Big Sam’s Funky Nation plays free show at Copper Mountain
IF YOU GO
What: Big Sam’s Funky Nation
When: Saturday, Aug. 27; 4–6 p.m.
Where: Copper Mountain Resort
Cost: Free show; Tickets must be purchased to partake in the Cider Circus festival. Go to cidercircus.com for tickets and more information
Besides the two years he lived in San Antonio after Hurricane Katrina, “Big Sam” Williams from Big Sam’s Funky Nation has never lived anywhere outside of New Orleans — and doesn’t want to. In his heart, his music and his dance moves, the flavor of the Big Easy seeps from under his skin, through his breath and out through his trombone. He epitomizes the culture of New Orleans, and he’s all about bringing the funk.
“You want to get up and dance, clap your hands, thump your feet, get up and shout — there’s gonna be a lot of dancing and moving involved in the show,” Big Sam said. “So don’t think you’re going to be able to come into the show and drink your wine and look cute. … Like I said, you gotta get up to get down.”
Big Sam’s Funky Nation will be bringing the spiciness of New Orleans to Copper Mountain Resort on Saturday, Aug. 27 to headline the Cider Circus festival. The band will close out the festival with a free performance in Center Village from 4–6 p.m.
Big Sam picked up the trombone at the age of 12 when he joined his middle school marching band and his teacher suggested the instrument. It was in ninth grade when his mother brought home a Dirty Dozen Brass Band album, “Ears to the Wall,” and it was then he started dreaming about playing with the group or starting his own band. Just four years later, at the age of 19, Sam found himself living his dream, playing with Dirty Dozen and getting to perform alongside musicians like James Brown, Karl Denson and members of Widespread Panic.
Two years into his work with Dirty Dozen, he was inspired to form Big Sam’s Funky Nation to pursue different styles of music. With Dirty Dozen stacking up around 300 travel days a year, Funky Nation was kept as a side project. He spent four years on the road with Dirty Dozen, and, even after leaving, his focus was turned elsewhere. Musician, songwriter and producer Allen Toussaint had asked him to join his band, and he couldn’t turn down the opportunity to play with the New Orleans legend. He toured with Toussaint for two years, although he continued to play with him for 10 years until his recent passing last November.
It was in 2007 that he turned his full attention to Funky Nation.
“Once I did that, I was able to write a whole lot more originals — the Dozen actually played one of my originals called ‘Ain’t Nothin’ but a Party,’” Sam said.
Over the years the music evolved, from a jazzy funk instrumental band, he said, to the style of James Brown, to George Clinton and the Parliament-Funkadelic.
“Then we kind of went real hard and went to a Jimmy Hendrix and Living Colour kind of vibe, and, now, we’re heavy on the funk,” he said. “It’s totally evolving, and, right now, it’s in a pocket where it should be, that keeps up the dance, that keeps everyone smiling throughout the show. Once you leave you feel like, man, I just had a great time, ya know?’”
HOME IN NEW ORLEANS
Big Sam is looking forward to returning to the mountains in the summer when the weather is “nice and warm.” At one point, the Southerner had committed to getting on the bunny hill with the kids, until his size 15 feet left him stranded without boots.
“I remember back in the day I tried to go, and they’re like ‘Oh, we don’t have anything for you to put your foot inside,’” he said. “I was like, ‘Oh, OK, that sucks.’ … It didn’t work out.”
It’s a different world in New Orleans, and one Big Sam will never leave. Born and raised in the city, he was more than homesick for his town during his two years of relocation after Hurricane Katrina.
“It’s completely different than anywhere else in the world, like literally,” he laughed. “There’s no where else where you’ll find the flavor of music and food. Our entire culture is completely different than anywhere else. … Our whole culture is something you want to embrace with everything you’ve got.”
Big Sam was featured on episodes of the HBO series “Treme,” which highlighted the rebuilding of the city in the aftermath of Katrina. It exposed the culture of New Orleans to the world, he said. There were both positive and negative outcomes from the world’s focus on New Orleans in the years after the hurricane.
“A lot of people who watch the show, and — they like the music — they’re like ‘I’m going to go down to New Orleans and hang out and it’ll be like ‘Treme,’” he said of the positives. “They would come down, and they would fall in love with the city, with New Orleans, on their own. And it all came from the TV show.”
Another beautiful outcome of the hurricane, he says, is the displaced residents who brought their music and culture to other cities around the country and world.
“It gave everybody some of that New Orleans flavor,” he said.
On the other side of the spectrum, it also brought in people who moved to the city to be a part of the New Orleans vibe but didn’t like certain aspects of the city that came with it. New residents would move in next to jazz clubs but then try to put a stop to the late-night music thumping through their walls.
“You’ve got some cats coming into the city, and … they appreciate the music here, but they don’t really want all that comes with it,” Big Sam said. “Like playing on the streets and stuff like that as a kid, and growing up and that’s what you’re doing, and some people try to put an end to that.”
These new residents with money have influence on the city, and sometimes work to shut down longstanding clubs. Another downfall in recent years is the people who come into New Orleans and love the music, but open clubs and work to make the entire city as touristy as Bourbon Street.
“That’s not what’s up,” he said. “Keep that shit on Bourbon. Everywhere else, you leave the quintessential New Orleans.”
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