One Night Stands: Treme Brass Band still delivers
THE GIG: Treme Brass Band, Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. or thereabouts
THE VENUE: Candlelight Lounge, 925 N. Robertson St.
THE SCENE: Like Bullets or Vaughan’s, it’s become a popular stop for tourists seeking “real New Orleans,” but it has a devoted following among locals as well.
THE DRINKS: Inexpensive and uncomplicated, with cocktail waitress service.
Knowing how flexible the Treme Brass Band can be with their timetable, my crew and I arrived at the Candlelight Lounge on New Orleans time, 20 minutes after the listed start time. We were early, it turned out.
The bar was as brightly lit as I’ve ever seen it, with R&B music playing quietly in the background. A gaggle of tourists sat at a long table, looking confused. Was it an off night?
No, just a late one. The in-demand band was running late from a prior gig, someone working the barbecue outside told me. Watching the bar come to life in anticipation of their arrival, however, became part of the show.
By 10 p.m., there was still no sign of the band, but the place had filled up quickly and the music had been turned up so loud as to create a block party-type atmosphere out on the sidewalk, where most patrons gathered to escape the stiflingly still, hot air inside. So far, the crowd had remained tourist-heavy, but soon the familiar face of Allison Reinhardt, director of the nonprofit Roots of Music, gave the scene a boost of authenticity.
After chatting with Reinhardt, I returned to my group to find them all munching on plates of free red beans and rice, which my boyfriend summed up as “the real deal.” We returned to our table inside and ordered another round of beers from the gold-toothed cocktail waitress, who wore a tie-dyed T-shirt and danced casually near the door after delivering our drinks. When two girls walked in and looked around, not quite knowing what to do, the waitress steered them to a table, took their drink orders and left them looking comfortable and pleased.
Ten past 10 p.m., the band started to arrive. Three of them emerged from an orange pickup truck that I recognized as a former Sewerage & Water Board vehicle, with “TREME BAND N.O. JAZZ” spelled out in mailbox decals. Uncle Lionel strolled in to a wave of greetings from regulars and bandmates. He began pulling on a beer as the band tuned up.
Finally, shortly before 11 p.m., with no fanfare or announcement, a couple of horns struck up Ray Charles’ “I’ve Got a Woman,” and by the time the rest of the band kicked in with the chorus, the place was swinging. A pair of women busted second-line moves; one man did an informal Charleston.
Sitting in with the band, which consisted of 11 men that night, was a teen redhead with a beard, who, whether apprentice or regular, knew how to blow when it came his turn on “Mack the Knife.” I noticed that among the band sported a strong showing of hats: fedora, pork pie, bowler and newsboy.
By midnight, the band was nearing their set break. They went into “Basin Street Blues,” with trumpeter and vocalist Kenneth Terry using his hand as a mute. The lanky leisure of their style as it hung in the hot air made me think, as I found myself at the bottom of another bottle, that a cold beer had seldom gone down easier.