, Neville continued to remind us that he’s always been the most politicized voice in the family: “Who’s being made socially secure on my social security?” Could the Obama folks use more radical, Booker-like wordplay in the war on Romney?
Overall, political speech was limited to the graceful Alfre Woodard, who emceed the main stage with the right mix of talking points, appeals for tweets and dollars, and affirmation of New Orleans’ special powers. I would vote for her.
The interplay between Deacon John and Walter “Wolfman” Washington on “Statesboro Blues” pitted one man’s roaring slide guitar against another’s cool fury; we all won. On the smaller stage, two dancers accompanied rising R&B talent Alia Fleury for a set that won’t be replicated at any future Romney socials. I caught only the tail end of the Help, but wish I got to see them more often.
“Jazz Fest time, y’all!” cried Neville’s son, Omari, front man for Rejected Youth Nation. What followed seemed detached from that theme and the rest of the evening’s more rootsy tone. The ensuing power chords drove half the audience to the bar and, man, did they miss out. Young Neville and his friends throttled through three afropunk/metal/funk cuts in a fiery reminder that nepotism can serve us quite nicely. About 30 seconds in, the kids realized they were gonna kill it and never looked back, adding Dumpstaphunk’s Tony Hall on guitar to close things out. Funny that a band named Rejected Youth Nation was the surprise hit of an Obama 2012 event.
The Brass-a-Holics turned in a precise set of horns, guitars and well-cut showmanship. Just offstage right, Frenchy revealed a painting of the president, and then it was time for royalty to take the stage. As Woodard explained, “Change ain’t easy,” and a cheer went up at the sight of Charles Neville. He joined George Porter, Jr., Zigaboo Modeliste, Leo Neocentelli, and Dr. John, and here came the bass. “Fire on the Bayou” showed that, a million years into their relationship, Porter and Nocentelli can still surprise each other.
As Mac’s “Right Place, Wrong Time,” hit its peak, we watched the Bin Laden raid in night vision on the screen above the stage. Big Sam entered the fray and things got thicker and thicker. Cyril reappeared and we were back in Cabbage Alley with “You’ve Got to Change (You’ve Got To Reform),” the appropriate pick. By now the audience filled the main room. Here’s hoping they filled the proper coffers, too.