All month long in New York City, Lincoln Center has been hosting a fantastic series of free concerts in their outdoor bandshell, with a very eclectic lineup. Last Friday, they focused on the worldly traditions of Carnaval. Of course, there’s no one better to carry the New Orleans Carnaval torch than the legendary Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and his Golden Eagles. An elder statesman of the Mardi Gras Indian tradition, Monk has the strength and leadership of a tribal chief with the ancient wisdom and worldly intuitiveness of a true medicine man, and a great ear for music to round it out. He uplifted and inspired the crowd at Lincoln Center with his unique songs, delivered wonderfully by a great band and noble stature on stage, adorned in a bright yellow headdress and scaled-down suit that bolstered some splendidly sewn beaded patches. I was happy to recognize old friends Joe Gelini holding it down on drums and boogie-woogie professor Tom Worrell on keys. The band sounded great. Monk also had his old friend’s son Bo Dollis Jr. onstage singing backup and sporting a gorgeous bright blue-feathered suit with some lovely beaded patches. To those in the crowd who’d never seen a Mardi Gras Indian, Monk and the boys gave them quite a memorable experience that will no doubt stay with them for years to come, and for me, a New Orleanian “in exile”, who has marched many miles with the Big Chief on the streets of New Orleans, it was very cool to see him perform in such a different setting and see a different crowd react to Monk’s wonderful gifts.
Big Chief Boudreaux performed many of the classic Mardi Gras Indian chants and call-and-response songs, as well as other assorted staples of the New Orleans canon, like “Lil Liza Jane” and “Go To The Mardi Gras.” He also performed some of his original songs, taken off his solo records, like the reggae-infused “Rising Sun.” Monk explained to the crowd that when he comes up with his original tunes and goes into the studio, he never has a pre-concieved notion of how they’ll be arranged, he just goes in there to sing how he feels that day. Like everything that Monk Boudreaux does in his life, its all straight from the heart. That to me is what makes his music so pure and so timeless. He reaches back centuries when he performs, honoring his ancestors and the practitioners that came before him. One time a musician asked him, “Hey Monk, what key is this song in?” to which Monk replied “Boy, this goes back to before they even had keys!”
Lincoln Center was packed for this performance and I’m sure there were quite a few people there who were well-aware of Monk Boudreaux’s celebrated legacy (some even sporting WWOZ shirts to my delight), but even those who weren’t familiar with the Big Chief were quite taken with his performance, and knew they were seeing something special. The Golden Eagles’ set was followed by a Brazilian carnaval troupe that also sported very colorful costumes, heavy percussion and more call-and-response type songs. Afterwards they, along with Monk and the Golden Eagles, led a parade through Lincoln Center’s lovely outdoor area. A sparkling gem of an evening on the crown of a wonderful series of concerts, and one that once again makes me proud to bow-down to the Big Chief of the Nation, Monk Boudreaux. Coojchi-mali!!!