Big Sam’s Funky Nation celebrated Mardi Gras at home in New Orleans. Now, the Noladelic PowerFunkin’ supergroup is bringing the celebration to the rest of the country.
Big Sam’s Funky Mardi Gras tour rolled up the Mississippi River to Memphis and St. Louis last week, and brought a love of fun and funk to Martyrs’ in Chicago over Valentine’s weekend. The band kicked off the party and quickly steamed up the club’s windows with “Mountaintop” from the 2014 release Evolution. Big Sam greeted the packed club with “make some noise Chicago” as the band launched into “We Gon Do It” from the 2006 album Take Me Back. Within minutes, he’d already sang, played and danced up a sweat on the James Brown-flavored vamp that seamlessly segued into the Grammy Award-winning hit “Uptown Funk.”
During the Funky Nation’s 75+ minute set, leader and trombonist Big Sam Williams gave his all while enthusiastically leading the crowd in call and response, hand clapping, and sing-alongs. Throughout the night, Drew “Da Phessah” Baham joined him on vocals and added his vibrant trumpet for a joint brass attack. Guitarist Joshua Connelly played a subtle yet critical role in the mix, but let loose on a sizzling cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.” The skin tight rhythm section of bassist Jerry “JBlakk” Henderson and drummer Milk Williams absolutely guaranteed one Funky Nation under a groove.
Highlights of the high-energy show included a spicy version of the N’awlins classic “Hey Pocky Way,” and a rousing cover of The Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” which allowed each musician to showcase his instrument. The biggest surprise of the night was a no-holds barred, instrumental medley of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity,” Naughty By Nature’s “Hip Hop Hooray,” and Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers’ 1979 Go-Go classic “Bustin’ Loose.” The quintet brought it home for the encore with the theme of the HBO series Treme on which Big Sam had a recurring role.
A festival favorite, Big Sam’s Funky Nation brings the noise and the funk indoors on the Mardi Gras tour. It’s a must-see, hear and feel experience that moves to Washington, D.C. and suburban Philadelphia before stopping at the Brooklyn Bowl on February 19. After dates up and down the East Coast, the tour swings into 12th & Porter in Nashville on February 27. After a short break, Big Sam’s Funky Mardi Gras tour hits Austin, Texas on March 14, and heads west for a series of dates in California and Nevada. Check the band’s website for a complete list of tour dates.