Central Arkansas venues have a full week of commemorative events planned
Ivan Neville was home again, enjoying much of what New Orleans has always offered. He’d been busy playing gigs every night leading up to the final weekend of the Jazz and Heritage Festival. When reached on his cell, he was pulling out of a Magazine Street restaurant where he’d just lunched on a plate of crawfish.
But it was still evident in Neville’s voice that his hometown is far from what it was before Aug. 29, when Hurricane Katrina rolled in.
“It’s affected all of us,” the 46-year-old son of musician Aaron Neville said. “At this point, I’m just trying to keep the spirit alive and do what we can to keep that spirit of our city alive. It’s not that much on the physical side, the city is pretty messed up. There are a lot of good things going on down here, but a lot of the city that looks like a bomb went off. I’m just playing for Jazzfest, playing here and there, trying to do my part.
“We were all affected. Some of us lost homes, lost family. But it was the place we were born and raised, and it’s changed forever.”
Neville, whose band Dumpstaphunk will play Saturday at Riverfest, is known for being one of the busiest musicians around, whether in New Orleans or on the West Coast, where he has lived and recorded on his own and with a number of artists (Bonne Raitt and Keith Richards, to name two). The keyboardist is likely to show up at a club in New Orleans on any night and sit in with such bands as Galactic. His dad and uncles welcomed him into the Neville Brothers, as well, so he has those shows, too. The Nevilles take the stage at Riverfest at 9 p.m. Saturday, after the Lee Boys, a Georgia-based Robert Randolph-style funk band with pedal steel guitar.
“It’s no big deal,” Neville says of his schedule. “I’ll play a set with my band, which is an extremely fun band to play with, then regroup and we’ll do our set with the Nevilles. I do a lot of that, sitting in and playing everywhere. Why not play? You’ve got the time, you’re blessed with the ability to play, you have an opportunity to play with different cats, different bands. Why not do it? How dare you not do it?
Growing up as a Neville, hearing his father and talented uncles record hits such as “Tell It Like It Is, “was an amazing time,” Ivan said.
Music came naturally, of course. “I always loved music, listening to it. I picked up a guitar when I was 10 or 11, then started playing piano at 15. It just seemed a given. The first time I played the piano, my dad showed me a couple of songs. Then he introduced me to a New Orleans piano player, James Booker, who really showed me some stuff. I thought, I can do this, and pretty soon I was making a living playing music. I’d rather do this than be listening to people yelling at me. It was a no-brainer.” Neville covers it all, singing and playing keyboard, guitar and bass.
Rolling Stone magazine earlier this spring called Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk the must-see show of the summer. Neville assembled the group from New Orleans musicians he’s known for years.
“We’re just way funky, with a little more energy, younger,” he said. “We come from the legacy of the Nevilles, the Meters, and all that. We’re blood, but Dumpstaphunk is a different way of thinking, a little funkier, a little crazier, a little more imagination, taking a little more to chance. We take a few more liberties.”
Neville said the mood around New Orleans during Jazzfest was “great. Everybody is in good spirits, everybody is embracing the fact that there is a Jazzfest here.
“A lot of people feel our city has had a raw deal, it’s f***** up, there are a lot of repairs still to go,” he said. “In the meantime, the music, the food are there and the people of New Orleans are having a fun time and doing what New Orleanians do, and you do it until you can’t do it no more.”
Neville was planning to go into the studio late this month with Dumpstaphunk to record its first album. He’s hoping to record in New Orleans.
Neville says he’s glad to be bringing a touch of New Orleans to Arkansans at Riverfest.
“I’m all for that,” he said. “The New Orleans that I know and love, it’s not the same anymore, but that New Orleans is in my heart and soul, and we can spread that to others through our music.”