The musical heartbeat of New Orleans families shone through in this year's New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, deeply evident when Big Chief Bo Dollis sang "I Love You" and "Goodbye" for two stanzas next to his wife while his son shook his head and looked to the skies. Bo's voice was in fine form despite his physical battles, and performing with the Wild Magnolias gave him the strength to stand up and reach out to his fans, thanking his fans for giving him a career in music. Marva Wright joined the Big Chief in a set that was as joyful as it was heartbreaking. Little Bo Dollis is the new standard bearer in The Wild Magnolias, a band that blasted Mardi Gras Indians into the public's consciousness over 30 years ago with "Smoke My Peace Pipe."
New Orleans has always been blessed with musical families including Andrews, Batiste, Boutte, Clements, Ford, French, Neville and Paulin among many others. Shamarr Allen has three budding guitar players in his household and he's now touring with Willie Nelson who is on my wish list to headline next year's Jazzfest - it's not too early to start dreaming. I should have mentioned it to Jazzfest's Quint Davis when handing him a Grass Pass, the all-access pass to a greener planet.
Representing for the twang contingency, three generations of Clements musicians (Annie, Cranston, Dave, Austin, Tyler and Lewis) gathered backstage after Annie's Sugarland gig. The teenage twins had already played a slamming original tune written with their dad, Cranston, for the Twangorama set which for the second year in a row drew a standing ovation from the Lagniappe stage. There's something about watching young musicians you used to babysit take the stage with talent that can take them as far as they want to go.
If a band can also be a family, Dr. John and the Lower 911 qualify. They have rallied around a bandmate who needs their support, broke through past a label that was done with New Orleans related songs to win a Grammy, and paid tribute to Eddie Bo at the new Rock n Bowl New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund Benefit with Marcia Ball, Joe Krown, Papa Gros, Cynthia Chen, Bob Anderson and Tom Worrell, ending in an all-star piano jam.
Members of New Orleans' rootsiest tribe, The Continental Drifters, are now mostly disbursed across the country and played a night show I regret missing. There's always the dream of a reunion tour - years from now it could include Nicolas Broussard who's been jamming to the White Stripes. Frankie Ford (the other one) sat in with Susan Cowsill on Saturday for her Covered in Vinyl show - he's 14 and already plays a mean harp.
New Orleans' musical families are growing by leaps and bounds, and it's wonderful to hear the heartbeat from stages all over town. In honor of Mother's Day, take your mom to see the Wild Magnolias the next time they play. All she'll hear from the Dollis family is love.