NOLA Funk Fest-Can’t Get Enough of That Funky Stuff

October is the true first fall month in New Orleans. The cooler weather provides a great opportunity to get outdoors to party with a purpose at various events. A trip to New Orleans isn’t complete without a visit to Musical Legends Park, 311 Bourbon Street. 

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By Ricky Richardson | Contributing Writer

        (New Orleans, LA) October is the true first fall month in New Orleans. The cooler weather provides a great opportunity to get outdoors to party with a purpose at various events. A trip to New Orleans isn’t complete without a visit to Musical Legends Park, 311 Bourbon Street. You will be in the presence of icons of New Orleans internationally known music scene in the form of life size bronze statues- Antoine “Fats’ Domino, Pete Fountain, Al “Jumbo” Hirt, Louis Prima, Irma Thomas, Allen Toussaint, Ronnie Kole, and Chris Owens. One can listen to live music by a local house band while enjoying some classic cuisine or while sipping on a cup of coffee and eating beignets from Café Beignet in a warm, intimate atmosphere.

        Thousands of funksters, funk-a-teers from all over the city were join by national and international funksters for the inaugural NOLA Funk Fest, at the Jazz Museum, Friday, October 20 through Sunday, October 22, 2023. Artist JT Lucchesi is credited with the wonderful artwork for the inaugural NOLA Funk Fest poster, t-shirts and other memorabilia. Visit NOLA Funk Fest website to find out if you can acquire some official merch for yourself, family, friends and fellow coworkers for anniversaries, birthdays, Christmas or for no reason at all!!!

        If history is any indication, don’t be surprised if NOLA Funk Fest becomes an annual event. This will complement and enhance the vibrant musical landscape of New Orleans.

        NOLA Funk Fest is a celebration of Louisiana’s rich music history and marks the beginning of the public announcement of the Louisiana Music and Heritage Experience, a grand-scale museum dedicated to preserving and showcasing the state’s musical heritage. Everyone is in agreement that Louisiana’s music history needs to be preserved to educate, inspire and empower!

        NOLA Funk Fest presented two symposiums and the first-ever exhibit on Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew. The exhibit, “I Found My Thrill: The Music and Artistry of Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew is on view at The New Orleans Jazz, (400 Esplanade Avenue), for 20 weeks thereafter.

        The Louisiana Music and Heritage Experience (LMHE) are in the process of developing a 120,000 square foot, $160 million museum that tell the Louisiana music story from Congo Square until today. The exhibit was jointly curated by Bob Santelli (Curator of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, three Grammy Museums and five other museums as well as author of numerous books on music history); David Kunian (New Orleans Jazz Museum Curator and Musicology); Calista Eberle and Michael Murphy (award-winning documentary filmmakers who filmed Jazz Fest for 25 years and who produced numerous New Orleans music documentaries).  

        NOLA Funk Fest was an unforgettable weekend filled with incredible, contagious funky grooves, good vibes and great company!

        NOLA Funk Fest featured a diverse ranged of talented established artists performing on the JAMNOLA Stage, and Positive Vibration Foundation Tent as well as a separate stage (Passing the Torch) for emerging artists steeped in the groove. There was something for everyone, as the power of music connected and resonated with people from all walks of life.

        The Russell Batiste Opening NOLA Funk Fest Second Line featured The Original Pinettes, Le Bon Tons Baby Dolls and OWT.

        Chris Beary (Board Chair, The Louisiana Music and Heritage Experience, Inc.) welcomed funkateers gathered for the event and led the crowd in a moment of silence for the late great drummer Russell Batiste. David Batiste shared some words about his son Russell Batiste.  Leslie Cooper (Traditional Jazz with Leslie Cooper, WWOZ Program Host), served as Emcee for the JAMNOLA Stage.

Leo Nocentelli (Photo by Ricky Richardson)

        The city’s best local funk acts performed over three days across three stages, headlined by Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient Leo Nocentelli with Experiencing The Meters and including music icon Irma Thomas. Friday opening day was wildly entertaining.  

        Organizers couldn’t have picked a better band, Funky Uncle All Stars to get the show underway. They opened their tight set with “Funk is in the House” by the late great Walter “Wolfman” Washington.  This song could serve as the official theme of the inaugural NOLA Funk Fest. The group performed and dedicated the selection “Down by the Riverside” to the memory of Russell Batiste. The spirit of Russell Batiste was present during NOLA Funk Fest.

        New Orleans Suspects featuring Maggie Koerner fired up the funk with the selection “Let’s Get it Started,” on the Positive Vibration Foundation Tent.

        The Soul Queen of New Orleans, Irma Thomas held court on the JAMNOLA Stage. Despite a cold, Irma Thomas entertained the crowd with selections from her extensive catalog as well as a few cover tunes. “It’s Raining,” “You Can Have my Husband; Please Don’t Mess with my Man,” Take a Look,” “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is,” and “I Done Got Over It.”  The crowd sang and dances along to “IKO IKO,” “Hey Pokey A-Way,” and “Proud Mary.” 

        Saturday, day 2- a plethora of artists liven up the festivities with crowd pleasing sets during their respective time in the spotlight. David Batiste and the Gladiators, Mark Mullins and Friends, Boukou Groove, Omari Neville and the Fuel, Tribal Gold featuring Big Chief Juan Pardo, Ivan Neville, Krasno Moore Project and Grammy icon Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

        Kota Dosa was rockin’ the Passing The Torch Stage as I made my way to the NOLA Funk Fest after a busy morning and early afternoon. Omari Neville & The Fuel was funking it up on the JAMNOLA Stage to the delight of the Fiya nation. Tribal Gold featuring Big Chief Juan Pardo and Ivan Neville thrilled a captivated crowd during their respective time in the spotlight.

        There were numerous events devoted to the memory of Russell Batiste, Jr. with special performances by Batiste’s own band with special guest appearances by Leo Nocentelli, June Yamagishi, Jason Mingledorf, Jazmine Butler, Jamil Batiste and other family members during an afternoon set.

Erica Falls (Photo by Ricky Richardson)

        Sunday, attendance at the festival continued to swell. Performers on the final day of the festival cranked it up a notch to entertain the captivated crowd of funksters. Their respective sets were inspiring to witness. Sunday’s stellar line up featured Jamal Baptiste Band, Jason Neville Funky Soul band, Eric’s Gonna Die, Big Sam Funky Nation (electrifying), a show stopping set by Erica Falls and Vintage Soul, Grammy icon George Porter Jr. and The Runnin Pardners. The Bucktown All Stars closed out the festival on a rousing musical note. Erica Falls opened her set with “Let’s Get Down Tonight” which she proceeded to do during her crowd pleasing, engaging, hour long set. She continued with “Old Records” “Keep Your Head to the Sky,” “Be Thankful for What you Got” and shared selections from an upcoming EP/CD that is scheduled to drop January 2024.

Big Sam’s Funky Nation (Photo by Ricky Richardson)

        I was also fortunate to attend a fascinating symposium during NOLA Funk Festival. Dave Bartholomew Symposium presented by The Louisiana Music and Heritage Experience, sponsored by Daryl and LeAnn Peterman. The distinguished panel consisted of Don Bartholomew, Rick Coleman, Ira “Dr. Ike” Padnos and Gwen Thompkins with David Kunian serving as Moderator. The panel offered further insight to the genius and artistry of the life of Dave Bartholomew. The symposium was complemented by live performance of Dave Bartholomew’s music performed superbly by George Porter Jr. and Runnin’ Pardners with Michael Lemmler-piano & organ, Chris Adkins-guitar, Deven Trusclair-drums. Horn sections featured Reggie Houston-saxophone, Wendell Brunious-trumpet, Gregory Davis-trumpet and Roger Lewis-baritone sax. They performed “Country Boy” featuring George Porter Jr. on vocals, “The Fat Man,” “Blue Monday,” and “I’m Walkin’ with special guest Al “Lil Fats” Jackson. It doesn’t get any better than that.