grow up to be a rock star

Leo Nocentelli at Jazz Fest.

At a recent New Orleans Musicians for Obama benefit, I was leaning against the bar, uploading a photo from my phone, when I heard someone sidle up next to me and order a coke. I turned to see one of the performers, Meters guitarist Leo Nocentelli.

“Hey, Leo,” I said. “I’m from Wyoming. I hear you’re coming our way this summer for a music camp.”

“Jackson Hole,” he said in the most cool-cat voice imaginable. “Check it out.”

The funk master behind such classics as “Cissy Strut” is indeed part of the staff for the Jackson Hole Rock Camp on July 9-13. Also lending their talents are DJ Logic and hip-hop artist Brother Ali, among other distinguished players.

The camp is for kids 12 and older, and instruction will cover a variety of instruments. Given the teachers, don’t be surprised if some “big kids” hang around the classroom, too. Scholarships ($650) are available.

In 2008, Nocentelli played one of the most impressive gigs ever held at Center for the Arts, a show that unfortunately too few got to see.

New Orleans Musicians for Obama, featuring Big Sam, Leo, Zig, Cyril and Charles Neville, George Porter Jr. and Dr. John, among others. Click to enlarge.

The summer of 2008 saw a flood of great music in Jackson Hole, and on the heels of the Jackson Hole Music Festival and Targhee Bluegrass Fest, the Tipitina’s Foundation brought a group of New Orleans musicians to Jackson. The who’s who of the Big Easy were en route from the GOP and Democratic national conventions, where they reminded leaders of the importance of rebuilding New Orleans. The Dems’ convention was in Denver, so the bus tour made two other stops, in Aspen and a last-minute swing through Jackson, for fund-raisers.

That afternoon, Jackson’s NOLAphiles turned out for a second-line parade around the Town Square. But by night, their funds depleted from the preceding blowouts, most music fans could not afford the $50 ticket. The crowd numbered perhaps 125 people, who filled the first few rows in front of the stage. For a change, the lights were dimmed and the place had the feel of a real rock concert.

Another hurricane was bearing down on New Orleans. Backstage, musicians worried about their families, making calls to be sure relatives had evacuated. The episode brought back painful memories from Hurricane Katrina. With no other choice, they did what people from New Orleans always do when confronted by hard times: play music and dance.

Leo and Paul McCartney. Live on the Queen Mary was recorded during a party The Meters played for McCartney.

And play they did, for hour after hour of soulful funk and blistering jams. There were intermissions between sets for everyone to catch their breath.

Earlier that day, I had listened to The Meters’ Live on the Queen Mary while cleaning my house. I thought, If only The Meters sounded like that now.

That night, I wound up in the front row, right in front of Nocentelli, as he fired up the first notes of “Fiyo on the Bayou” with bandmates George Porter Jr. and Zigaboo Modeliste. My jaw just about hit the floor. It was if Leo heard what I said earlier and set out to prove me a clown. I threw my hands up in surrender as he wailed.

There are going to be some funky kids in Jackson after the rock camp.

(Jazz Fest and McCartney photos via Nocentelli.com)

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