(Saturday, May 2; Acura Stage, 11:15)
So many people move to New Orleans for the culture. No matter if they took a job here, changed locales for school, or simply stopped in and didn’t want to leave. The unique culture that encompasses so many elements of life here in the crescent city is usually the selling point. For the talented players that make up the wild ride that is Mississippi Rail Company, they are certainly amongst those who left their hometowns to be a part of the culture of south Louisiana and the Big Easy, including the people, the music, the stories, and the food. Embracing every bit of the region not only in their lives, but throughout the music they create together, Mississippi Rail Company has combined both new and old sounds of the south to bring their listeners back in time in contemporary fashion. To them the opportunity to play in Jazz fest 2015 is to be a part of that culture that lured them here that handful of years ago, inspiring the music they play today.
Getting together to play old New Orleans R&B tunes, the first three members of Mississippi Rail Company all came from strong musical backgrounds. Taking those backgrounds and combining it with his contemporary surroundings, pianist and lead vocalist Travers Geoffray started writing his own original pieces that the band would make their own. “We all had pretty strong musical backgrounds so anything we wanted to do we could pretty much tackle,” says Travers. “I grew up listening to all this music as a kid: Allen Toussaint, Neville Brothers, Dr. John. So that stuff is just kind of in you and I think just being a product of your environment. Being in 2010 and not being in the 1950’s,” he explains of how the group came about their sound.
For their acclaimed album Coal Black Train, the group truly delved into capturing the old-American south within their compositions. Not only staying true to experimenting with traditional forms of music such as jazz, blues, and R&B whose roots are widely agreed to be from the southern region of the United States, but also lyrically in the content of the music. The songs are often about stories of being on the road, and overall about the wildness that was the south in the early part of the 20th century. The band paints the picture of being back running from the law, or sipping in an old speakeasy in the 1920’s, while delivering it in a more contemporary song structure, though Travers still gives thanks to their inspirations. “I love all that music,” says the pianist, “and so I think that’s always been our approach to the music. It’s to play in all those genres and kind of explore all that music. I mean, a lot of this music comes from New Orleans.”
Another way the Crescent City has motivated the group is in adding a saxophone player that has become their true fourth member. “It seemed pretty natural to start putting that into the music,” Geoffray explains, “I’ve always been such a huge Ray Charles fan and listening to some of that music, and some the recordings Allen Toussaint produced, horns are such an integral part,” he says of the motivation. “I feel now we’ve kind of found the spot…the music is really rounded out very nicely and adds depth, ya know a whole other element to what the music is really about,” he says in excitement.
Honored to be playing the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival for the second year in a row, Mississippi Rail Company both looks forward to the future and remembers the sweetness of the memories of the first year along with years before they ever thought they’d be playing Fest. A festival that they believe envelops the culture of the city. “I don’t think I ever thought about actually playing Jazz Fest,” says Travers Geoffray in describing attending the festival as a youth. “It’s probably the most special gig to me that we play. Cause you know growing up and I have the 1976 and 1977 Jazz Fest posters from my family,” he says.
Last year, the boys got to fulfill that dream accompanied with many more lasting memories of the festival. Not only was the audience that day unique, but the band was reminded of the incredible bond they had with each other when the standup bass player oddly broke a string on the first song of this special gig. “So he had to play with three strings for the rest of the show,” Travers says laughing, “ but he didn’t miss a beat. That was just special because you’re reminded of how special the musicians are here, and the audience was just special that day and it was just a great time,” he says of their first experience playing Jazz Fest.
It is in this very way that the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival has become part of the culture of the city of New Orleans itself, living year round through all the family treasures, memories, friendships and certainly the music experienced at Fest. “Playing Jazz Fest is being a part of the culture. Just to have an imprint on the culture is tremendous,” Travers Geoffray concludes.
Expect to see Mississippi Rail Company again this year creating memories and certainly a lasting impression on the culture. Lashing out a tightly fierce set that is well constructed, but also full of twist and turns as the band takes the audience on an adventure across decades of old American music.