Honey Island Swamp Band, NOLA - Leaves Swamp Fever in Chicago- By Catherine Hernandez-Faber

Posted on 7/17/2010 by Catherine

One of the great things of living in Chicago is that Music comes to you. In the Summer, the festivals are strong and talent both local and visiting is varied with amazing influential memory markers of sound. During the 4th of July weekend, I traveled to Berwyn, IL to catch the 30th American Music Festival, and a group making its first tracks across the Midwest.

Now, I've never been to NOLA, but have many friends there. I've never seen the fog or heard the sound of a swamp jam. Never been to where music is a way of life and your born knowing how to sing or play an instrument or both. Much like Chicago but not yet as defined. What I have been is blessed to have it unfold and transpose itself here outside right in front of me. I had to rub my eyes and smile because the Honey Island Swamp Band of NOLA made their presence known. Playing at this Festival held at the Suburbs golden music trove of Fitzgerald's.

How can I describe this Cajun Swamp Boot Scooting Blast to you?  Well, have you ever imagined or seen the fog of a swamp dance as the light of day is coming up or going down?  Where your transcended yourself through sound to what alligators, snakes and bullfrogs would look like jamming on a lilly pad?  Well I believe I found that in listening to the Honey Island Swamp Band from NOLA. These young men that form this band commonly referred to as HISB, are a group of 4 strong and talented musicians who beyond the swamp folklore together have a groove that does everything as one's soul can't contain but to tap the toe, smile and watch as the music leads you out to the dance floor.

The start of this Band has NOLA roots but originated in California and happened by the chance and one of the blessings of Katrina via the Boom Boom Room in San Francisco, CA and a consistent run of Sunday night shows, starting in 2005, but officially forming itself once back in NOLA in 2008. The Group is led by a one-two powerhouse punch of Aaron Wilkenson (vocals, guitar, mandolin and harmonica) and Chris Mule (vocals, guitar) who if your familiar with Eric Lindell know that these young talented men as Eric's bass and guitar players. Knowing Eric then you know that these two have been mentored by an artist with great talent and showmanship. With Aaron and Chris taking the helm of this group, it becomes complete with Sam Price on bass and Garland Paul on drums. Both continuing the vocal sounds that is the swamp glue of HISB. The harmonizing that comes from this group is if not as magical as the instruments that they play.

When I first walked into the Festival they were on stage. Now I had heard their first two CD's prior and even before coming to write for American Blues News was a fan but had never seen them live. So for myself as a journalist I was anxious. Listening and finding a band that you just can't get enough of on CD is one thing but to hear them live and not for a minute be disappointed is another. I was open minded watching them in the opening sector of this Festival. To a crowd that first started out small then grew to a crowded dance floor and seats filled. Within a few songs I noticed that HISB had a fan club complete with rhinestone shirts and dancing on the floor. HISB wasted no time in playing songs from all three of their CD's, titled, Honey Island Swamp Band, Wishing Well and the latest Good To You. Carrying a mix of the influences that has taken this group up and down the West and East Coast and Finally thru the Midwest is what HISB is all about.

The mix of home boogie swamp with the glimpses of power both instrumental and vocal, deep rooted blues and defining raw talent is why after seeing and or hearing them that once you walk away wanting more you realize you have HISB Swamp Fever. And Swamp Fever is not something to mess with. Aaron and Chris are the writers of this group. Pulling from personal and life experiences, influences of the sounds that they grew up with such as Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Bryan Lee, Jimmy Reed, Waylon Jennings to name a few. And spending time on the road touring with Eric Lindell helped also before breaking out on there own.

Each member of this group carries a strong family musical background also and learning and knowing more than one instrument is a significant kaleidoscope of the talent that this group posses. Aaron's montage of instruments that he has on stage leading with his guitar, switching to the mandolin, to blowing the harp is triple threat there. Chris switches guitars and hits the strings with such control of sound and slide that it vibrates your breath. Sam on bass, gives a new meaning to the word "thump". His free flowing style has him leading his bass all over the stage in a beat that has you dancing with him. Then there is Garland on drums. The heart beat of this group. Garland's sticks are like playing air drums and getting it right with a reverent kick and tap that a cardiologist would give him a clean bill of health. As I sat and listened both as HISB played and as I spoke with them the unity of their talent is what I found as a true foundation.

Their focus and goals to get back into the studio and complete another CD. To be on the road for the opportunity to play and share with current fans and to find some new ones. The professional aspect as the road is home away from home. All are soft natured, polite, valued and ever so passionately focused for playing their music. There isn't a scream of a guitar or a bass so thumped that when you leave your still wondering if your heart has an extra beat, or a drum pocket that overpowers the vocals. Simply you are getting to hear Great music that NOLA is known for.

My suggestion is to look at the HISB website, pick up a CD or two and start your own swamp boogie in your car, garage or home. But remember beware because your soul is going to want to dance and you may call in with HISB Fever. This way you can get a days early start as you make your way to a live HISB show.

Until the next time ... Remember to support your Musicians. They play for you, to share the simple joy of the sweet sound of a harmonic melody that captures your soul. Next up on the article agenda .. A Grammy Nominated Hometown Wind-Blowing Mastermind. Can you guess who it is? Now go and purchase your HISB CD!
Peace, Blessings and Blues! - Catherine
pictured below, L-R (pic 1) Chris Mule-Guitar, Aaron Wilkenson-Guitar, Sam Price-Bass, (pic 2) Aaron Wilkenson, (pic 3) Jimmy Carpenter-Saxaphone-(guest), (pic 4) Garland Paul, (pic 5) L-R-Chris Mule, Aaron Wilkenson, Sam Price, (pic 6)HISB, (pic 7) Chris Mule, Aaron Wilkenson, Sam Price, (pic 8) Aaron Wilkenson, (pic 9) Sam Price

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