The fourth-annual Brooklyn Comes Alive will return to Brooklyn’s beloved Williamsburg neighborhood on September 29th for an all-day music marathon at Brooklyn Bowl, Music Hall of Williamsburg and Rough Trade. During Brooklyn Comes Alive this year, the one-day jam-packed festival will host a special tribute to iconic rock artists we lost in 2017: Col. Bruce Hampton, Butch Trucks, and Gregg Allman.
The special set will see an all-star cast of musicians come together to pay their respects to these three musical legends, including young guitar prodigy Brandon “Taz” Niederauer, who was mentored by Hampton, Trucks, and Allman from an early age. For this special performance, Taz will serve as the set’s musical director and will be joined by Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and The Meters bassist, George Porter Jr.; acclaimed Lettuce guitarist, Adam Smirnoff; founding drummer of Col. Bruce’s Aquarium Rescue Unit, Jeff Sipe; Gregg Allman’s organ player for the Gregg Allman Band, Peter Levin; and former American Idol contestant and current vocalist for Taz’s solo band, Elise Testone.
We caught up with the young bandleader to hear more about the Brooklyn Comes Alive set he put together this year and exactly what makes it so special. Read a brief history of Taz’s relationship with Bruce, Butch, and Gregg, and then check out Live For Live Music‘s interview with Taz below the break.
In addition to the band members, Brandon “Taz” Niederauer has independently interesting relationships with all three of the musicians being honored in this set. He met Butch Trucks, who was the first musician to take him under his wing, at the inaugural Roots Rock Revival in 2012 at the age of eight, marking the first time Taz really captured an audience outside of his own bedroom. It wasn’t much later that he was featured on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, quickly going from Internet sensation to in-demand collaborator. Within only a few years, Taz has played with virtually all of his musical heroes and bands, including Buddy Guy, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Widespread Panic, Aquarium Rescue Unit, Gov’t Mule, The String Cheese Incident, The Revivalists, Umphrey’s McGee, Lettuce, and many more.
One of Taz’s very first sit-ins was the Gregg Allman Band at the Peabody Auditorium in Daytona Beach, Florida, in 2014, just days before he boarded his first-ever Jam Cruise—a definitive turning point in his young career—where the then-10-year-old played “Whipping Post” and “Hot ‘Lanta” to a sold-out crowd. Just a few days after, Taz met the cosmic Col. Bruce Hampton on Jam Cruise 12 and they quickly became friends.
Col. Bruce had a sense for talent, which is made obvious through his musical sponsorship of Derek Trucks, Oteil Burbridge, Jimmy Herring, and countless other fearless players. His spiritual guidance was incomparably influential to these masters, and Taz was his next project. Bruce taught him “no ego” early enough to forbid any sort of unnatural developments in the fame-induced atmosphere that surrounds him.
Aside from their musical connection, the two shared the camera for an independent film Here Comes Rusty last year. They were great friends, and Bruce’s last gift to Taz was to place him center stage for what will be remembered as one of the most magical, meaningful nights of rock and roll, Hampton 70. Not only did Taz wail through three or four of the best-sounding solos of the night, but he did so between Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes: his two biggest guitar heroes at the prompting of his mentor, Col. Bruce.
Those in attendance could feel the profound power that was being passed from teacher to student, especially during the moment that Bruce collapsed to the ground, surrounded by his closest friends and family, and left this Earth. The “Grandaddy of Jam” left behind all his musical children in one place, and they all know now that Taz is the Truth—the next chapter of this scene.
So, to honor Butch Trucks, Gregg Allman, and Col. Bruce Hampton—three of the jam scene’s greatest heroes who all passed away in 2017—is especially close to heart for Taz.
Kendall Deflin: Tell us a little bit about your process in how you put this band together for Brooklyn Comes Alive.
Brandon “Taz” Niederauer: Well, it was kind of an easy process. Brooklyn Comes Alive came to me with this idea about doing a tribute show to all the artists that we’ve lost, and I was thinking about those musicians and the people that they’ve influenced. It was a pretty easy decision because all of the musicians that I picked, I look up to, especially Jeff Sipe, who is just an amazing drummer. George Porter Jr. is also a virtuoso himself, so the fact that they both even said “yes” to playing with a 15-year-old kid… That’s insane to me.
Adam Smirnoff is probably one of my favorite living funk guitarists right now. Peter Levin as well. He’s such a great keyboard player, and he’s played with everybody from Gregg Allman to the Blind Boys of Alabama. The fact that he took the time to say “yes” and wants to jam out is just mind-blowing. I mean, I just can’t wait to jam with all those guys.
KD: You clearly have a good relationship with these musicians to the point that you probably consider them friends. Let’s talk a little bit about your relationship with each person on the lineup.
Taz: George Porter Jr. was the first person to let me sit in with him. It was in New Orleans at like two in the morning at Tipitina’s, and a great rock photographer, Sidney Smith, was in contact with him—I’m going to guess I was probably 10 at this point. So, Sidney asked George Porter Jr. if he would let me sit in. I hadn’t done anything at this point. I was just a bedroom player.
I didn’t really know who George Porter Jr. was by name until I got there, and my dad was like, “Brandon, he is The Meters.” I had already known The Meters, so I was just mind boggled. I got there at midnight, which was like the latest I’d ever been up in my life. I was kind of falling asleep backstage, and then as soon as he called me up, I was just wide eyes. I was up there, I was awake, and I was having fun. My dad was mind blown that I was even awake at two in the morning, but we jammed and it was fun.
Shmeeans, I met him for the first time on Jam Cruise. I had recently—probably the October of that year—gotten into Lettuce from Sirius XM’s Jam_ON radio station, because they were always playing Lettuce. I just thought it was a really unique sounding band, you know, kind of a funk-soul band that I had never heard anything like before. So we went on Jam Cruise just to have fun and listen to some music, or so I thought. Then, they asked me to come up and play, which was crazy and I got up there and played.
Those guys are just so supportive, and I’m forever grateful for them letting me play. I’ve played with them a couple times after that and Shmeeans has just been so awesome, bringing me under his wing and showing me how to really play the guitar because he’s just so amazing at the rhythm stuff. He has so many cool ideas, neat ideas, and I just love the way he portrays them in Lettuce, so I just can’t wait to play with him and see what he’s doing.
The Jeff Sipe connection was through Colonel Bruce Hampton, which makes it extra special because, I mean, Colonel Bruce Hampton mentored so many people. I sat in with Aquarium Rescue Unit at The Capitol Theatre [in Port Chester, New York] at their last Capitol Theater show. He was there playing, and I just remember… I remember being so, so inspired and mesmerized by his drumming and everything that he was doing. So, we got his contact info, and I saw him at the Hampton 70 and at Town Hall in New York City with the Jimmy Herring, John McLaughlin thing. I talked to him after the show—that’s after everything with Colonel Bruce happened—and he was just open arms. I was grateful for that. When we contacted him, he’s like, “Yeah, I’ll do it”, which I didn’t think was going to happen because he’s a rock star—like he’s played on some of my favorite records of all time and the fact that he said yes is just amazing.
Peter Levin I met through Gregg Allman, which is another special thing because I played with Gregg Allman Band right before I was going to go on Jam Cruise 12. He was there, I talked to him a little bit, and we just instantly hit it off. We exchanged contact info. I’ve played with Peter a couple times since then, and in New Orleans a couple times, and with the Blind Boys of Alabama. He’s just been such an amazing guy. I saw him on Rock Legends Cruise a couple months ago, and we were hanging out there, and I was watching him with the Devon Allman Project, and he was ripping it up. He was just so amazing, so I thought with the Allman Brothers connection that I would invite him and he said yes. So that was really cool.
Elise Testone and I met at probably two in the morning at Jazz Fest a couple years ago when I was doing a thing with Doug Wimbish [Living Colour] and Eric McFadden [P-Funk] at 30 x 90 on Frenchman Street, and she sat in for a song. It was the same thing. I thought she was amazing. My dad and her exchanged contact info. I mean she was on American Idol, so she’s just a bonafide singer. She’s amazing, and then the opportunity came up to where she could sing in my band and I asked her and she said yes.
She’s given me so much advice, and she’s just such an amazing singer and such an amazing songwriter. We’ve written a couple songs together so she knows a lot that I do, and she clicks with me a lot on the singing standpoints. So I asked her to come in and sit in or play with us or sing with us and she said yes. It’s going to be awesome.
KD: What are you most excited about for this set?
Taz: I’m most excited to jam with all these amazing musicians and for the fans to see it. It’s going to be an amazing show, and I can’t wait to connect with all these musicians. We’re already working on the setlist, and it’s going to be a cool show.
KD: The set is billed as a tribute to Bruce, Butch, and Gregg. How will you honor these influences outside of the set?
Taz: Outside of the music and outside of the songs themselves, we will honor these musicians that we’ve lost and that we all love by taking what they brought to the table as musicians. I mean playing with such utmost intention and playing with their soul 110% every song, and we’ll try to convey that the best we can by making everything new and fresh and by getting into people’s minds about how important these rock and roll pioneers really were.
KD: These three musicians all had such unique influences on you. What did Colonel Bruce teach you about life?
Taz: Colonel Bruce taught me to always do what makes you happy and what makes those around you happy, and he was the one that taught me to always play with intent. Just always pay attention to the other musicians and make sure they are happy with you and make sure that they are okay and make sure that everything is going smoothly, because nobody wants to be miserable playing music. Music is a thing to escape from all of the things that go on in the world. I mean, he taught me to just be fully invested in the music.
KD: What was the most important thing that Butch Trucks taught you?
Taz: The most important thing that Butch taught me is to have fun while you play music and to go out and listen to different songs and listen to new artists. Mash, collide everything that you can possibly learn about different styles of music and bring them into your playing and make your playing unique. That’s what he taught me. He also taught me to go out and listen to other people, like go to new concerts where you’re not playing and listen to other artists just play. Since then, I’ve gone to a lot of them, just because he said that and it’s already helped me so much with life and playing. He was the one to teach me that.
KD: What advice did Gregg Allman leave you with?
Taz: Gregg left me with the advice to always… How do I say this? Gregg taught me to always be thankful of your friends and to always make sure that the fans are happy. He taught me to meet your fans and worship your fans and just make sure they are having a good time, because he would always do that. I mean, he would be tired after a three-plus hour show with two or three sets and go out after an Allman Brothers concert and sign every single playbill, every single CD, every single everything. He would meet all the fans, take pictures, for like an hour.
I was just mesmerized by that as a nine-year-old just seeing him and just seeing him going up to all his fans and telling them “Thank you for coming” because I know he’s a bonafide rock star. Most rock stars would just bypass all the fans and not care. He really did care about his fans. I’ve taken that by example, and I try to sign everything that my fans want after shows and meet with them and take pictures with them and hang with them after shows. He was really the first person to teach me how to do that, and be respectful to the people that help further my career outside of the business.
Last year at Brooklyn Comes Alive, Brandon “Taz” Niederauer served as an artist-at-large and participated in “The Road Goes On Forever: The Music of the Allman Brothers Band” with members of moe., Snarky Puppy, The Motet, Gregg Allman Band, and more. Watch this show-stopping version of “Whipping Post” below, and get excited for what’s to come.
The fourth-annual Brooklyn Comes Alive will return to Brooklyn’s beloved Williamsburg neighborhood on September 29th for an all-day music marathon at Brooklyn Bowl, Music Hall of Williamsburg and Rough Trade. Inspired by the vibrant musical communities of Brooklyn and New Orleans, Brooklyn Comes Alive brings together more than 50 artists, allowing them to carry out passion projects, play with their musical heroes, and collaborate in never-before-seen formations. For more information, ticketing, and to see the full list of performers scheduled for Brooklyn Comes Alive 2018, head to the festival’s website here.