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Sunday, 13 July 2014 16:12

Festival review: Summer Gras brings the sounds and tastes of New Orleans to Old Rock House on Saturday, July 12

Festival review: Summer Gras brings the sounds and tastes of New Orleans to Old Rock House on Saturday, July 12
Written by Amy Burger

If the size and enthusiasm of the crowd at the first Summer Gras festival at Old Rock House was any indication, this will become a popular annual event. Billed as a "celebration of the music and food of New Orleans," Summer Gras lived up to its name with a variety of New Orleans-based and NOLA-inspired local bands split between the indoor venue and a large outdoor stage.

Acts included Rhythm Section Road Show, helmed by KDHX DJ and Production Manager Andy Coco; Al Holiday and the East Side Rhythm Band; local favorites Funky Butt Brass Band; Dirtfoot from Shreveport, Louisiana; and repping the Big Easy, Honey Island Swamp Band and Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk.

With the street between Old Rock House's patio and its parking lot blocked off, a large outdoor stage at the East end, there was ample space for the large crowd. Neighboring Broadway Oyster Bar provided a taste of New Orleans to accompany the music, dishing up Cajun favorites like jambalaya and crawfish.

A scorching 96 degrees at show time, the sun still high in the sky, my companion and I opted for the A/C comfort of the Rhythm Section Roadshow's indoor set. An extension of Coco's "Rhythm Section" radio show on KDHX, the Roadshow is a rotating group of players all with the same funky sensibility. Saturday's lineup included Coco on bass/vocals, Big Mike Aguirre on guitar/lead vocals, standout keyboardist Dave Grelle of The Feed and drummer Benet Shaeffer of One More Round and Gumbohead. The Roadshow was a great kickoff to the night, working through classics like Earl King's "Up on the Hill" and newer material including a cover of JJ Grey & Mofro's sexy "A Woman."

Next up inside was self-described "gypsy punk" band Dirtfoot, as Honey Island Swamp Band played the outdoor stage. We took in a bit of each, with very different sounds. Boasting guitar, banjo, upright and electric bass, and drums, Dirtfoot was a unique force, laying down both funky grooves and hardcore mosh-pit-worthy punk beats throughout their very loud and energetic set. Honey Island was more on the other end of the spectrum – a southern-rock influenced group with Allman Brothers-esque slide guitar and Hammond B-3 organ. Guitarist/vocalist Aaron Wilkinson declared, "This feels like New Orleans – it's hot, and the Mississippi is right back there."

Headliners Dumpstaphunk took the outdoor stage around 9:45 p.m., heating up the already sweaty crowd as the supermoon rose high above the venue. Helmed by multi-instrumentalist and singer Ivan Neville (son of legend Aaron Neville) along with guitarist Ian Neville (son of Meters-founder Art Neville), Dumpstaphunk is classic New Orleans funk from members of its Royal family. Rounding out the band are dual bassists Tony Hall and Nick Daniels III and dynamo Nikki Glaspie on the drums. Funky jams like "I Know You Know" and "Everybody Want Sum" had the crowd getting down, as did a groovy cover of the Meters' "The World is a Little Bit Under the Weather" with Hall working the crowd as hard as he worked his bright orange bass.

After the outdoor show wrapped up, the overheated crowd poured back into Old Rock House for a late set by St. Louis favorites The Funky Butt Brass Band which kept everyone grooving past the midnight hour.

With all of the great music and food but none of the overwhelming crowds and icy temps of Mardi Gras, Summer Gras proved to be a smashing success with the laid-back vibe of a neighborhood street party. I'll definitely be penciling this one in for next year.

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