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No Nostalgia's Dale Lawrence: An Extra Week In New Orleans - Stomp 2002 Review

...The Ponderosa Stomp was the name of the mammoth roots-fest organized by an aggregation of rock 'n' roll geeks known as the Mystic Knights of the Mau-Mau. Banding together "to bring the real obscure and true heroes of rock and roll to New Orleans," the Mau-Maus had been putting on cool shows (Howard Tate, Billy Lee Riley) for a few years now, but the Stomp was easily their most ambitious undertaking: 47 names over three nights, including Dave Bartholomew, Earl Palmer, Hubert Sumlin, Scotty Moore, James Blood Ulmer, James Burton, Barbara Lynn, Paul Burlison, Dale Hawkins, Lazy Lester, Tony Joe White, and DJ Fontana. Despite the presence of Sumlin, I skipped the blues-oriented opening night, showing up Wednesday when the rockabilly guys were scheduled. The venue was an old uptown building called the Fine Arts Center. I was expecting a small theatre setting and was fairly stunned when I walked in the door: The place looked more like a miniature (and especially gorgeous) VFW hall, all whitewashed wood, with a "stage" just inches off the ground. There was a bar, food available, a balcony, and good sound. It was the coolest music room I'd found yet in New Orleans.

The event itself could hardly have been any better conceived or organized. It began at 6:00 each evening and lasted 'til the wee hours of the morning, with the headliners on stage by 9:30. It was largely tag-team rock, different combinations of musicians playing together throughout the night. There was a reunion of the original Louisiana Hayride house band (where Burton and Fontana both got their starts), who backed up Dale Hawkins. Herb Remington, a pedal steel player from Bob Wills' Texas Playboys, sat in with various lineups. Even the last-call blues jams that ended the evenings were liable to include remnants of Sam Cooke's or Slim Harpo's old bands.

The main event Wednesday night was a lineup of rockabilly guitar gods: For over an hour, Scotty Moore, James Burton, and Paul Burlison played together (backed by DJ Fontana and an anonymous local bass player), vocals provided by either Dale Hawkins or the late Johnny Burnette's son, Rocky. Like many of the Stomp's lineups, they seemed under-rehearsed, sometimes sloppy. When they caught fire, it was usually due to James Burton. Moore and Burlison, although good, never quite shook off the air of someone performing an elegant historical demonstration ("Yep, that's how we did it"). Burton's solos testified to the fact that he's never retired from playing: They were gnarled, red hot wonders. He had the rig, he had the tone (instantly recognizable from the Ricky Nelson records he'd starred on), and he played like a wild man, even if he looked like Floyd the barber. (At this point of the evening, everyone on stage, save for the bassist, was wearing bi-focals.) Everyone had their moments though. "Mystery Train" and "Honey Hush" sounded especially great. What should have been the highpoint of the evening, "Suzie-Q," was marred by DJ Fontana, who came in on the wrong beat and stayed there for half the song. (He never did actually play the right beat -- you'd think he'd never heard the song before -- but at least he found the count.) The relatively sparse attendance (300 tops) made navigating the room a breeze: By the time the heavy hitters started showing up, I was standing front row center -- which finally was the most otherworldly thing about the entire event. I can't quite describe how unreal -- how unnerving -- it feels to be standing directly in front of Scotty Moore, literally a foot away, as he plays the solos to "Heartbreak Hotel" and "That's All Right." ...

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