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The Rebirth Party Returns

By Jessica Forbes

Hot on the heels of a new album, a namesake beer and playing a few European festival dates, Rebirth Brass Band is returning to Vinyl Music Hall.

“Move Your Body,” released June 24, delivers all the elements that existing fans of the band have come to expect and plenty to draw new devotees. The album is Rebirth’s first solo record since 2011’s “Rebirth of New Orleans,” which won the Grammy for Best Regional Roots Album in 2012. Despite the accolade, according to trombonist Stafford Agee, it is still their fans and not expectations for awards that the band, now in its 31st year, keeps in mind when making music.

“We just think about music that we think the people are going to like, the people who come to our shows and buy our recordings,” Agee said.

The songs off of their latest release—their second on New Orleans’ Basin Street Records label and their 13th overall—stick to time-honored lyrical themes of Rebirth’s canon: some sex, some church and whole lot of dancing. The tunes themselves let Rebirth’s interpretation of the New Orleans musical tradition shine, showing their roots in second-lines, carnival parades and the myriad of musical influences that converge in New Orleans through a set of songs that is pretty much an instant party starter—and that’s no accident.

Thanks to Rebirth’s nearly relentless performance schedule—when not on the road touring, Rebirth plays a regular gig on Tuesday nights at the Maple Leaf Bar in New Orleans and numerous festivals and events in the city—the band has plenty of opportunities to see how a crowd responds to new material.

“Everything that we do is tested live, but sometimes people don’t know that they’re listening to new music unless they’ve been around a while,” Agee said. “For the most part, in a fun-filled environment, they’re really not paying attention. They’re enjoying the atmosphere. Some people might notice it and ask if it was new music you played.”

Agee began subbing with the band in 1987 and officially joined in 1988, only a few years after brothers Phil and Keith Frazier formed the group as high school students. Of the early days and the career the group may have envisioned, Agee remembers everyone was simply doing what they felt compelled to do. “It was a spiritual thing,” he said.

Decades later, Rebirth has become the unofficial ambassadors of New Orleans. The group appeared in the first episode of HBO’s “Treme,” introducing the audience to second lines and parade culture. Agee worked throughout the series’ 4-season run with actor Wendall Pierce who portrayed one of the show’s lead characters, trombonist Antoine Batiste, teaching him slide positions and playing what appeared to be Batiste’s notes on the show.

Agee said “Treme” put a spotlight the range of musicians performing in New Orleans in a more thorough way than projects of the past. “That was an up close and personal experience for the musicians, a lot of musicians who haven’t gotten such notoriety—they had a chance to let the world see their craft,” he said.

One such artist was Glen David Andrews who, along with Erica Falls, is a guest on “Move Your Body.” Andrews hails from the Treme neighborhood and is one member of the musical community that Rebirth has been able to call on when it came time to record.

“Basically anybody, any guest we have on a CD, they’re family,” Agee said. “We were in the studio and had recorded the song, but hadn’t put any vocals on it and knew something was missing. Somebody just said, ‘Let’s call Glen David.’ We called him up and he was there in 10 minutes.”

Several members of the band actively work at home with young musicians in New Orleans, keeping new members of the city’s musical community developing. Agee volunteers his time with a high school music program and founded Rebirth Instrument Repair, which serves primarily students. In April, NOLA Brewing Company released its Rebirth Pale Ale, and portions of the proceeds benefit “The Roots of Music,” a music program that snare drummer Derrick Tabb co-founded for children ages 9 to 14.

Although traveling is a large part of their work—just before their show at Vinyl Music Hall, Rebirth will return from the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, Netherlands and the Rauma Blues Festival in Finland—Agee believes the band’s hometown gigs are something they will never abandon.

“I don’t think we’ll ever give up those places because they keep us grounded. If you look back at the history of a lot of musicians and artists whether it’s R&B, jazz—they became irrelevant at home. That’s one thing that you don’t want to do because home is where you got your everything from.” Agee also added that no matter where they play, Rebirth still finds joy in bringing the party. “It stays fresh—from the first time to the last time, because we still enjoy what we’re doing.”

REBIRTH BRASS BAND
WHAT: Rebirth Brass Band with RumpelSTEELskin
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, July 18
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox
COST: $15
DETAILS: vinylmusichall.com