311 will return to New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center on March 11 and 12 for their biennial “311 Day” celebration. The run will mark the ninth incarnation of the event, as well as the sixth time that its taken place in the Crescent City.
But 311 Day is much more than just a two-night stand in a fun town. It’s a full-on party complete with rare songs, one-off covers and over-the-top theatrics. 311 has built up a sizable following with their exciting concerts, but the lengthy setlists and high production value of these shows really set them apart from everything else they do.
I spoke with 311 frontman Nick Hexum about what makes these gigs so special, and why New Orleans is the perfect place to host them.
I think it was just meant to be. The first 311 Day was more of a happenstance that we had a show on March 11 in New Orleans at the State Theatre. It was kind of spontaneous. Let’s call it 311 Day, and let’s play 3 hours and 11 minutes. Then it just became its spiritual home. And our fans just love to come there because it’s just the ultimate party town and it has just so much soul. I mean Vegas is a good party town too, but the soul of New Orleans cannot be matched. It’s a good fit.
So do you have any good stories from all of your time down in New Orleans over the years?
We have just had some incredibly wild nights that lasted through the sunrise, and I have some fond memories and some fuzzy memories about New Orleans for sure. More recently, I made the somewhat error of going down to Bourbon Street to see the 311 Day fan pre-party. I just wanted to see it and then all of a sudden everyone is so amped up and drunk and having so much fun that I literally was like getting mobbed. There were girls snatching kisses, it was like Beatlemania for a day. So I had to jump in a cab and get out of there, it was so chaotic. But it’s all in good fun.
I think it was 2004 when our old mayor, Ray Nagin, gave you guys a plaque and officially declared March 11 to be 311 Day. Was that weird? [Editor’s Note: It was actually former New Orleans mayor Marc Morial who made the proclamation in 2002]
That was awesome. We have that thing framed and it was commemorated in our home video, Enlarged to Show Detail, Part 2. It was a really nice honor and we were bummed when we had to move it away from New Orleans after the arena was flooded and needed to be repaired and everything. So it’s good to have it back where it belongs now.
For people who aren’t really familiar with the event, can you tell us what makes these 311 Day shows different from a standard 311 show?
Well, it’s a holiday. It’s like a New Year’s bash, that type of vibe. People come from all over the world. I don’t have the stats in front of me, but it’s many, many countries that people travel from. They come from all fifty states. I’s kind of like our convention, where fans can come together. People that know each other from online, from the really strong online community that we have, then get to meet in person. And for our hard core fans, we’ll play songs we don’t normally play in our regular 311 shows. We also make sure we dig deep to find unique experiences that we’ve never done before. Not just rare tracks, but also different elements with the production and guests and so forth. We have some really cool surprises in store for this coming 311 Day. It’ll be a two-day extravaganza.
These shows are even longer than three hours and 11 minutes now. Is there a lot of preparation that goes into this from a rehearsal standpoint? Do you really have to work on these tracks you haven’t played in a while?
Oh yeah, we spend a good month rehearsing and making set lists and re-editing them and planning different things. In the past, we’ve done one day 311 Day. Last time I think we played in the sixties, the number of songs. So that was five or six hours. Then when we split it over two days, it becomes like forty songs a night, something in that range. So it’s in the 80 range, the number of songs that we play. There’s a lot of conditioning, a lot of making sure that our chops and our voices and our bodies are ready. It’s kind of like a marathon, but it doesn’t really seem to get tiring for me because there’s just so much adrenaline and excitement. It’s not until about an hour after the show that I completely collapse.
You mentioned some big production elements, theatrics and things like that. Are they all going to be surprises or could you potentially even clue us in on some of the stuff that will go down?
I’ll just say that it’s really fun for us when it comes to the production and the special things. I do have to keep them all under my hat, but we do get to work with a bigger budget than we normally have at our regular shows. We make sure it’s a unique experience.
311 has an almost Grateful Dead-esque following, in terms of the dedication of the fans and their desire to see you play a wide range of material. Why do you think that is?
I think it’s because our fans feel that it’s not just a band. It’s kind of a philosophy, it’s kind of a way of looking at life and of keeping an attitude of gratitude. Our fans are positive people. That’s something that we fell into and it attracted like minded people. So you know, I get a lot of cool communication from our fans, whether it’s online or people just telling us how our music has changed their life and their outlook and gotten them through hard times. It’s a great privilege to have spearheaded something that’s kind of a philosophical movement to our fans. We’re just happy to keep that going.
What’s next for you guys, after 311 Day? I know that there’s an album in the works.
We’ve got the majority of an album recorded and we’re going to do another batch of songs when we get done with 311 Day. We’re looking to put that out around winter. That’s our target. Of course, every summer in July we’re out touring. So this sumemr we’re touring with Matisyahu. Then we kind of rotate. One year we’ll do 311 Day, and then the following spring we’ll do a cruise. We’re looking at different options to make that a unique experience for people that have been. We’ve had four of those cruises now, and we’re looking into how to make our fifth extra special.
Is there a chance you guys are going to bust any of those new songs at the 311 Day shows?
There is a chance.
That’s all I’ve got for you Nick, is there anything else you’d like to add before we go?
I never want to miss an opportunity to thank our fans for their longtime support. We love that we get to do something for a career that we would do for fun anyway. So thank you to all the people that support us.
311 will bring their 311 Day celebration to the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans on Friday, March 11 and Saturday, March 12. Tickets for the shows are available now via Ticketmaster.