Blues Beat
"Crawfish 2008 Festival "
By Bob Putignano

Augusta, New Jersey May 31 - June 1, 2008

Michael Arnone's 19th Annual Crawfish Festival at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in Augusta, New Jersey, grows in stature and attendance every year. Highlights this year included sixty-eight-year-old Little Freddie King, Bonerama, Nappy Brown, and the Funky Meters, who's origins can be obviously traced to the original Meters, one of the progenitors of Funk who were formed in 1965 as Allen Toussaint's house band in New Orleans with keyboard master Art Neville and bass player George Porter as lead vocalists. The Funky Meters include two original Meters; Art Neville and George Porter Jr. are the leaders who formed in 1994. The Funky Meters' set on Saturday included New Orleans classics such as "Iko Iko," "Hey Pocky Way," and a burning cover of the great Earl King's "Big Chief," which was made popular byDr. John, Professor Longhair, and many others.

I had seen Allen Toussaint last year at a solo performance at Joe's Pub in New York City, which was incredibly entertaining, but I have never seen the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer in his own full-band lineup, other than the performances two years ago with Elvis Costello, which is not fair to compare as those shows were more about Elvis than Allen. Anyway, the seventy-year-old Toussaint, who wore his trademark powder-blue blazer and an infectious smile, hasn't lost a step.

Toussaint's show-closing Sunday set was a classic walk in the park of his all-time classic tunes, of which one of the many highlights included a sweet medley of his greatest hits, including "Working in the Coalmine," "Ride Your Pony," "Brickyard Blues," "Get Out My Life Woman," and "Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky." Then Tim Carbone, the fiddler forRailroad Earth (which had played earlier), joined Toussaint and his ensemble for three numbers and fell into their groove beautifully, trading slick leads with the piano master that added yet another dimension to Toussaint's great set. Toussaint's band was super sharp and fired on all cylinders, especially ex-Dr. John sax player Amadee Castenell, who was the most-called-on soloist in the band, and rightfully so as Castenell supplied powerful sax blasts that were extremely well thought out and incredibly soulful.

Touissant's influence on the New Orleans scene is rightfully well documented and historic. He was one of the few Crescent City artists who transcended the Big Easy scene, as other great Big Easy artists never got out of Louisiana. Toussiant has authored an unbelievable amount of hits. Check out his credits, as Toussaint has worked with a who's who of artists, such as Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, Little Feat, Bonnie Raitt, the aforementioned Meters, The Band, Aaron Neville, Elvis Costello, the Neville Brothers, Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Johnny Adams, Fats Domino, Paul Simon, Albert King, Sonny Landreth,Patti LaBelle, Solomon Burke, Joe Cocker, John Mayall, Deacon John, Eric Gale, Jess Roden, Etta James, plus so many other. Let's not leave out the Pointer Sisters (originally on Blue Thumb Records) who were covered sumptuously at the Crawfish Fest by Toussaint's band, that tune being "Yes We Can Can," which really had the crowd dancing and prancing.

Michael Arnone has done it again by bringing Toussaint to the Crawfish Fest, as I thought he had a tough act to follow after booking the incredibleNew Orleans Social Club last year!

If you get hungry, don't worry as the Crawfish Fest offers a great array of traditional New Orleans cuisine, which is always a joy, especially when you are listening to authentic New Orleans music. All the more reason to start looking forward to the 2009 Crawfish Festival, which will be celebrating its twentieth annual edition next year. So until that time, keep on checking and never stop doing that second line. Yeah, you right!

Bob Putignano: