T Bird and the Breaks with Good Enough for Good Times
10 p.m. Sun., July 26
One Eyed Jacks, 615 Toulouse St., 569-8361; www.oneeyedjacks.net
The gravelly R&B growls, the sassy call-and-response backup singing, the tenor sax struts and hot blasts of trombone-blown air — Austin address or no, T Bird and the Breaks is a Crescent City band at heart. By his own admission, Tim Crane knows this.
"The type of music that [we] play might be more of a natural fit in New Orleans than in Austin," says Crane, aka T Bird, a hint of those slurred, soul-man vocals coming through in his speech. "Maybe that's been to our benefit here. We've been able to shine a little bit in Austin."
Crane, a young, white Massachusetts native inspired by old, black Memphis crooners, settled deep in the heart of Texas only after an Amtrak train shuttled him from one coast to the other — with the requisite stopover on the Gulf Coast — in 2006. Within a year he had coaxed guitarist and fellow New Englander Sammy Patlove to emigrate to the Lone Star State, and roused an outfit of likeminded locals to round out his Breaks: a 10-piece ensemble including hornblowers Houston Rawls, Stephen Beasley and Matthew Price, and singers Sasha Ortiz, Stephanie Hunt and Jazz Mills.
In January the group self-released its debut album, Learn About It. This week the band travels to New Orleans for the first time, ostensibly to test Crane's hypothesis. The gig is the start of a southeastern jaunt arranged by the band's Austin-based booking agent, Jason Clark, and here the connections between the two cities really get crossed. The name of Clark's agency is Nola Soul Entertainment.
"It started (in 2006) as a production company to present artists, mainly New Orleans artists, after the storm," explains Clark, who hails from Leesville, La., attended LSU and lived here before relocating to Austin after Hurricane Katrina. The fledgling company's first event was a series called Brass and Beans — "a spin-off of Kermit (Ruffins)' parties on Monday nights," Clark says, with a free buffet of home-cooked red beans and rice set to a soundtrack of area musicians and imported New Orleans artists like Big Sam's Funky Nation and the Hot 8 Brass Band.
"That was just to keep everybody in the spirit," he adds. "There were a ton of people from New Orleans over in Austin after the storm. It was really just a way to get everybody together and say, 'You know what? It's not the end of the world. Even though we're not in New Orleans, we can act like we are.'"
If the sentiment seems familiar, it's because it echoes the ubiquitous motto of the design company Dirty Coast: "Be a New Orleanian. Wherever You Are." The shared philosophy is no coincidence. Clark moved to New Orleans from Baton Rouge with a friend, Patrick Brower, in 2000. While Brower went on to co-found Dirty Coast, Clark joined Superfly Productions to help jump-start the inaugural Bonnaroo Music Festival. It was a continuation of work he started as an LSU sophomore, in 1997, when he built a formidable Superfly street team an hour away on I-10.
"We painted the town" with posters, Clark says. "It ended up being where, at the height of it, around '98, '99, at least 30 percent of the audience at (Superfly's New Orleans) shows were traveling from Baton Rouge."
Along with organizing vendors and crews for the first Bonnaroo in 2002, Clark also was learning the production ropes himself, assisting on concerts by bands like Galactic and Karl Denson's Tiny Universe. "I started off loading shows — load in, load out," he says. "Then I worked up to do assistant production work, then production work. I sold merchandise. I did everything you could do at a show."
Everything except hitting the road with the band, an experience Clark decided he needed if he was to fully understand the needs of a touring group. In 2001, after helping Galactic load up, Clark climbed aboard. He didn't step off for nearly four years.
"When it was all said and done, it was just under 900 shows I did with Galactic," Clark says. "I wanted to learn from artists by being in their shoes. That way, no matter what I [ended] up doing in this industry, I [could] say, I've done it."
That empathy has paid dividends for Nola Soul Entertainment, both in Texas and Louisiana. Now 31, Clark assembled his roster from a mix of established and up-and-coming artists in both states and various genres: from Austin, veteran funk outfit the Greyhounds, blues chanteuse Lou Ann Barton and T Bird; from New Orleans, indie rockers Rotary Downs, jam band Gravy and electro-pop experimentalist The White Bitch (including Michael Patrick Welch, an occasional contributor to Gambit).
"I think it's a great idea what [Clark] is doing — taking two things he loves, New Orleans and music, and applying them to where he currently lives," says drummer Zack Smith of Rotary Downs, Clark's initial Crescent City signing. "I see parallels between New Orleans and Austin, just like with the (San Francisco) Bay area and Brooklyn, that go beyond music, culture and art. It's a vibe thing, and it just makes sense to fortify that bridge."
Clark says his goal is exactly that: "Essentially, get a lot of these bands from New Orleans playing gigs in Austin, and vice versa. Some sort of band-share program where we give Austin nights to New Orleans musicians and vice versa."
Hence T Bird's visit this week. Just as Clark hooked up with the latter through the Greyhounds — "Probably my favorite band in Austin; I go to their shows and saw him around, hanging out," Crane says — it was Smith that turned him on to The White Bitch. "He had never seen us play before he agreed to take us on," says bandleader Welch. "Since then he's hooked us up with amazing shows in Austin, most notably (Sixth Street venue) Emo's on New Year's Eve with T Bird. That was the shit."
"It was really cool," Clark recalls. "[The Breaks] are your classic record-crate-digging guys, wearing sharp suits that they've hunted for. A sharp soul band, the sound and the image that goes with that. They get their dance steps down perfectly. Here comes The White Bitch to open up for them on New Year's.
"Michael and Ray Bong and them ended up shutting down the bar with the bartenders," he says, laughing. "I don't think they left until 6 in the morning. Which is completely New Orleans of them."