Utah Arts Festival invites the funk out
We want the funk. Give up the funk. We need the funk. We gotta have that funk.
In years past, the Utah Arts Festival has spotlighted rock, country, Americana, blues and jazz bands. This year, there's more funk music, which makes sense since festivals become capital-F Festivals when the music is one long groove that lasts for three days.
This year, among the national headliners setting the groove will be New Orleans' genre-hopping Stooges Brass Band, as well as bluesman Curtis Salgado, the world-music ensemble Chicago Afrobeat Project and Israeli funk-inspired guitar virtuoso Oz Noy.
While the lineup spotlights a variety of music, the bands draw upon a melting pot of soul, jazz and R&B influences, much of their music featuring a strong bass and rhythmic pulse which is a good feeling in a crowd.
Here are some of the highlights of this year's festival:
The Stooges Brass Band • Two weeks ago, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band showed Utah fans at Red Butte Garden what traditional New Orleans jazz sounded like.
This weekend, The Stooges Brass Band offers a fun extrapolation of the genre. The band of youthful New Orleans musicians blends experiences of growing up listening to hip-hop on the radio with traditional jazz influences. Besides the stage show tonight (8:30 p.m., Amphitheatre Stage), the Stooges Second Line will parade through the festival grounds. While second-line parades in New Orleans usually mark a funeral, this march will celebrate the rebirth of jazz, and a new kind of jazz.
"We come up in the hip-hop tradition," said Walter "Whoadie" Ramsey, who created The Stooges Brass Band in 1996. But it wasn't only rap that he and others listened to: There was a healthy mix of James Brown, Earth, Wind & Fire, and, of course, Parliament and Funkadelic. All of those influences can be heard during the high-intensity, high-octane stage show that The Stooges Brass Band will deliver. The band's style of bebop meshes well with the musicians' scatting and rapping.
The young men in the band coalesced in one of the country's richest musical breeding grounds. "Our experience comes from French Quarter busking," Ramsey said. "You cut your teeth in the French Quarter."
Once the band formally began, Ramsey would lead the members on seven-mile marches throughout the streets of southern Louisiana to build their stamina. Once you can march for four hours, Ramsey said, a two-hour show is child's play.
Curtis Salgado • One of America's finest R&B singers and a harmonica virtuoso, Curtis Salgado won the award for Soul Blues Male Artist of the Year in 2010 at the 30th annual Blues Music Awards, and just won the same award at the 33rd annual Blues Music Awards. But the title doesn't include one of the genres that, in part, distinguishes him from his peers.
"I'm totally into funk," he said. "If it's too sweet and saccharine, I can't get into it."
Even though he was once the lead vocalist for Santana as well as a fixture with the Robert Cray Band, the Oregon-based Salgado will always be remembered for being the muse for John Belushi's Blues Brothers.
In 1977, Belushi was in Eugene filming "Animal House," and the two struck up a friendship after the comedian caught Salgado's act. Salgado began playing old records for Belushi, teaching him about blues and R&B. The first Blues Brothers album, "Briefcase Full of Blues," is dedicated to Salgado.
But although Salgado professes a love for funk, the blues, gospel and R&B, he doesn't like being pigeonholed. "It's only labels," he said. "It's music."
Chicago Afrobeat Project • This ensemble began in 2002 and quickly became a leader in the nontraditionalist arm of the Afrobeat movement. But it wasn't until recently that audiences began flocking to see the band.
The rising curiosity about Afrobeat comes on the heels of the musical "Fela!," which won critical acclaim on Broadway in 2009 and has returned this summer for a short run before an international tour. The musical is based on the life and music of the late Fela Kuti, a pioneer of Afrobeat, a genre defined as a mix of traditional Nigerian music, jazz, funk, chanted vocals and rhythmic, almost tribal percussion.
"The fact that there's a 'Fela!' musical shows that there is a growing interest [in Afrobeat]," said baritone sax player Garrick Smith.
The past year has been the most successful of the band's career, with a performance earlier this year with Seun Kuti, Fela's son and torch-bearer, as well as being the official after-party band when the national touring show of "Fela!" opened in Chicago in March.
Up next, Smith said, is the album "N'Yash Up," due Aug. 14, that features the group "taking contemporary artists that influenced us and giving it an Afrobeat feel." The album includes songs from Radiohead, Taking Heads, System of a Down, Led Zeppelin and Marvin Gaye. "Motown lends itself to Afrobeat sound," Garrick said.
Oz Noy • The guitarist moved from Israel to New York in 1996 and has become a respected part of the jazz scene with a musical style that draws upon Western inspirations such as pop, rock, blues and funk. Having performed, toured and recorded with Harry Belafonte, Toni Braxton and Cyndi Lauper, Noy will be performing for the first time in Utah. In a phone interview, he repeatedly returned to the word "groove." "I like groove," he said. "I like funk grooves better than other grooves."
Noy originally moved to America because "all the music I liked, like jazz, was from here," he said. As soon as he arrived in New York, he was advised that to be able to play grooves, he needed to play alongside the musicians who appeared on landmark records with first-class drumming rather than just playing along to the record. So he sought out and eventually played with Anton Fig, Keith Carlock and Mike Clark.
You might think he would be influenced by Middle Eastern music since he lived in Israel until he was 16. "I don't really like Middle Eastern music," he explained. "I grew up there, so I know what it is."
Utah Arts Festival
Where • Library Square, 200 East and 400 South, Salt Lake City
When • Thursday through Sunday, June 21-24
Hours • Noon to 11 p.m.
Admission • $10 for adults, $5 for seniors (65 and older), free for kids 12 and younger. A four-day pass is $30. A lunchtime special offers $5 tickets for Thursday and Friday from noon to 3 p.m. A "y'all come back" pass, available at the exits, is good for 2-for-1 admission on a return visit.
Information • Visit http://www.uaf.org.
Stooges Brass Band
When • Friday, 8:30 p.m.
Where • Amphitheater Stage
In addition • Stooges Brass Band parades, Friday from 5 to 5:30 p.m. and 6 to 6:30 p.m. through festival grounds
When • Friday, 9:45 p.m.
Where • Amphitheater Stage
When • Saturday, 9 p.m.
Where • Park Stage
Chicago Afrobeat Project
When • Sunday, 8:30 p.m.
Where • Amphitheater Stage