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Published: 2015/12/22

Anders Osborne’s Holiday Spectacular, Tipitina’s, New Orleans, LA- 12/18 & 19

In much the same way I imagine the legacy of Warren Haynes Annual Christmas Jam (taking place in Asheville) was organically built over the past quarter-century, Anders Osborne’s Holiday Spectacular has ripened each year into an increasingly national gathering of fans and artists. Since the first one in 2012, the event has continued to grow in scale and gain traction as a destination event, easily worthy as an anchor affair on a trip down to the Crescent City.

As has been the case each year, the special guest lineup differed each night, giving the Friday and Saturday shows a distinct feeling and aftertaste following yet-another jubilant and impactful weekend of music in New Orleans.

Friday, December 18, 2015 (w/ special guests John Popper and JJ Grey)

The Friday concert featured JJ Grey of Mofro and John Popper of Blues Traveler as the featured guests. While the weekend opened with “Back On Dumaine,” an original paying homage to Osborne’s beloved home, it didn’t take long for the first covers to begin rolling out, as is often the case at the hoiday shows. John Popper’s first guest appearance on stage was the Blues Traveler hit “Hook” and Mofro’s JJ Grey would take to the stage to join his Southern Soul Assembly comrade for a number of Mofro tunes, including the first set-closing “99 Shades of Crazy” and a take on “Brighter Days” from the band’s debut album.

Set two kicked off with the initially plodding “Coming Down,” a confessional recovery anthem that was the first of many instances of Osborne bearing his soul without a shred of lyrical subtlety, instead beaming out boldly as a therapeutic method to keep the demons at bay. Osborne’s vocal prowess rarely gets enough ink and from the center of the floor under the goal, you could really take in the power of his vocals on songs like the aforementioned “Coming Down” and a bevy of other originals that made an appearance throughout the weekend.

“Goin Down the Road Feelin’ Bad” was the first Dead cover of the weekend, something that has become expected (albeit never unappreciated) as Osborne’s growing adoration of their catalog goes deeper with each passing year (likely helped by numerous appearances at Terrapin Crossroads with Phil Lesh). “GDTRFB” had Tip’s roaring well past midnight and offered a peak into the sustained high level crowd energy that would be the signature of the instant classic night two.

A take on Muddy Water’s “Mannish Boy” brought the whole cast of the night onto a single stage and offered yet another chance for side guitarist John Fohl to showcase his talents and add embellishments to an already the already ornate and colorful palette of sounds and styles on stage.

Saturday, December 19, 2015 (w/ special guests Jackie Greene and Sam Bush)

While Friday offered a healthy introductory course to the holiday buffet, Saturday provided the real meat and potatoes of the run. Osborne, Sam Bush, Jackie Greene, Kevin Harris and the house band served up a standout, instant classic that, by just about every account I’ve heard, sent just about every one in attendance home raving.

Osborne originals opened the show, with a furious “Echoes of My Sins” setting an early tone that signified that these guys meant business on Saturday night. The great Sam Bush joined onstage and played a mean fiddle on the twangin’ newer tune “Lafayette,” “Speak of the Devil” and “Aim Way High,” playing with an utterly dizzying level of precision and ferocity that only Bush can add as a special guest. Each time Bush and Osborne traded solos, there were flames coming from the strings, bows and guitar picks.

There were countless moments throughout the evening where the band managed to engineer those generally rare peak manic levels where a boisterous crowd actually falls towards silence and the roaring cacophony of a chatty crowd tones down in daft attention.

Jackie Greene, who would first take to the stage for a cover of JJ Cale’s “Travelin Light,” along with Sam Bush and Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s Kevin Harris, fell right in with Osborne and his polished band (that included frequent collaborator John “Papa” Gros and longtime bassist Carl Dufrene Jr.) at each guest turn during the night.

On paper, the setlist and cover selections are enough to make any fan of Anders, Professor Longhair and Allen Toussaint filled with intrigue, and each cover selection was delivered with an emphatic gusto as the band undertook the weighty responsibility of both paying tribute to the spiritual founder of Tipitina’s (Fess) on his birthday and the recently-deceased Allen Toussaint, only five weeks after he left us too soon.

“Get Out of my Life Woman,” a tune made famous on a record by Lee Dorsey, was the first Toussaint-penned tune to appear and it’d be a vast understatement to say that that cover had people raving outside during a lengthy setbreak.

The real payoff came during the weekend’s fourth set, which yet again opened with a powerful, guitar-based Osborne original and no (extra) special guests. Sam Bush would rejoin for “Dyin Days” and Osborne tackled yet another monster of the Grateful Dead canon, winding their way through the many intricacies of “Scarlet Begonias”. The version of “Scarlet” is a must-listen from the weekend and the fact that the single biggest complaint of the night being that their was no coupled “Fire On The Mountain” was evidence that things were pretty stellar overall on Saturday night.

For the encore, there were few better songs that could’ve been a more fitting close to such an extraordinary night and weekend of music than an all-hands-on-deck version of “On Your Way Down” with every featured guest returning to the stage.

Now nearing it’s fortieth birthday in just a couple of years, Tipitina’s has seen its share of blockbuster shows and Saturday’s run-closing blowout belongs in the conversation with many of the marquee shows that make the venue schedule during Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, New Years and Halloween so special. If nothing else, it stands out amongst a growing list of instantly classic AO Holiday Spectacular shows. That fact alone, speaks for itself.

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