The Preservation Hall Jazz Band had the Barre Opera House joint jumpin' from the opening notes of Saturday's concert. The smartly suited New Orleans septet opened a warm window to Bourbon Street for the sweater-clad crowd. The audience shook off the Vermont chill, toe tapping, head bopping and clapping along to nearly every song. It was impossible to figure out what made the evening more enjoyable: delightful Dixieland tunes or devilishly charming musicians.
A few Christmas classics were sprinkled among the blues, ragtime, gospel and jazz favorites. "O Christmas Tree" became an unintentional comic highlight when trombonist Freddie Lonzo forgot the lyrics. He improvised, replacing every line - enthusiastically - with the words "O Christmas tree," and asking the audience to join in. I was laughing so hard I couldn't sing!
Primary-colored spotlights glistened off the brass and silver as the trumpet, trombone, saxophone, banjo, bass, piano and drums conjured the bygone world of Louis Armstrong's Big Easy. The level of musicianship was stellar, yet seemingly effortless, despite the decades of labor required to develop chops that good. Lightning-quick keyboard runs, breathless sax riffs, throaty trombone growls - it all just seemed part of the guys enjoying a good time.
Are the bandmates really having bon temps on stage? "I think we're guilty of that, yes," admitted bandleader John Brunious with a sly smile. "We are having a lot of fun." The snowy-haired trumpet player seemed the most soft-spoken of a rather raucous bunch. After the show, he shared with me that the relentless, year-round touring schedule is "exhausting, but the love of the music perks us up. . . Right before we go on the bandstand, you have an ache here, an ache there, but as soon as we hit that bandstand, everything's okay for two, 50-minute sets."
For the audience dancing in the aisles, everything was okay, indeed.