Thursday, September 15, 2005


The strange but true tale of the Funky Butt

During my first trip to New Orleans in the sizzling summer of 1999, my friends & I decided to check out a live-music spot called the Funky Butt. Even if I were a decent writer, I doubt I would be able to give you a sense of how perfect the place was from the perspective of a young outsider looking for an "authentic" New Orleans experience. The place was dark, tattered, dank, next door to a couple of trashy gay bars on the "rough" side of the Quarter, and to top it off, Wynton's youngest brother Jason Marsalis was playing drums with his quartet (or was it a quintet?). It felt just right.

Well, I did a search on the place tonight, to see what it's status was post-Big K, and I came upon this haunting antediluvian article from the Times-Picayune:
Friday, August 19, 2005
Keith Spera
Music writer

Last Friday, the Funky Butt hosted a de facto jazz funeral for itself -- minus the jazz -- as the night's scheduled act, bassist Jim Markway and his band, gathered outside on North Rampart Street to bemoan the once-popular modern jazz venue's decline.

Richard Rochester opened the Funky Butt in 1996, then sold the business to trombonist Sam "Big Sam" Williams and Williams' fiancee, Shanekah Peterson, in the spring of 2004. The club closed for two weeks that June, but the summer of 2005 has been far tougher. Beset by a broken air-conditioning system, a dwindling staff, little advertising and consequently few patrons, the club has frequently been dark.

Sizing up their prospects last weekend -- working in a sweltering, empty room for no money -- Markway and company opted not to perform.

The Funky Butt's future remains uncertain. Williams did not return messages left on his cell phone this week, and the club's phone has been disconnected.

Such timing!

Well, I searched further, and it turns out that Big Sam Williams is not just any trombonist, but is an alum of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, a favorite of the hipster crowd (that's them performing a short intro on Modest Mouse's most recent album).

And where is he now? Of all places, San Antonio, location of my next conference in January (to be followed, naturally, by New Orleans in June, or maybe not...)

So here's the latest:
Eighteen months after Williams formed the Funky Nation, he left the Dirty Dozen. Peterson ("She's the head boss in charge," Williams said.) and he bought the Funky Butt when the owner opted to sell out and move out of New Orleans.

"I had to follow my dream," he said. "And I appreciate everything the Dozen did for me. Without the Dozen I never would have had the opportunity to do all the things I've done."

Williams and Peterson had been working on plans to move the Funky Butt to Frenchmen Street, a burgeoning entertainment district just outside of the French Quarter. All of the bar fixtures are in storage. The lease on the new building has yet to be signed.

"Right now we're strongly leaning toward having the Funky Butt in San Francisco," he said. "We're saying we're going to stay in San Antonio at least a month, maybe longer. I just don't know. I may get to know so many people that I have a desire to stay here."

Regardless of what path Williams chooses, here's hoping some incarnation of the Butt comes back stronger than ever in New New Orleans.

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