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Ponderosa Stomp Rocks and Rattles New Orleans: Stomp#4 Review:

Posted by Todd A. Price on May 04, 2005 02:22 PM

A strange crowd can be found any night in New Orleans. The oddest collection of characters, however, gathers annually in the days between the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival at the Ponderosa Stomp , two nights of obscure R&B, swamp pop, blues, garage band and surf guitarists. An individual of indeterminate gender checks tickets at the door. Black guys in zoot suits gather in the corner. A hulking man, as hunched over as Herman Munster, prowls the entrance. White girls dressed as fake Mardi Gras Indians hop and hoot in the audience. An old cowboy, his black shirt embroidered with white and a grey pony tail falling from his hat, drinks beers and nods to the music. Yo La Tengo hangs out at the bar. They aren't playing anywhere in town, so they must have flown in just to listen.

The Ponderosa Stomp runs nearly twelve hours a night and the music never stops at Rock 'n' Bowl's two stages. A house band backs many of the artists, who have often been coaxed out of retirement by the Stomp's organizers. The play a few songs, step down, and immediately the next act begins. After seeing a different musician every half hour, my head was spinning and my ears were ringing. I scribbled pages of notes, but I walked out remembering a few vivid highlights.

Travis Wammack, who gained a reputation in the 1950s as the fastest guitarist in Memphis, muscled his way through his song "Karate Time." Elvis' original guitarist Scotty Moore reprised his glory days on an all Elvis set with Billy Swan filling in for the King (see photo at left). Dressed in a gold jacket, slide guitarist Johnny Farina played such a blistering style of 1950s rock that I realized my parents' music could match the raw energy of punk. In an R&B revue, zydeco legend Buckwheat Zydeco handled B-3 organ duties, a instrument he played for James Brown in the early years of his career. Phil Phillips sang his original version of "Sea of Love," covered many years later by Robert Plant and the Honeydrippers.

Some of the people in the audience look like they first heard these tunes when the artists released the original 45s. Others must have discovered the music long after the fact, like the twentysomething woman with cherry colored hair who started jumping up and down with recognition when Arch Hall Jr. and the Archers, reunited for the first time in 40 years, launch into a track off their 1962 album "Brownsville Road." I've now got a long list of obscure albums I need to track down.

I may be run out of New Orleans as a heretic for saying this, but the Ponderosa Stomp is three times the fun of Jazz Fest. Next year, I plan to come earlier and stay later.
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