Wild Magnolias bring party to Carbondale
CARBONDALE – They’re nothing like the Utes, but some Indians will be riding into Carbondale Friday and with them comes a funky New Orleans-themed party – an occasion rarely seen or felt in the Roaring Fork Valley these days.The Wild Magnolias, arguably the most well-known musical act to have roots in the Crescent City’s Mardi Gras Indian tradition, are on a three-show swing through Colorado. The third and final performance is at 8 p.m. Friday at the PAC3 in Carbondale. The Wild Magnolias have been entertaining audiences for more than five decades with songs like “Handa Wanda,” “Smoke My Peace Pipe (Smoke it Right),” “Ho Na Nae” and “New Suit.” Its lineup has evolved and longtime leader Big Chief “Bo” Dollis, who has been seriously ill for the past few years, won’t be part of Friday’s concert. But even without Dollis and his trademark vocals, a unique blend of gravel and nasality, the Magnolias are a force with which to be reckoned. The band sports a few longtime New Orleans heavyweights, including percussionist and singer Norwood “Geechi” Johnson, who has assumed the leader role; Irvin “Honey” Bannister Jr., the drummer who shares vocal duties with Johnson; and guitarist June Yamagishi, a native of Japan who has become firmly entrenched in the city’s musical culture after moving to the Bayou State 16 years ago. Yamagishi also counts membership in the funky groove band Papa Grows Funk, whose leader, John Gros, is a semi-frequent visitor and performer in the Aspen area. The formidable lineup also includes Benny Spencer on bass, Keiko Komaki (also a Japan native) on keyboard, and two members of another uptown New Orleans tribe, the Buffalo Hunters, who dance and chant and shake tambourines. They’ll be dressed in the traditional “suits” of the city’s Mardi Gras Indian tribes: handmade costumes of which no two are exactly alike. Johnson and Bannister have deep roots in the Indian heritage: Bannister “masses” (the term for street gatherings on Mardi Gras Day and other selected Indian holidays) with the Creole Wild West tribe and Johnson originated with the Golden Blades before joining the Wild Magnolias. “I’ve been doing this a really long time, since the 1960s, and nothing’s really changed,” Johnson said in a phone interview from his Denver hotel. “If you come to the show, you’ll see we keep it just like you see it on the street. We take the sounds of the street and bring it to the stage. “The beat is the same beat. I try to keep it in the music. And we got a lot of Latin percussion feels and we’ll maybe do some blues to start. The show gon’ be funky. I don’t wanna say too much. We’ll open with some nice blues and June will have some nice rides on guitar. I usually feel out the crowd and when the time is right, we bring the Indians out. We’ll do some stuff from the albums and then melt it on down to the raw stuff from the street.” Those who are familiar with Indian tradition know that a lot of it is steeped in secrecy. Sometimes the various tribes congregate in a park or street corner without much advance notice in terms of time or location. They also use language and terms that are understood only among their members. “We’ll be doing some chanting, some dancing, and we have some coded stuff that I really can’t tell you about,” said Bannister. “We’ll be mixing it up with the crowd and if there’s room on the stage, we might bring some ladies up and dance with them also.” Bannister said the band had the crowd jumping last Saturday night at the Rancho del Gumbo Festival, held in a rural outdoor setting near Kremmling, about an hour’s drive south of Steamboat Springs. On Wednesday night, the Magnolias did a show at Cervantes – The Other Side, a venue in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood. “We started at 12:45 a.m. at the Gumbo Fest and people stayed to the end, which was about three in the morning,” Bannister said. “It was late, bra, but we stayed with it. We got back to the hotel after four and some of us had to catch a plane back to New Orleans at five. But we’re all back now.” He said that although Dollis’ presence is missed, the Magnolias forge ahead and stay busy. Big Chief Dollis was honored in June with a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts, considered a prestigious award among the folk and traditional arts communities. Though Dollis and former member Monk Boudreaux (big chief of the Golden Eagles tribe) were the driving forces behind the Magnolias in the early 1970s, when they recorded their groundbreaking albums and the hits for which the band is known, neither was with the band when it formed in the late 1950s. Dollis joined the band in 1964 after participating with two other tribes, the White Eagles and the Golden Arrows. Boudreaux, who is still active, was a Wild Magnolia for about 30 years before leaving 10 years ago over a business disagreement. “Bo is on dialysis and that takes a lot of strength out of a man,” Johnson said. “When he does sing, he’s pretty good. He can do one or two songs. But he hasn’t played with the band in a year or two. He’s not really up for doing anything right now.” Like Bannister, Johnson stresses that the music and its vibe are the same with or without Dollis. “Indian music is for the people. Nothing has changed. You’ll get the same feel as if Bo was there. We’re gonna bring it.”email@example.com
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