The Greenwich Town Party 2023: Get Ready for the Big Easy

above: Irma Thomas, Trombone Shorty & Wyclef Jean

Since 2011 the Greenwich Town Party has become the launchpad for the summer season. Originally modeled after town parties in Spain, where villages come together for a day of music, food and fun, the party’s founders set a high bar that first year, when they brought in Blues great Buddy Guy to headline. Over time, the GTP has consistently presented a who’s who of top-tier talent—Eric Clapton, James Taylor, Santana, among others—culminating last year with the biggest “get” to date—Billy Joel.

To keep things fresh, this year’s party is headed in a slightly different direction. Going back to its roots—with the emphasis on party—GTP 2023 takes its cue from the New Orleans Jazz + Heritage festival, with a star-studded lineup of the Big Easy’s most iconic and revered musicians and performers. Billed as a “New Orleans Music Festival,” the day’s closing performance features the Preservation Hall Superjam with the likes of Wyclef Jean, “Trombone” Shorty, Ivan Neville and Cyril Neville, Irma Thomas, George Porter Jr, Celisse and Tarriona “Tank” Ball of Tank and the Bangas and more.

“Partygoers will get to experience the versatility of these musicians and the breath of their talent, and it will be truly amazing,” says Ben Jaffe, the musical director of Preservation Hall, Preservation Hall Jazz Band leader and co-musical director of this year’s festivities. He’s joined by longtime pal and co-musical director Eric Krasno, a multi Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter and producer, who originally hails from New Canaan.

“Over the years our goal has always been to put on a show that will knock your socks off, and this year is no different,” says Ray Rivers, GTP co- president. “These award-winning New Orleans-based artists will give the crowd a truly unforgettable performance. The music scene there has always been important, as it has influenced many genres from jazz and blue to rock and roll, hip hop and R&B. My wife, Amy, and I both grew up in Louisiana, so the New Orleans vibe is very much a part of our DNA. We are thrilled to finally bring the best of this celebrated music to Greenwich.”

One of those parts is singer-songwriter Ivan Neville, member of the Neville family whose New Orleans roots go about as deep as it’s possible to go. He’s looking forward to bringing the spirit of New Orleans and its distinctive musical vibe to Greenwich. Comparing that vibe to a musical gumbo, he says, “There’s a mixture of different entities—from Caribbean to Afro—that’s unique to New Orleans. Just like we do with a gumbo, we put everything we got in a pot, prepare it with love, and serve it out.”

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band gets the party started on the main stage at 2 p.m., followed by blues legend Mavis Staples and alt rock and roll band The Revivalists. Preservation Hall Jazz Band (PHJB) and friends close out the evening. “The house band alone is enough draw for me,” says Krasno, referring to PHJB. “Then you start to add all these other great artists on top of that and you’re going to see some really special collaborations.”

“It’s exciting to be part of the evolution of the event,” says Jaffe. “It really touches on the spirt of the Greenwich Town Party, which is great music and good times and celebration of community.”

And speaking of community, this year for the first time the Preservation Hall Foundation is partnering with local schools to offer a “master class” in brass music with members of the Preservation Hall Brass Band. Members of the Greenwich High School Jazz Band and Brunswick Music Improv Band, among others, will have an opportunity to learn several songs from the Foundation’s Brass Band handbook and participate in a master class with the PHBB. The school bands will march and play in a Mardi Gras-style parade on Tuesday, May 23. On Saturday, May 27, they will perform during the town party on the town stage. It was Jaffe, along with Ray Dalio, who cooked up this year’s educational initiative. “Bringing music into the schools was part of the idea at the onset,” Jaffe says. “I said, ‘We can come and do a concert, but what would really be important is to leave a true lasting impression on the community. The way to do that is to get to the children.’ I said, ‘Let’s get into the community and into the schools. Let’s have a full immersive New Orleans takeover.’ ”

 

BEHIND THE MUSIC

BEN JAFFE shares what it takes to bring New Orleans magic to the stage

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band is no stranger to the GTP. This will be the band’s fifth appearance. But it’s the first time that its musical director Ben Jaffe is taking the reins as GTP co-musical director along with his pal and Grammy-Award winning musician Eric Krasno. We had a chance to catch up with Jaffe a few days after Mardi Gras. “I’m still licking my wounds,” he said with a chuckle. “It was one of the best in recent memory. Coming out of Covid, this was the first with no major restrictions on it, and there was a certain freedom in that.”

Ben Jaffe (fourth from left) with The Preservation Hall Jazz Band

How did the idea for the New Orleans Super Jam come about?
Ray Dalio and I had been talking about it for years. This magical thing that is New Orleans and what it is that keeps bringing people back year after year— it’s something that’s hard to put your finger on. We know from living here there’s this unique energy that is so important to our identity as a city, and it’s the reason we have the cultural and musical traditions that we have, and that’s what we wanted to explore at the GTP.

Tell us about the first time you met Ray Dalio.
We met at Preservation Hall. Ray was attending a performance during Jazz Fest, which is a very special time of year. It is the granddaddy of American music festivals, a celebration of New Orleans music and food and art and culture and history. He was attending one of our Midnight Preserves, where we collaborate with many of the headliners, and we just got to talking. He’s somebody who is touched by the work that we do and feels very connected to the depth of the musical history that is New Orleans. Pres Hall is a very unique organic experience. There’s nothing else like it in the world. Ray said, “I have this event I host in Greenwich and would be great if you all would consider coming up.” And that’s where the friendship started.

What did it take to curate the day?
When you put on an event, it’s like hosting a dinner party. There has to be continuity. The soup has to lead to the salad and to the appetizer and the entrée; all the flavors and energy are connected. The people who are performing and the people who are attending are connected. All of this is very normal to us in New Orleans. Everybody is connected to music, so there is no separation. Everything is one entity. People in Greenwich are going to experience the versatility of these musicians and the breath of their talent, and it will be truly amazing.

Can you talk about this year’s artists?
We have some incredible New Orleans legends joining us. There will be four main stage performances—Dirty Dozen Brass Band, followed by Mavis Staples, followed by The Revivalists, one of the great New Orleans rock and roll bands. The closing set will feature PHJB joined by special guests, including Eric Krasno on guitar. Many of the songs we are going to perform that night aren’t necessarily Pres Hall Jazz Band songs.

We’ll be pulling some surprises out of our pocket. We’ll be joined on stage by Trombone Shorty, Revivalist David Shaw, George Porter and one of the sons of Aaron Neville, Ivan Neville, on piano; and Ms. Irma Thomas, the Soul Queen of New Orleans. We will have a younger generation of musicians, too. The lead singer of Tank and the Bangas represents the now generation following in the footsteps of people like Irma Thomas. It will be just a beautiful lovefest.

You’ve said that music is the glue that binds your community. How does that relate to the GTP?
There are only handful of things in life that connect us all, and music is one of those things that brings people closer. It connects generations. And that’s a beautiful thing to be part of and celebrate. It’s a real blessing to do what I get to do in life—to play music, to produce events and curate music and share that with other communities that value community. With all the joy that music brings us, this choice we make comes with a lot of commitment and a lot of sacrifice; and moments like this are what makes our lives worthwhile.

Tell us about your work with Eric Krasno, whom I believe you have collaborated with on other projects. How is he a good fit for the GTP’s New Orleans Music Festival?
He is a dear old friend of mine, an adopted son of New Orleans. He’s what I would call a student of New Orleans music. Most people think he’s from New Orleans because he has such deep knowledge and appreciation of the city and its music. He and I go back many years. He really exemplifies and represents the best of the best, and I want the concert to represent the best of the best.

What are you most excited about?
It’s exciting to be part of the evolution of the event. There’s a responsibility that comes with that. I’ve lived through that at Pres Hall, and I’ve had to navigate coming through things that are evolving over time. I really applaud the GTP for what on the surface seems like a departure, but it’s really an evolution that touches on the spirt of the GTP, which is great music, good times, and celebration of community.

 

SOUL QUEEN

One-on-one with the legendary IRMA THOMAS

Irma Thomas has been performing for more than sixty years. Now, eighty-two, she will join the Preservation Hall Super Jam at the Greenwich Town Party. She first began recording professionally in her teens, and by the mid-1960s her career was taking off. She has numerous awards under her belt, including a Grammy for After the Rain, is a member of the Blues Hall of Fame and has been a fixture at nearly every New Orleans Jazz + Heritage festival for the past twenty-five years. Most recently, a new generation of fans have discovered her through Netflix’s Black Mirror, where her hit “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)” is frequently played. She first recorded the song in 1964. “I still have not watched the show,” she says. “I’m a game show addict.”

You are known as the Soul Queen of New Orleans. That’s quite an honor. Do you remember the first time you heard that title?
My drummer at the time, Wilbur Widow, was doing the intro of the band members and the main performer, which was me, and he was trying to come up with something unique. He knew I was a grandmother, but he didn’t want to call me the singing grandmother, so he came up with the title of Soul Queen. The city council made it official on February 17, 1989.

You’ve worked and collaborated with some of the greats in the business. Does that ever get old?
Not really. It’s part of my being an entertainer. Some great things happen to you, and it’s all a part of the growth. I’ve been blessed to work for some nice entertainers, and so I count the blessings.

How do you feel about performing at the GTP?
I feel that somebody there must appreciate my music or wouldn’t be bringing me to the area. At age eighty-two there isn’t a lot that I get excited about. Because I’ve been there and done that. I just happen to be blessed to do something as a job that I love to do. Other than that, I’m looking forward to doing the show and hope everyone has a good time.

Is there one song that you consider nearest to your heart?
“Wish Someone Would Care.” It’s been almost forty years since I recorded it, and I also wrote it. It put me into the major charts. Basically, all the songs I’ve sung I consider my favorites. I make a choice of a good song that tells a good story, because I know I have to live with it.

 

BRINGING THE JOY

DAVID SHAW on being a servant to the art of music

David Shaw (seated, center), with the Rivivalists

The lead singer and cofounder of the Revivalists, David Shaw grew up in Ohio and relocated to New Orleans nearly twenty years ago. The band’s first breakthrough hit was 2015’s Men Amongst Mountains, which featured the double-platinum single “Wish I Knew You.” Their newest album, Pour It Out Into The Night, drops on June 2. The single “Kid” and its accompanying music video released earlier this spring had half a million streams in the first week.

How did a kid from Ohio end up as an adopted son of New Orleans?
I just graduated college, and music was always a really special thing in my life. I knew I wanted to take it a little further and explore that part of myself and my art. Didn’t want to move to New York or LA or Nashville, and New Orleans came onto the scene. I visited and said, “Oh my gosh yes, this is the place for me.” It’s not a music business town—no shade on L.A. or New York or Nashville. It’s a music culture town, and it really fosters the artists in a way that a lot of places don’t. Music is what this city revolves around. It’s a really special energy. I was a construction worker at the time, putting in all the gas line that needed to be replaced from Katrina. I did that for many years before I made the switch to rock and roll.

What is it about New Orleans music that speaks to your soul? In what ways do the Revivalists incorporate that vibe into the music?
At the end of the day, we let the song lead the way. We like to dip into a lot of different styles, but at the end of the day we are servants of the song and servants of the art. We are so lucky to have music in our lives. I love the free spiritedness of music here in New Orleans, and that’s one of the things we try to infuse into our live shows. I love to go with the moment. Yeah, I’ll make a set list, but certain songs will change depending on the energy of the crowd and the band, and I think that’s in the spirit of New Orleans.

How does it feel to be included in this amazing lineup of New Orleans musicians?
Incredibly special. I’m pinching myself big time every day.

In terms of the vibe, what can partygoers look forward to?
We like to put on a show and keep it spontaneous and have fun and like to take them through a plethora of emotions to feel what it was like during the time the song was being written. If it’s a painful song, I want the audience to feel it and connect with it and get some peace.

What is the essence of New Orleans music that you want Greenwich to experience?
I want them to experience the joy and the passion and the importance of this place as it stands in American history and music history.

 

MAIN STAGE

Get ready for some serious talent

PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND
New Orleans has long been the intersection where sounds and cultures from around the world converge. Nowhere is that idea more vividly embodied than in the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which has held the torch of New Orleans music aloft for more than fifty years. Preservation Hall was founded by Sandra and Allan Jaffe in 1961. Their vision continues today under the guidance of their son and jazz band leader, Ben Jaffe.

 


ERIC KRASNO

Soulive and Lettuce cofounder, Eric Krasno is a singer, multi-instrumentalist, and two-time Grammy Award–winning songwriter-producer. His catalog includes multiple solo, Lettuce and Soulive albums as well as production and/or songwriting for
Norah Jones, Robert Randolph, and Aaron Neville, among others.

 

CELISSE
Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, performer and spoken word artist, Celisse is a musical powerhouse. She has performed with many notable musicians such as Mariah Carey, Graham Nash and Melissa Etheridge and is a founding member of Trey Anastasio’s Ghosts of the Forest.

 


CYRIL NEVILLE

The youngest brother of the Grammy Award–winning New Orleans’ Neville Brothers, Cyril Neville has been called one of the last great Southern soul singers. Throughout his storied career he has appeared on stages with many notable artists. A new box set featuring recordings done throughout his solo career and a compilation disc with a new single titled “Love Has Got to Win” is due to be released this year.

 

DIRTY DOZEN BRASS BAND
Formed in 1977, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band is known as a pioneer of the modern New Orleans brass band movement. The band has shared the stage with a variety of artists from Elvis Costello and Widespread Panic to Dave Matthews Band and The Black Crowes.

 


GEORGE PORTER

George Porter Jr. is an award-winning bassist, songwriter and vocalist whose prodigious career spans forty years. He is a founding member of New Orleans’ seminal funk band, The Meters, and widely recognized as one of the greatest bass players of all time. He was named one of Rolling Stone’s 50 Greatest Bassists of All Time.

 


IRMA THOMAS

Irma Thomas, the “Soul Queen of New Orleans,” is the recipient of numerous awards and Grammy nominations, including a Grammy win for After the Rain. In 2009, Thomas was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. Last year the documentary, Irma: My Life in Music, debuted on PBS stations across the country. She also co-founded the Irma Thomas Center for W.I.S.E. (Women in Search of Excellence) at her alma mater, Delgado Community College.

 


IVAN NEVILLE

Ivan Neville is a musician, singer and songwriter from New Orleans. He has written for and performed with industry greats like Bonnie Raitt and the Rolling Stones. In 2003, he formed Dumpstaphunk, a classic funk-fusion band that features Tony Hall, Nick Daniels, Ian Neville, Alex Wasily and Deven Trusclair.

 


MAVIS STAPLES

Grammy Award–winner and Kennedy Center Honoree Mavis Staples made a name for herself in the 1950s as part of The Staple Singers. She went on to contribute to the freedom songs of the Civil Rights era and later rose to pop radio stardom with hits like “I’ll Take You There” and “Respect Yourself.” Her most recent album, If All I Was Was Black, is her third collaboration with songwriter and producer (and Wilco front man) Jeff Tweedy.

 


RAYMOND WEBER

Independent drummer and founding member of Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, Raymond Weber has been playing the drums since he was ten. The New Orleans native has traveled throughout the world playing with some of the biggest names in the music industry.

 

TARRIONA “TANK” BALL
The frontwoman for the two-time Grammy-nominated group Tank and the Bangas, the New Orleans native is known for her ability to combine various musical styles from soul and hip-hop to R&B and jazz, to reflect the whole range of the city’s music, while retaining a distinctive feel all its own. The band’s most recent album, Red Balloon, was released in 2022.

 


THE REVIVALISTS

The Revivalists, featuring David Shaw, has made the journey from hole-in-the-wall gigs to sold-out shows, multi-platinum success and more than 800 million streams. They are renowned for their soulful alt-rock anthems, distinct mix of many of the classic styles of American music and outward generosity through their philanthropic Rev Causes initiative.

 


TONY HALL

New Orleans bass legend Tony Hall has worked with a host of top names throughout his stellar career, including Bob Dylan, Dave Matthews, Joan Baez and Willie Nelson. He is a founding member of Dumpstafunk, a classic funk-fusion band that also features Ivan and Ian Neville.

 

TROY “TROMBONE SHORTY” ANDREWS
Grammy Award–winner Trombone Shorty made his first appearance at Jazz Fest with Bo Diddley when he was four. At six, he was leading his own brass band. As a teenager he was hired by Lenny Kravitz to join his world tour. He took over a recording studio in the Lower Garden District after the release of 2017’s Parking Lot Symphony. In 2022 he recorded his second release for Blue Note Records, Lifted. This is his third appearance at the GTP.

 


WYCLEF JEAN

Three-time Grammy Award–winning and Golden Globe– and Emmy–nominated Wyclef Jean has written, performed and produced music for more than two decades—both as a solo superstar and as founder and guiding member of the Fugees. In 2020, Jean started a podcast called Run That Back, where he interviews influencers from all walks of life.

 

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