I have had the honor of performing at countless music festivals throughout the years with my bands, Lettuce and Break Science, as well as with Pretty Lights and the John Scofield band. I can safely say that High Sierra Music Festival is a beautiful festival. The grounds are clean and pristine. The food vendors have lots of healthy eats like acai smoothies, avocado toast with greens, Spanish-style paella, and Ghanian food. The bathrooms are clean, and the campgrounds, as well as the late-night kickball games, are on point. The people who attend are kind and respectful and form a family atmosphere.
This year, I spent a few hours during the day at a nearby lake surrounded by nature and friends, which set the tone for the night. Perfectly timed before my late-night Lettuce set was one of the funkiest bands I’ve ever seen. Led by legends George Porter Jr. and Zigaboo Modeliste of The Meters and joined by Dumpstaphunk members Ivan and Ian Neville and Tony Hall as well as Cyril Neville of the Neville Brothers, Foundation of Funk took the stage with the kind of confidence and ease you would expect from such tried and true masters of the art of New Orleans funk music.
Seconds into the first tune, the crowd was swaying and moving like they had been put under a spell to the most iconic grooves known to mankind. Zigaboo Modeliste—the King of the funky drums, master of mixing funky parade rhythms, soul, funk, and rock beats into a gumbo of his own—was like an ocean current of great-feeling funky grooves, which feel so good that it’s easy to dance and lose yourself to the music. His singing and occasional hoots and screams kept the band and crowd locked in and feeling great.
His partner in crime, George Porter’s bass playing perfectly rhythmically fit with Zig’s drum beats in a way that can never be duplicated and has been nurtured through their years of performing and recording since the early 1960s. The two of them are a force of nature that create a feeling of togetherness and soul that has almost a medicinal effect on human beings—true doctors of NOLA funk that were sent to heal the listeners through their music.
Ivan Neville, son of famed singer Aaron Neville, is a true legend of his own, having worked with Keith Richards’ band the X-Pensive Winos. His organ and clavinet playing is gutbucket funk at its finest, and his raspy singing voice embodies the grit and soul of New Orleans like no other. His connection with the band, and especially the audience, is so natural and at ease. (Ivan always looks around to see who is hanging side stage and backstage, and who’s in the crowd while giving smiles and nods of funky approval to those he recognizes.)
Tony Hall, multi-talented funk master of bass and guitar, was on duty as the lead guitarist and singer alongside rhythm specialist and young Jedi of guitar, son of Art “Poppa Funk” Neville, Ian Neville. The two locked into the kind of guitar playing that I love, where their sound becomes percussion instruments that perfectly intertwine with the bass and drums, making the songs feel like they are rolling into funky bliss. Their playing echoed the stylings created by the master Leo Nocentelli of The Meters while having elements of P-Funk guitarists like Blackbyrd McKnight and Eddie Hazel.
By the time Cyril Neville was asked to join on percussion and lead vocals, the crowd was in a funky fervor, and the vibe reached even new heights! Cyril, known not only for his timeless voice and percussion skills but his outspoken views on racism and his dedication to the upliftment of the oppressed, shined in a way that only he can. We danced and sang along to his words and melodies as the show built to a climax.
I went backstage and greeted each member post show in the dressing room (of course, leaving them about 15 minutes to get settled). Zigaboo asked about my drumming parents and sent love to my family. George was his usual amazing, upbeat self as he sat in a chair fielding questions and hanging with some people. Ian and Tony reminded me to put them on the VIP list for the Lett show later that night, which my response was, “Of course!” Ivan, his usual cool self, confidently walked off to catch a ride to his hotel, knowing full well that their set was “Rollin’” like a Mack truck down a steep race track.
With those deep frequencies still bouncing around in my body and mind, I ventured over to the late-night stage and met my boys before our show. I briefly explained how phenomenal our heroes and friends had played. Needless to say, I had one of the most fun shows ever, completely under the spell of what had transpired previously. Foundation of Funk can save the world, one funky beat at a time.
Setlist: Foundation of Funk | 7/8/2018
High Sierra Music Festival | Quincy, CA
Set: Here Come The Metermen, Looka Py Py, Africa, Hey Pockey A-way, Pungee, Cissy Strut, Cabbage Alley, I Need More Time, Ain’t No Use, Keep On Marchin’, The Dragon, Just Kissed My Baby, Funky Miracle, No More Okey Doke, Come Together, Be My Lady The World (Doodle-Oop), People Say
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