Editor’s Note: This is an opinion column about GrassRoots 2015 written by Jeff Stein, editor of the Ithaca Voice.
To submit a guest column, contact me at email@example.com.
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Ithaca, N.Y. — I love the Big Mean Sound Machine. The GunPoets have had me hooked since I was a sophomore in college. And, of course, GrassRoots wouldn’t be GrassRoots without Donna the Buffalo.
But I already knew all those Ithaca favorites would be playing at the Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance in Trumansburg this July.
So it was another band entirely that got me most fired up for GrassRoots 2015 when the concert line-up was announced late last week. (See the announced acts in the image below.)
This is a band that has appeared on the HBO show “Treme.” The main musician has toured with Lenny Kravitz.
At 13, he played with jazz legend Wynton Marsalis at the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. He was the youngest person, at 24, ever featured as the poster boy for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, according to The Baltimore Sun.
More recently, he’s appeared on the tracks of heavy-hitters the Zac Brown Band and Cee Lo Green. And soon he will be playing his horns in Tompkins County.
Of whom do I speak? His stage name is “Trombone Shorty,” and his band is called “Trombone Shortly & Orleans Avenue.” His real name is Troy Andrews.
But all you need to know — at least, all you really need to know to get excited for GrassRoots 2015 — can be heard in the first 20 seconds in the link above. In “Hurricane Season,” my favorite Trombone Shorty song, the horns leap out with electric energy — a voltage blast that’s sustained for minutes on end.
“For True,” another Trombone Shorty track, is much the same:
Don’t trust my taste? That’s fine — probably wise, even … I’m certainly no music critic.
“Troy Andrews, aka Trombone Shorty, is a 25-year-old wunderkind from Treme, New Orleans who’s been making music since he could talk (and walk) – the moniker came from marching in a street parade aged four wielding a trombone twice as long as he was high.
It’s a name that has stuck, though Troy is all grown-up now, wielding his instrument like a child’s toy – his six-strong group, Orleans Avenue, just about squeezing onto the Jazz Café’s bandstand. There’s a real physical energy on stage. This is the sound of New Orleans after the flood, in the hands of a new generation. Shorty calls his music “supafunkrock” and that’s a tight description of the sound blasted out to the packed-out venue.”
“Averaging 250 shows a year for four consecutive years has a way of tightening up a band. Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and his Orleans Avenue are, at this point, a very tight unit. Perhaps more importantly, they are an entertainingly tight unit, from bassist Mike Ballard’s red strings to the manner in which he and his bandmates are in constant motion, to Shorty’s polished exhortations. He worked the crowd like a seasoned pro. He even moonwalked.
Their sonic collage draws on rock, funk, New Orleans brass and R&B. BK Jackson’s tenor and Dan Oestreicher’s baritone saxophones, along with Shorty’s trombone and trumpet, received just as much time in the spotlight as Pete Murano’s guitar; all of it was propelled by drummer Joey Peeples. They alternated instrumentals — often with energetic horn or guitar solos — with vocal tracks, mixing up the presentation. The sound seems like the sum total of their various influences and pedigrees, topped off by Shorty, a showman who still comes across as the boy from down the block, the one the city first met as a tyke whose trombone was taller than he was.
“Trombone Shorty had clearly set out to present New Orleans as a city whose glory days aren’t over.
One of his band’s tunes was called “Hurricane Season,” and it was no lament. With high-note-trumpet lines and a “Hey!” shout-along, it was a signal that the city’s music would push ahead.”
“Trombone Shorty’s horn sounds so good that it almost redeemed Zac Brown’s syrupy sex jam “Overnight.” His own works, meanwhile, are rarely in need of such assistance: Recent tracks like “Fire and Brimstone” and “Say That to Say This” rock with the kind of riffs that, had they been released a few decades earlier, Kanye West would have flipped for a hit.
We all know that GrassRoots can soar and delight and entertain with the homegrown talent alone. But it’s the outside acts, like Trombone Shorty, that we’ve come to count on to make it even better.