When Rebirth Brass Band trumpeter Chadrick Honore asked how many people were originally from New Orleans, nearly half the hands in the crowd shot into the air Sunday at the inaugural Bugs & Brews Crawfish Boil and Music Festival, sponsored in part by GuideLive.
In fact, the whole festival took on the feel of the Crescent City, as if part of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival had paraded its way to a parking lot behind the Granada Theater. And if you've ever been to Jazzfest on a sunny Sunday afternoon, you know what a little slice of heaven that is.
Part of the festive vibe was due to the presence of thousands of pounds of fresh crawfish, those small lobster-like crustaceans that — depending on your taste buds — are either one of God's great delicacies or too much work for too little meat. Those in the former camp were happy that the supply of mudbugs lasted until the tail end of the daylong festival.
Accordion player Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band put the crowd in a Louisiana state of mind early in the afternoon, setting the stage for the headlining set by the suddenly-prestigious Rebirth Brass Band: The veteran New Orleans septet had just traveled from the White House, where it had played Saturday for President Obama at his all-star International Jazz Day concert.
It wasn't the wildest Rebirth show ever — there were no fans dancing onstage, for one — and the band sounded a bit wobbly at the start of several tunes. But it eventually found its groove in a tuba-fueled fusion of funk, hip-hop and traditional jazz, including "When the Saints Go Marching In," a tune it ends every show with, just as Fats Domino did.
Rebirth put a lively spin on Domino's "I'm Walkin'" and the "Who Dat?" chant before tackling "Do Watcha Wanna," its best-known song, immortalized as the title of an episode of HBO's Tremé. But it also funked up plenty of other songs that had nothing to do with New Orleans, including TLC's 1994 hit "Waterfalls." Its version of Steve Miller's "Fly Like an Eagle" didn't have as much thrust as the Neville Brothers' version does, but the band got better mileage out of LeVert's "Casanova."
Whenever Honore needed a boost, all he had to do was look at the audience: "I'm feeding off your energy!" he said. "When you're shakin', I'm shakin'!" And as tipsy fans snaked through crowd in a conga line and little kids bounced atop their parents' shoulders, there was indeed a whole lotta shakin' going on.
The Austin group Roxy Roca preceded Rebirth on the main stage with a sound heavily in debt to James Brown — which was only fitting, since the band members were facing the famous JB mural on the south wall of the former Fast & Cool Club (currently the OT Tavern) on Greenville Avenue.
While Roxy Roca's horn section was in serious need of practice, the band got by on the strength of its airtight rhythm section and lead singer's Taye Cannon's dynamite growl.
One of the high points of the second stage was Oil Boom, one of a handful of local bands playing Bugs & Brews. From the punky funk of "The Great American Shakedown" to the Husker Du meets Nuggets sound of several other tunes, Oil Boom lived up to its rep as one of North Texas' best garage-rock bands.
But they didn't take themselves too seriously. One of their most rocking tunes was their new ode to Chili's restaurant chain, complete with such lyrics as "Chili's takes pains to make it right/From the very first taste to the very last bite."
If this rock 'n' roll thing doesn't work out, Oil Boom may have a future in the world of advertising jingles.
Thor Christensen is a Dallas writer and critic.