New Orleans Suspects headline Copper Mountain festival
IF YOU GO
What: Copper Uncorked: This spin on the traditional chicken wing challenge has chefs competing for the best wing recipe and wine pairing. Attendees will have the option to sample all eight pairings and vote for a favorite, or sample a single pairing from the chef of their choice.
When: Saturday, Feb. 20; 3 p.m.
Where: Burning Stones Plaza, Center Village
Cost: Tickets can be purchased day-of starting at 11 a.m. in Burning Stones Plaza. $25 secures enough tickets to sample each wine and wing pairing and a vote for your favorite combo, or tickets for a single pairing can be purchased for $5 each. Kids can join in on the fun with a $12 ticket good for four wing samples. Showcased wines will be available for $6 per glass. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Copper Environmental Foundation, supporting youth environmental initiatives in Summit County and the surrounding area.
Although the name New Orleans Suspects has only been gracing venue billboards since 2011, the musicians who make up the band are true professionals. In the business for decades, each member has a long career of playing as a sideman in well-known bands such as The Radiators and the James Brown Band. With the Suspects, however, they have each found a creative outlet to call their own.
“We were never the featured artists in those bands, kind of just by us doing our job as called for, but each person in the Suspects is a leader in their own right,” said Jake Eckert, guitarist and vocalist for the group. The New Orleans Suspects will bring their Louisiana twist on funk, blues and Southern rock tunes to Copper Mountain Resort on Saturday, Feb. 20, at the Copper Uncorked festival. The music will begin at 3 p.m. in Burning Stones Plaza, Center Village.
Eckert is known for his history as lead guitarist with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Bass player Reggie Scanlan spent 33 years in The Radiators, spending time in the ’70s in the bands of James Booker, Professor Longhair and Earl King. “Mean” Willie Green on drums is known for his playing in the Neville Brothers, while Jeff Watkins, on saxophone, spent 12 years with the James Brown Band. CR Gruver on keyboards and vocals toured with Outformation.
“On paper, I would say that this band doesn’t really work,” Eckert said. “You can’t really put all of those sounds together and expect it to come out right, but, for some reason, we immediately notice by the audience response, that when you put all these ingredients in a gumbo and stir it up, it came out with its own sound. … We did get to do our own thing, created our own sound based on older New Orleans traditions, be it brass band music or Radiators and Neville Brothers, old Earl King R&B and Mardi Gras Indian music — all the different things that come together down here. So really we stir all those up, and, when you take a bite, it tastes like something a little different but still has all that old flavor.”
THE USUAL SUSPECTS
The musicians first started playing together as a band in 2009 at impromptu gigs at the Maple Leaf, a club in the same neighborhood in New Orleans where all the members live. Eckert considers the venue “our home base, our kind of living room if you will,” with Rebirth Brass Band on the Tuesday rotation and George Porter Jr. playing Thursdays. The Neville Brothers were winding down in their tour schedule, and Eckert said he had been playing with the Dirty Dozen for the last six or seven years and didn’t want to travel quite as much as he was, and The Radiators were coming to an end soon after.
“It was kind of serendipitous, it wasn’t something that happened by force or by really even planning,” he said.
The owner would call him up and ask him to put some guys together to fill-in for an evening. After bringing together the other now-members of the band several times, the owner would call up and say, “Can you put together the usual suspects?” which led to them playing around town as The Unusual Suspects. In 2011, the group was receiving so many requests to play outside of New Orleans, that the band found management and started touring outside of Louisiana under the name New Orleans Suspects. The lineup changed from the early days as well, with Watkins replacing Kevin Harris on sax, and Green replacing original drummer Kevin O’Day.
When the band first started, they were playing a lot of New Orleans covers, but as they’ve grown as a band so has their sound. They are currently finishing up their fourth full-length album, which Eckert said they hope to have wrapped up by the spring. It’s a follow-up to the all-original “Ouroboros,” album, and will be a “walk through different sounds you get in New Orleans, different beats and different rhythms, and different styles that you run across down here, with our own twist on it,” Eckert said.
The band plays with Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett from the band Little Feat often, and Barrere wrote a song called “Dixie Highway,” which was recorded with Tackett and will be included on the new album as well.
As they have progressed as a band, they’ve formed a more identifiable sound. As time progresses and the rise of new genres changes the spectrum of music, Eckert said the band changes within the perimeters of their own world, but stays true to what they are as a band.
“I’ve been quoted, ‘This is one of the oldest new bands,’” he said. “I’m the kid in the band and I’m 40, and I’m a good bit younger than a handful of them. … For these guys to reinvent themselves at a later age … is a really cool thing and to come out with something fresh. And it may be one of the last funnels to the really old stuff that comes out in a new fashion, which is sad but true. The era of what a lot of the guys in this band came from is coming to an end. … So we’re really trying to bring out something fresh that still encapsulates the essence of the old New Orleans stuff and the old rock and roll and roots music and Southern music and all that and American music.”
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