Friday night saw a packed dance floor at one of Miami’s newest live music venues, The Stage. The Stage is a charismatic place set up in a converted warehouse space adjacent to I-95. A pair of bars straddle the dance floor. Tables, chairs and couches litter the back patio, but in front of the stage the floor is wide open for the folks itching to get down.
The early comers were treated to the hybrid electronic/acoustic rhythms of Afro Kumbe, a popular side-project of local Latin dance rock sensation Locos por Juana. Crossing live percussion and guitar with beat tracks mixed off of a pair of Mac laptops is their specialty.
The American Cancer Society set up a table by the door, offering free drinks in exchange for $15 donations, but they were packed up and gone by 11 p.m. The money they raised went to benefit the East Kendall Relay for Life to take place on March 19 at Baptist Hospital.
Carlos Garcia, The Stage’s owner and personality behind WDNA’s Sound Theory Live, has been dealing with them for some years now. Last time he brought them to town was for Carnival on the Mile and they were met with a festive reception.
Garcia loves New Orleans. He owns a unit in a New Orleans duplex-style “shotgun” and visits frequently. He is also making it his business to bring New Orleans to Miami.
“There are three up and comers coming out of New Orleans: Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Trombone Shorty and Shamarr Allen,” said Garcia.
Allen will be featured next Saturday (3/5) at The Stage. New Orleans’ Brass-a-holics Brass Band, featuring former Soul Rebel Winston Turner, will take The Stage next Friday (3/4). So far, Garcia is making great headway on his goal.
At 11:30 p.m., Big Sam and his Funky Nation took the stage with a vengeance. It wasn’t long before they launched the crowded dance floor into the stratosphere with ripping guitar work and soaring trumpet and ‘bone solos.
“Gimme that funky horn,” people called to Big Sam Williams.
And he gave it to them. Oh, did he give it to them.
The pace didn’t let up for the rest of the night. The folks dancing were sweating almost as hard as Sam, who practically had to wring out his white Kangol to keep the sweat out of his eyes. Sam had them moving to the left and the right, getting way low and jumping way up, reaching for the sky. The band whipped out bags of Mardi Gras beads and flung them out into the frenzied audience. It really was a funky New Orleans party in the heart of Miami.
The Funky Nation played a medley featuring popular songs by Gnarls Barkley, Kanye West and Cee-Lo Green. Even Lady Gaga got a nod in the mix. The Nation also blared out the party standards “Hard to Handle” and “Hey Pocky Way.”
By 1 a.m., it looked as though the band was fixing to pack up and go, but the crowd wouldn’t have it. They screamed and hollered for more. And Big Sam isn’t one to deny hard grooving folks a good time.
Big Sam and his Funky Nation got back up on the stage and hit the audience with an extended “Turn On Your Love Light” jam that featured surprise guests Chad Bernstein, of The Spam Allstars and Suenalo and Alvin “Lil’ Al” Cordy, of The Lee Boys.
Following that epic “Love Light” jam, Big Sam and the boys played a Dixieland “Happy Birthday” for a lady named Stephanie and closed out their encore with New Orleans classic, “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Big Sam hopped off the stage and led the audience in a second line all around the venue.
It was exhausting to keep up with Big Sam’s Funky Nation’s seemingly bottomless supply of energy, but Miami folks and New Orleans folks have a lot in common, including the drive to cut loose and party into the wee hours of the morning. Big Sam’s Funky Nation brought it, and the people of Miami took it with open arms.