Big Nine and the Battle of the Bands - Old vs New Guard

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ALERT: BS-Free Second Line Report (mostly...)

No more second lines this year folks so fill up on these vids from last week’s so so good parade in the Lower Nine. The Big Nine Social Aid and Pleasure Club always puts on a jumbo-size good-times second line - one, cause they always hire several bands so you can have fun running back and fourth along the line all day and the other is their little staged sexy times routines, which get better each year (see above).

But the most talked about moment in the Big Nine 2009 parade is the big beef that went down between Rebirth and the Stooges Brass band. Well, its a big beef if you count fists flying, a broken horn abandoned in the street, and the police separating the bands and moving the Stooges to the front of the line. (You’re permitted to chuckle at that last one)

What both sides seem to agree on is that Rebirth coming up on The Stooges’ space in the parade line triggered the fracas. The reason behind the line advance is apparently where the misunderstanding lies. However, mounting tension between these two bands made last week’s showdown ultimately inevitable.

Stooges trumpeter Eric Gordon recalled, “Rebirth was too close to us and was trying to get up on us, trying to steal our crowd. We could hear them, they were so close. So we turned around and blew at them. We were at the point of the stop in the parade and (Rebirth trumpeter) Glen Michael approached (Stooges tuba player) Walter Ramsey and swung. Kabuki came running, he swung.” Eric G. also noted that the abandoned horn was actually a loaner from him to Rebirth trumpeter Derrick ‘Kabuki’ Shezbie, which caused additional salty feelings for Gordon who is also a member of Shezbie’s other band ‘Sporty Orty and The Magic Tones’.

Rebirth trombonist Stafford Agee, who was not present for the incident but is a 20 plus year member, weighed in on Rebirth’s actions by explaining that its the job of the bands to push the parade in order to keep it on schedule. “This has been going on for awhile when we play with different bands. Parade clubs move at various pace. We gotta get you to end of the parade, we’re working on the clock. We go around the other bands and they think we’re coming at them but we’re trying to get to the end of the line.”

During the initial days after the brass band dust-up, the interwebs were ablaze with band members and the second line fan base posting commentary about the fight, choosing sides, lecturing about band etiquette... One Stooges band member had a running commentary for days on Facebook with weigh-ins from his group’s network.

The controversy between the bands has been brewing since at least last September when The Stooges burst through the door of of The Rock Bottom club, horns blazing, during one of Rebirth’s regular performances at the bar frequented by many Uptown social aid and pleasure clubs. At the time however, the majority of Rebirth’s band was on tour in Europe, leaving band leader Phil Frazier to cover the show with back-up musicians who were the ones on hand to receive The Stooges’ challenge. Since then, the Stooges has taken regular opportunities to call out Rebirth at second line parades, even going as far as to create chants about their rivals, as evidenced of the video below.

“Rebirth! Rebirth! Whatcha gon do? Whatcha gon do when we come for you?”

To give context for those uninitiated to New Orleans brass band culture, Rebirth is one of the oldest brass bands performing on the scene with over 25 years under their belts; The Stooges formed in 1998. These two bands along with The Hot 8, The Free Agents, and TBC (To Be Continued) are main staples of the second line parade scene. Eric G, whose been with The Stooges since ’07, openly admits his band’s ambition is at the center of their confrontations with Rebirth. “We’re trying to climb to top of the ladder. You keep messing with em and, once they notice you, then you won....Its a way to get up the charts faster. To get a band like that to recognize you, to have a beef with them, will boost your name up.”

But Stafford has a different perspective on the provocations from The Stooges. “There has never been a beef but younger brass bands feel like they have to take over big belts to take over the street. Its never a competition for us as a band.”

While band battles are common, the timing of The Stooges’ test of Rebirth’s preeminent title on the parade route poses a considerable problem for the elder band due to transitions happening amongst its members. Rebirth founder Phil Frazier had a stroke in December of ’08 and still struggles to perform at full capacity during the four hour long, city-wide terrain-traipsing parades.

Compounding the band leader’s health problem is the fact that several of band members have recently bowed out of playing the second lines. Derrick Tabb, widely recognized as the best snare drummer on the brass band scene, has stepped away from playing parades choosing to dedicate additional time and energy to his after-school youth program ‘The Roots of Music’. Stafford, as well, has decided not to play the parades anymore. “Phil loves playing second line. (He) feels like the second lines are therapy. I came to the conclusion not wanting to play second lines anymore because the clubs don’t respect the craft or the orders of the bands. After having a band that’s been out there for 25 years, you should know we know what we’re doing and let the band do their job. I don’t feel they give the band a space to do their job.... And I feel like now, we can afford to move off second lines and give other bands opportunity to let their voices be heard.”

Stafford added, “I don’t know if (The Stooges) feel if because a main factor from the band is missing, they think there’s a weak link. Like football, if someone is weak you capitalize on it. But I feel like there’s never a weakness if you’re just there to play music...My personal opinion is you have to have a certain level of respect for elder musicians that have opened the doors and give younger bands an idea of what they can do outside of being out on the streets. We’re all human so we need to respect each other.”

Regarding the timing of Stooges challenging the Rebirth, Eric G. noted, “I could see them getting offended by it. But in a sense, you supposed to catch people when they’re down, at they’re weakest point. Every band goes through changes so there’s gonna always be challenges. (The Stooges) have gone through four bass and four snare drummers in the past year. In a sense, we’re going through changes, (Rebirth) is going through changes. Phil had a stroke but its still the same band.”

Time and talks amongst the two bands over the last week and some days seems to have cooled tempers - for now. “I talked to several members of Stooges, there’s no beef,” said Stafford. “Its done with. Its still some people commenting unnecessarily. They didn’t have anything to do with it but it fuels the beef... The fight is done and now its over with.”

Eric G. agreed, “Now, everyone is cool. We just let it go. From our standpoint, we’re gonna be the best. Even the horn situation with Kubuki, I let it go.” When asked if he thinks the Stooges will continue to challenge Rebirth for preeminent brass band title, he laughed. “Yeah... they’re still at top of the ladder. No one can tell what will happen. Stooges is still trying to prove themselves to the streets, that we’re the best.”

Now... the irony here (you know there had to be some) is that while the two above-mentioned bands were squabbing at Big Nine’s parade, the majority of the second line crowd was dancing and vibing to the imperial harmonies of To Be Continued Brass Band. Check out the little kid at the 1:05 and 2:15 minute mark - the FIYAH! litmus test.

Additional videos from the Big Nine parade are posted below. And, as a regular witness to the band battle series, I will represent my audience brethren here by making this simple observation: Controversy will draw a crowd - but talent is what reigns supreme.

Stay tuned...

(additional video luv from and mad props to L. Palumbo)

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