Big Sam’s Funky Nation: Highline Ballroom 31 July 2012

louisef had said she’d seen Big Sam and his NOLA funk at the Rochester Jazz Festival and it sounded like a lot of fun. Then I got a promotional email offering tickets for Big Sam for one penny so rtb and I were so there.

Since the Highline doesn’t set up tables on the floor anymore, you have to get there early to make sure you get a seat. So we were there early and had dinner. The food still is better than what you find at most clubs.

Afrobeat/funk musicians EMEFE were the opener. Drummer Miles Arntzen started the band in December 2009 and it looks like he invited every friend he has to join him in playing music influenced by Antibalas and Fela.


The band played a few instrumentals and then some guy came out and sang a few songs and then they played more instrumentals.

Musicians listed on their Bandcamp and MySpace sites are Jas Walton (tenor saxophone), Christian Anderson (baritone saxophone), Ray Mason (trombone), Michael Fatum or Billy Aukstik (trumpet), Jake Pinto (keyboards), Deen Anbar (electric guitar), Davy Levitan (electric guitar), Doug Berns (electric bass and very expressive face), and Javier Ramos (congas). There was also one guy just hitting the block the entire show and a woman on shekere. MySpace says Nick Kokkinis on shekere (which could be a woman). Both sites also list other musicians who have played with them on stage or on their cd.

The floor wasn’t full for them but the people there were dancing and had obviously seen them before. To me, EMEFE felt like a college band – getting all your friends on stage and playing and having lots of fun and nothing really stays with you.

Big Sam’s Funky Nation is New Orleans and funk and I’m still surprised that rtb and I were able to sit the entire time. Big Sam insists that you dance and there’s no way you can sit still during his set. Songs like “Big Ole Booty” make you think of a funk version of “Baby Got Back” and other songs want you to “Shake That Funky Donkey.” They also did a cover of Sly and Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).”




Sam Williams is another trombone player with a recurring role on Treme. Has Sam and Trombone Shorty performed at the same time? Would it be possible for them to to be on the same stage without the roof coming off?

Funky Nation is Andrew “Da Phessah” Baham on trumpet/vocals, Eric “EV Bass” Vogel on bass, and Chocolate Milk on drums. I see several guitarists listed so I’m not sure if it was Danny Abel we saw or someone else but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Takeshi Shimmura.

Vogel got a solo, Milk got a solo, the horns from EMEFE joined for a couple of songs, Big Sam moved around the stage like James Brown and there was a little girl dressed just like him in a cap, vest, and sunglasses who was there for her birthday.

Maurice “Mobetta” Brown came out for a couple of guest solos on trumpet.

And some of the audience was invited on stage to dance with the band.


Another great night of funk, soul, jazz – whatever you want to call it. It was good music.

ETA: It was Andrew Block on guitar for Big Sam’s Funky Nation.

By Carene Lydia Lopez