Story by Sharon Armstrong.
A guitarist, a bassist, a drummer and a mandolin player all walk into a bar in San Francisco – what do you get? The answer is the distinctly New Orleans blending of funk, roots music and country that is the Honey Island Swamp Band.
Stranded in San Francisco after Katrina, guitarist Chris Mulé and mandolin player Aaron Wilkinson were wondering what was next when serendipity decided to lend a hand in the shape of drummer Garland Paul and bassist Sam Price.
“It was funny,” said Mulé. “We had just been on our off time and we didn’t know that Sam and Garland were even there. We were hanging out at the Boom Boom Room and they showed up. We had all played together in separate groups, so we knew each other. It was just kinda convenient.”
Within scant weeks, the newly christened Honey Island Swamp Band was hard at work bringing the music of the Crescent City to the Emerald City. However, although they had weekly gigs at the Boom Boom, described by Mulé as a ‘home away from home for New Orleans musicians’, and at Pier 23, a roadhouse overlooking the San Francisco Bay, they just couldn’t say goodbye to New Orleans.
“I had full time work out there, and no work here, so I lived there for about a year,” said Mulé. “Where I was living at was flooded so I didn’t have a house to come home to - I lived right by City Park. I stayed away for about a year and then I decided that regardless of that, I was going home. I was from New Orleans, and each time we came back to do a show, it just got more and more emotional. I loved it out there, it was fun, but I just couldn’t take it any more.”
So how does being based in New Orleans compare to living Out West?
“I think that club owners here in New Orleans are always about trying to help New Orleans bands out,” said Aaron Wilkinson.
“The only challenge is that there are so many bands here, they only have a limited amount of weekends per month, but I think everybody does a pretty fair job of giving everybody in town a fair shot. The Bon Temps has been great, definitely, and d.b.a has been a great venue from the day that it came there. Frenchmen has seen a lot of changes. Café Brazil used to be a music club, the Spotted Cat is now come and gone, the Blue Nile is thankfully still the Blue Nile, but Frenchmen Street is kinda the life-blood of New Orleans music - if we didn’t have Frenchmen then it would be a totally different scenario," he said.
So, what would it take to persuade the band to establish a base somewhere other than New Orleans?
“Nothing,” replied Mulé firmly. “Nothing permanently. This is home.”
Further information on upcoming Honey Island Swamp Band shows can be found at