Little Feat @ Beekman Beer Garden – August 22
Words: Sam Rosenberg
For the 3rd year, CEG Presents and Nolafunk brought the Annual Nola Funk Jazzfest to the South Street Seaport waterfront with Little Feat and supporting acts Papa Grows Funk and Stooges Brass Band. The Nolafunk Summer Jazzfest in past years featured Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Rebirth Brass Band, John Cleary, Joscephus & the Love Revival Orchestra and many more.
Little Feat is one of the most underexposed blues/bayou classic rock bands of all time. They represent American music to its core as a band that seamlessly blends different styles and genres into something all their own. These under-the-radar fathers of jam music encompass a beautiful blend of everything from funk to jazz and continue to stay relevant today.
Apart from their incredibly popular 1973 album Dixie Chicken, Little Feat hasn’t received much attention from the mainstream yet they’ve cultivated a legion of loyal followers. Their 1978 release Waiting for Columbus is arguably one of the greatest live albums of all time; an album that Phish covered as their musical costume on Halloween in 2010 at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall.
Even with multiple lineup changes since their founding, a funky soul unites Little Feat. Original member Bill Payne (vocals and keyboard) has an amazing musical family in Sam Clayton (percussion and vocals), Paul Barrere (guitar and vocals), and Ken Gradney (bass) who have been involved with the band for over 40 years. The incredibly talented Fred Tackett (guitar, trumpet, mandolin, vocals) joined in 1987. Those who question whether this band can still keep the folks movin’ after the death of founding drummer Richie Hayward in 2010 should see this band with Gabe Ford. He is remarkably sturdy and really breathes unique life into the tempo of Little Feat.
Their catalog spans more than 40 years. though some say there is simply not enough of the original lineup to get them going. However, the easygoing and packed crowd at the Beekman Beer Garden happily shook their behinds to this gracefully aging and still evolving band.
After Papa Grows Funk and Stooges Brass Band successfully warmed up the crowd with two driving sets, Little Feat took the stage to a warmed-up crowd ready for more. The music was a steady and solid mix of fast and slow tunes and while there was nothing overly awe-inspiring about the performance as a whole, the musicianship and skills shined in every song. People were content just to be bopping along to old favorites; this is music anyone can connect with in a superficial or deep manner depending on the mood. Some used it as background music to catch up with old friends while others screamed every lyric back at the band.
[Beekman Beer Garden Publicity Shot]
A reason attendees could do both with such ease was the unique venue. Upon entering the Beekman Beer Garden, the bar and stage are easily accessible and viewable. Past a maze of people, you find couches, sand and a beautiful view of the water. While aesthetically pleasing, the sound in the front was loud to the point of annoyance and the comfortable back lounge area was far too chatty to hear anything musical. As it became more crowded, navigating the venue was difficult and the best place to hear a decent mix of the band appeared to be a small spot behind the soundboard and taper mics. It was well worth sacrificing the view for better sound.
One noticeable and amazing aspect of this show was the female presence. Most concerts, especially classic rock and jam shows, are overwhelmingly filled with dudes. It was awesome to see how much women enthusiastically flock to the funk and even more refreshing to see them dancing just as hard as any guy in there.
Despite complaints about the sound, plenty of fans enjoyed Little Feat, especially the new material. They played a bunch of tunes from their new album Rooster Rag. It is the first studio album with drummer Gabe Ford and the band seemed to have a lot of fun playing One Breath at a Time, Rag Top Down and Rooster Rag.
A nostalgic sing-along to Willin’ and Don’t Bogart That Joint along with a slow and stretched Dixie Chicken to end the set sealed the deal for an excellent evening. To break up the song, the band threw in a stellar bass jam followed by a keys and drum jam; it all mixed in beautifully. The quality of their playing and soul behind it all made the crowd appreciate the instrumentals as much as the opportunity to sing the words to an old favorite.
It’s easy enough to get six talented musicians together, it’s quite another to build a chemistry that makes moving through complex and fruitful musical excursions seem like second-nature. Little Feat is more than just a collection of six good musicians, they are an incredible band who have mastered the skill of making it look easy and shared that with all of us last Wednesday night.
Set: Voodoo Jam > All That You Dream, Spanish Moon, One breath at a Time, Fat Man in the Bathtub > Abba Zaba > Fat Man in the Bathtub, Rag Top Down, Rooster Rag, Church Falling Down, Willin’ > Don’t Bogard That Joint > Willin’, Way Down Under, Dixie Chicken > Bass Jam > Key/Drum Jam > Dixie Chicken