Russell Batiste & Friends/The Bridge, Lions Den, NYC- 12/14
Only three weeks notice was provided for the “Russell Batiste and Friends” Benefit show in NYC. Not only were musicians like Page McConnell (Phish, Vida Blue) joining in on the party, but the little band from Baltimore called the Bridge was opening, with the group’s Cris Jacobs later performing with “Russell and Friends” on lead vocals and lead guitar. Indeed, while the benefit tour would include a stop just 3 days later in the Bridge’s native Baltimore (at the famed 8 × 10 Club), many of the group’s fans made the trip up to New York City for the performance.
As openers, the Bridge played to a packed house at the Lion’s Den. The Bridge incorporates styles ranging from funk, bluegrass, jam, and rock over a solid foundation of folk and blues. There’s no question that Cris Jacobs leads the way. His voice might be likened to Warren Haynes, and it quickly grabs a listener’s attention. Jacobs complements his smooth, melodic vocals with strong songwriting, and beautifully orchestrated improv guitar solos. Song choices included “Good Rhythm,” “Brother Don’t,” “Shake Em Down,” and “Jomotion.” Kenny Liner’s electric mandolin and human beat box infused another layer of texture and creative humor. Over the past few months, Umphrey’s McGee, Keller Williams, and Particle have called Kenny on stage to beat box. On alto saxophone, Adam Iorfida’s passionate and sensual sounds moved the crowd. Juxtaposing technical perfection with a loose, free flowing style, bass guitarist Dave Markowitz wowed fans with his body language, while Mike Gambone steadily worked the drums, displaying his jazz-influenced percussion skills.
The main event kicked off with “Russell Batiste and Friends” igniting the crowd with a smoking version of Papa Grows Funk’s, “Fire in the Garage.” While Russell Batiste ran the show, directing the musicians on stage throughout the night, he still found plenty of time to demonstrate his mastery on the drums and many other instruments. Celebrating Russell’s 40th birthday, his father (Dave on keytar), brother (Raymond on congas), sister on congas, and cousin (Jonathon on keyboards) joined in the festivities. The night also included appearances by Dave Dreiwitz (Ween) Brandon Tarricone (Brotherhood of Groove), Adam Deitch (Lettuce), Gordon Jones (DJ Williams Projekt), Stu Brooks (Dub Trio), Jake Honoroff, “Wammy”, and Rita Haugland. Friends asked me what the show was like, having up to 16 people on stage performing at once. Coming from a family of musicians, I gave the analogy of times when friends may randomly get together in a basement to jam on instruments, chilling, and having a good time. Imagine that, with 15 of the best musicians around, surrounded by enthralled music fans.
The performance was certainly loose as most of the musicians involved had little or no preparation for the gig. Still, that’s what I loved about it. Many of us can appreciate when artists come together to perform in this extemporaneous manner. Batiste and Friends included funk favorites, like “Fire in the Bayou,” “People Say,” “Cissy Strut,” and ”Just Kissed My Baby.” Songs like “Ain’t No Use” showcased Cris Jacobs’ vocals. Page McConnell kept a low profile working the keyboard, but appeared to have a mellow-good time. Russell and his family encouraged the fans to sing along for many songs. The night even included a version of K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s “Get Down Tonight.”
The encore offered versions of “Voodoo Chile,” and “Pass the Peas.” With Soulive’s Eric Krasno and Ryan Zoidis joining in on the Benefit/B-day bash. This show lived up to the high expectations that many had envisioned. I’m thankful to have been a part of such an energized environment, where a legend like Russell Batiste could be doing what he loves most, surrounded by family, friends, and appreciative fans.