With the live music schedule as packed as it is right now, the number of options are almost paralyzing for somebody who loves live music as much as I do. This week alone, we can take our pick of legendary artists, pop stars, local talents, jam bands, Latin music, blues, neo-soul, heavy rock — and the list goes on.
I couldn’t possibly tell you which shows will be the most worthwhile. But if I had to rank them all from must-see to maybe, these two New Orleans legends would probably top my list.
I know I’m going to show my true millenial colors when I admit this, but I had no idea who Dr. John was until my sophomore year of college, when some friends showed me “The Last Waltz” for the first time.
Martin Scorcese’s 1978 film documented The Band’s farewell concert in San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom — which, for me, was the opposite of a farewell.
I knew all the other artists who showed up on the documentary: Neil Young, Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell, and so on. But I almost felt resentful that I had gone 19 years without ever hearing this one guy who came on stage wearing sunglasses, a black beret and a pink sparkling jacket, singing like a more whimsical version of Tom Waits.
From that moment, Dr. John was like a portal to a whole culture of music that I had never really been exposed to. I binged on his albums like “Gris Gris” and “Desitively Bonnaroo,” (which, by the way, is what the Tennessee music festival Bonnaroo is named after). Soon, I was off listening to other New Orleans greats he had collaborated with, like Allen Toussaint and Professor Longhair.
Whenever I go on a deep dive like that, it ultimately dead-ends somewhere, either at the end of a collection or in the middle of some weird midlife-crisis album that came just before an artist’s hiatus or something. But the great thing about Dr. John is, he’s still here, and he’s still making amazing music.
In 2014, he released “Ske-Dat-De-Dat…The Spirit Of Satch,” a tribute to one of his first idols, Louis Armstrong, which featured a supporting cast that included Arturo Sandoval, Bonnie Raitt, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and several other decorated musicians.
On Friday, he plays some of those tunes as well as his originals at the Charleston Music Hall as part of a short tour to Boone, N.C.; Charlottesville, Va. and Nashville. He’ll be backed by his band, The Nite Trippers, featuring music director and trombone player Sarah Morrow, bassist Pete Griffin and guitarist Jamie Kime.
Bottom line, he’s one of the most decorated R&B musicians from New Orleans with six Grammy Awards under his belt, and he’s coming here to play for us the same week as Mardi Gras. Something tells me it’s going to be a pretty special night.
Tickets are $39.50-$69.50 and the show starts at 8 p.m. with an opening set by the local singer-songwriter Avi Jacob. For more information, call the box office at 843-853-2252 or go to www.charlestonmusichall.com.
Also coming to town from New Orleans this week is Anders Osborne, a blues guitarist who’s built a sizable fan base in the jam band world recently thanks to his collaborations with Phil Lesh and Friends, Warren Haynes and the North Mississippi All Stars.
While his profile seems to have been elevated only about five years ago with “American Patchwork,” his formidable debut on Alligator Records, Osborne has been at it a while. As a teenager, he left home in Sweden to travel the world with little more than his acoustic guitar. He busked on the streets around Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and eventually in New Orleans, where he’s been for nearly 35 years.
He learned English while busking in the French Quarter, which explains his European-meets-Cajun accent. He eventually moved from street corners to small clubs, and then to a small Crescent City record label, which released his debut album, “Doin’ Fine” in 1989.
For the next decade and a half, he built a name for himself in the recording industry with his distinctive mix of blues, folk and rock. He also spent some time writing music in Nashville, most notably for Keb Mo’s 1999 album “Slow Down,” and Tim McGraw’s hit “Watch The Wind Blow By,” which they co-wrote.
Today, it’s his masterful guitar-wielding that seems to have taken center stage in Osborne’s recorded work and live performances. He added a heap of raw honesty to his brand of roots rock after a life-changing struggle with substance abuse, and now his earnest lyrics often come with screaming slide solos on his six-string.
It’s a powerfully emotional technique that’s awarded him comparisons to other Southern rock greats like Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers. And I couldn’t help but notice that his latest single, “Lafayette,” which made its debut last month, sounds eerily similar to the late Levon Helm.
Speaking of Helm, his daughter, Amy Helm, is on a North American tour with Osborne, which — you guessed it — makes its way to the Lowcountry this weekend. She’s promoting her debut album, “Didn’t it Rain,” while Osborne is in support of his forthcoming release, “Spacedust and Ocean Views.”
Helm opens the show at the Charleston Pour House at 1977 Maybank Highway on Sunday at 8 p.m., followed by a headlining performance by Osborne. Tickets are $20 in advance and $23 at the door. For more information, go to www.charlestonpourhouse.com.
Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail