New Orleans brass band The Soul Rebels playing Mardi Gras in Snowmass Village
IF YOU GO …
Who: The Soul Rebels
Where: Mardi Gras Celebration, Snowmass Base Village
When: Tuesday, Feb. 25, 3:30-6 p.m.
How much: Free
More info: Snowmass Village’s 38th annual Mardi Gras celebration also includes the El Jebel Shrine Pipe Band and carnival performers (noon-3p.m.), beat toss (3 p.m.), King Cake and s’mores (3:30 p.m.), DJ Berkel Beats (6 p.m.) and fireworks (7 p.m.); gosnowmass.com
It doesn’t get more New Orleans than The Soul Rebels — the explosive brass band who has defined and redefined the Crescent City sound for the past two decades.
But on Fat Tuesday, the inventive eight-piece won’t be on St. Charles Avenue watching the Zulu parade or at the Mardi Gras Day neighborhood parties that take over the city. They’ll be slopeside in Snowmass Base Village, performing at the ski resort’s 38th annual Mardi Gras celebration.
“We love to be at home during Mardi Gras, but any chance we get to go out and play for different fans we love it,” trumpeter Marcus Hubbard said in a recent phone interview.
They did stick around New Orleans for the weekend to partake of the parades and revelry in their hometown, but are excited to get back on the road and continue the band’s relatively recent breakout onto the national stage. They’re coming off a big year that included performances with Katy Perry, a collaboration with the Wu-Tang Clan and the new album “Poetry in Motion,” released in October.
For the past two decades, the Soul Rebels have played a legendary weekly bar show at Le Bon Temps Roule in Uptown New Orleans, where they’ve solidified their hometown fanbase and refined their sound. Though they’ve been touring nationally — and playing ski country — for years, it’s still their home court.
The new album includes the anthemic “Greatness.” If you watch ESPN, you’ve definitely heard it as the ubiquitous theme song for the network’s college basketball broadcasts this season. It’s fitting that this is the Soul Rebels track reaching a global audience, as it is something of a Soul Rebels statement of purpose.
“We think we’ve been put on this Earth to do something great, no matter what obstacles are put in front of us,” Hubbard said. “And whatever craft people are doing, they have to strive to be the best. We wanted to create a song that would speak to that. I think that’s what people are gravitating toward, because it’s an anthem that pushes you to be the best that you are.”
It’s among the 12 high-gear tracks on “Poetry in Motion,” the first full-length release from the band since 2012’s “Unlock Your Mind.” Meticulously written and recorded over more than two years, “Poetry in Motion” marks a creative turn, spotlighting mostly songs with vocals from a diverse slate of collaborators rather than the signature brass instrumentals.
It includes guest spots from New Orleans heavy-hitters like Big Freedia and Trombone Shorty and national figures Bon Iver’s Sean Carey and new jazz trailblazer Robert Glasper.
The prominent use of vocals and lyrics came after a band discussion about the limitations of instrumental-only tracks connecting with an audience on an album. After recent live collaborations with the likes of DMX, Nas, Talib Kweli and Metallica, they wanted some Soul Rebels songs for fans to sing along to.
“We perform with a lot of guest MCs and we always have to perform their songs,” said trumpeter Julian Gosin. “So we said, ‘Going forward we want to perform our own songs. Those guest emcees can perform our songs and we can have crowds that know our songs.’ That was the intention behind it.”
The group started gigging around New Orleans in 1991. Brass bands, for generations, have been bubbling up from New Orleans neighborhoods and responding to the street culture and music of the moment. The Soul Rebels took cues from pop music and the New Orleans brass tradition — as the Dirty Dozen and Rebirth had before them — but the Soul Rebels also integrated hip-hop from the start.
“At the time, hip-hop was really prevalent, so it was natural merging that into what we were already doing,” Hubbard said. “In New Orleans brass bands, you have standard songs that you have to learn to be respected in that family of brass bands. But we always wanted to do what came natural to us. We weren’t trying to be different, we were just trying to be who we are.”
The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival recently announced a 2020 performance from Soul Rebels with Wu-Tang Clan, a next step in the two groundbreaking bands’ collaboration and the beginning of a summer tour. The band toured with Wu-Tang’s GZA a few years ago and did a memorable NPR Tiny Desk Concert with the rapper, which led to live performances with Raekwon and then a backstage conversation with RZA about a full tour as the legendary Staten Island hip-hop group’s backing band.
“The relationship just kind of blossomed,” Gosin explained.
It’s an ideal match, he added. Since their early days, the Soul Rebels looked to Wu-Tang as a creative model for the way the sprawling group lets bandmembers shine individually and for the singular sound they created.
“We tried to model the band after Wu-Tang, from a musical standpoint,” Gosin said. “They came out and started a whole genre of hip-hop. That’s the approach we’ve taken in the brass band style — everybody being their own individual in the band and not being limited to one style or genre of music. We modeled that after Wu-Tang.”
Informed by the diverse tastes of its members, a Soul Rebels show might include funked-up New Orleans traditionals, a Hall & Oates or Kendrick Lamar cover along with their anthemic originals. It’s been that way from the start.
“It was a mixture of the band members, the kinds of music they love,” Hubbard said. “We had to throw open the door for any element any of the guys want to add to the mix, to make our own quote-unquote gumbo. We’ve been doing that ever since, sticking to who we are.”
And they’ve found that their sound travels well, meshing somehow with crowds in scenes as far-flung as this week’s après-ski show.
“We are firm believers that good music is going to translate wherever,” Hubbard said. “We bring our energy and our vibe wherever we are, no matter what kind of crowd we are playing to.”
But there is one major difference playing above the clouds at 8,000 feet in Snowmass Village, Julian noted: “I’ll definitely have my oxygen tank this time.”
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