A faithful few funk fans “got on the good foot” for an evening of soulful and funky music last Friday at the Babcock Theater in downtown Billings.
Hailed as the “1st Annual Funk Fest,” “New Orleans to Montana Jam” and “Bringing the Big Easy to the Big Sky,” the concert failed to bring in the crowd it deserved, but those who attended were served up a big bowl of jambalaya to dance to.
What was billed as “A Historical Musical Funk Gumbo” was celebrated by 60 or 70 Billings music fans – about half of whom were dancing for most of the evening. While the turnout may have been a disappointment, let’s hope that it doesn’t discourage a “second annual” event next year.
The headlining act could easily be on the main stage at Magic City Blues. One of the four New Orleans-based Neville Brothers, Cyril Neville has won Grammy Awards, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the New Orleans magazine, Offbeat, as well as multiple Beat Music Awards for Best Blues Artist, Best Blues Album and Best Blues Vocalist. His most recent album, “Magic Honey,” has received a 2014 Blues Foundation Award nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album.
Cyril and his wife, Gaynielle “Queen G” Neville, headlined, but they shared the stage for much of the night with Montana’s very own Andrew Gromiller and his band, the Organically Grown.
If they weren’t such partners in music, Gromiller could be said to be giving the Nevilles a run for their money, as his energetic stage presence and powerful voice are a sight and sound to behold.
From the opening song, the title track to Gromiller’s album, “Nasty Groove,” to a variety of selections sung solo or in conjunction with Cyril and Gaynielle, including a funked-up version of “Queen Bee,” the jams were as fun as they were funky.
Not only were the Nevilles sharing the stage, but Gromiller’s wife, Christine, sang backup vocals, and their 16-year-old son, Zion, played drums throughout. He was impressive, playing the funky beats held down in the past by the likes of Mike Gillen, one of Gallatin County’s finest drummers.
Another of Gallatin County’s finest players, Eddie Tsuru, was playing his usual smooth funky bass grooves. For this short tour, he was joined by the Nevilles’ bass player, Manny Yanes. The bass and drum heavy sound was a bit much at times, but those dancing didn’t seem to mind.
One of the finest bass players in Billings, Parker Brown, and his regular partner in crime, guitarist Alex Nauman, were part of the opening act, the Big Caboose All-Stars. Led by keyboardist and vocalist Scott Morales, Big Caboose has had a number of players rotating in its ranks through the years, hence the “All Stars” tag for this gig. There were a few familiar faces in the horn section, including Montana State University Billings music professor John Roberts on trombone.
They played a selection of classic funk and R&B hits from the likes of James Brown; Earth, Wind and Fire; Kool and the Gang; Tower of Power; and Stevie Wonder.
The mini tour started last week at the Wilma Theater in Missoula and headed to the Ellen Theater in Bozeman before winding down at the Babcock.
While a major draw in the Bozeman area, Andrew Gromiller and the Organically Grown have performed only a few times in Billings. To hear what might have been missed, find him at www.AndrewGromiller.com, on Facebook, and check out his five most recent albums at CDBaby.com.