Shamarr Allen and the Underdawgs invited young musicians to perform with the band.
Smiles of awe and appreciation filled the crowd in front of the Congo Square Stage during Shamarr Allen and the Underdawgs’ Thursday set as the guest horn section of adolescent talent took center stage to lead a sing-along to 2015’s party anthem, the ubiquitous “Uptown Funk.” It was a start to a day full of sets with special guests.
Bonerama kept it in the family with its inclusion of school day skills featuring Mark Mullin’s son Michael on trombone and Matt Perrine’s son Ben on drums along with an unidentified ace whippersnapper on guitar as the group crushed a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times.” There also were jokes that Mullins’ son would soon play Carnegie Hall, while his father never has performed at the storied venue. Then the band closed with an original tune dedicated to its “hero, a man that keep the city’s spirit alive after (Hurricane) Katrina” — a funky shout-out to local produce purveyor “Mr. Okra,” aka Arthur Robinson.
Despite having his right hand in a cast, Robert Randolph skillfully worked his pedal-steel guitar to create the soulful, sacred steel sound that lies at the heart of The Word’s gospel/jazz/jam music. Randolph’s slow burning solo introduced a set that combined instrumental covers of traditional gospel classics from the band’s debut album in 2001 along with the silky funk of its brand-new release Soul Food
(“Come by Here” proved a particular highlight). The Word placed a fine finishing flourish on its set with a rousing guest appearance by Tricia Boutte, who applied her otherworldly vocal powers to “When I See the Blood.”
It’s hard not to notice the hype surrounding Sturgill Simpson, the rapidly rising star of outlaw-country hailed by critics and hillbillies alike as savior to a scene long lost amidst over-produced Nashville pop that’s dominated the genre in recent decades. Unassuming behind his acoustic six-string guitar and evoking a spirit that harks back with eerie clarity to the glory days of Merle Haggard, Simpson showed in workingman fashion what the fuss is all about. At the Gentilly Stage, he belted out world-weary, anti-hero anthems such as “Long White Line” (from his magnificent 2014 break-out album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
) backed by a crack band that proved adept at sinister slide-guitar blues, up-tempo bluegrass and ragtime piano.
With its “locals Thursday” throw-down at Acura Stage dubbed by a tie dye-clad Quint Davis as “an institution,” long-simmering Georgia jam kings Widespread Panic tossed in plenty of nods to its fellowship with New Orleans during its set. The band opened with “Old Neighborhood” to set a feels-like-home mood, a feeling enhanced with frontman John Bell’s improvised lyrical touches: “Just like another crawdaddy in the bed” during “Pigeons.” The sextet placed an exclamation point on that sentiment in a two-song finale featuring a cover of Robert Johnson’s haunting long-lost blues classic “Me and the Devil” (joined by North Mississippi Allstars Luther Dickinson on slide guitar and Cody Dickinson on electric washboard) before Mardi Gras Indians took over percussion and vocals to usher in a monstrous “Fishwater,” the band’s paean to New Orleans and all of the city’s delicious excess.