New Orleans is a special city – everyone knows that. But there is nothing like being at The Maple Leaf Bar on a Saturday night when the music is good and the crowd knows it. This past Saturday, October 3rd, The Leaf held the first ever performance by The Hard Hitters, formerly known as Tony Hall and Friends. With Derwin “Big D” Perkins (Jon Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentlemen) on guitar, Alvin Ford Jr. (Dumpstaphunk) on drums, John “Papa” Gros (Papa Grows Funk) on keys & vocals, Jason Mingledorff (Papa Grows Funk, St. Paul and Broken Bones) and Jason Parfait on saxophone and of course, Tony Hall on vocals and bass, fans knew they were in for a treat.
As fans trickled in, a physical excitement could be felt in the crowd. As with many performances at The Maple Leaf, this late-night show felt more like a gathering of friends uniting to dance and share appreciation for these musical greats who call New Orleans home. The most apparent friendships in the room were on the stage. As the funk fest got started, the quintet was all smiles and laughs. Once the music began, the room immediately shifted from a social space to a dance party, with Tony Hall himself as the MC. The band was on fire from start to finish. Amidst friendly banter on stage, Hall played many back-and-forth bits with Perkins and Gros, and the playful facial expressions of the band became a huge part of the experience.
One of the standout songs of the night was an outrageously danceable, funkified cover of Dr. John’s “Wild Honey”. Everybody in the house was moving and each man on stage displayed an ear-to-ear grin. “We didn’t rehearse,” Hall said, much to the entire bar’s surprise, “but that was good!!!” Another crowd favorite was a true-to-original cover of “Groove Me” by King Floyd. Hall added his own groove to the tune and made certain to have the whole crowd moving. To those who frequent The Leaf, it felt incredibly special to catch “Big D” Perkins play the tune on a Saturday with Hall, Gros and Ford, instead of the usual performance with Cleary and his Absolute Monster Gentlemen.
The camaraderie between New Orleans musicians is unlike anywhere else and was on full display Saturday night. Between sets, the band came into the crowd and spent time with their friends, old and new. As the second set kicked off, the vibe in the room had turned over. The set began around 2 a.m. and the room was filled with night owls ready to dance – and dance they did. The energy in the room made the crowd look like hot popping corn. After an encore, Ford closed out the night with an incredible elongated solo with a little embellishment from Gros. Hall thanked the crowd, wished an audience member a happy birthday, and thanked his friends for coming out and performing with him, proclaiming, “That’s what friends are for! These are my friends–you’re all my friends. This is where good people meet – at The Maple Leaf!” His sentiments were evident throughout the room.
Words and Photos by Emily Ferretti