From August 23rd to 26th, LOCKN’ will return to Arrington, Virginia for its sixth-annual event. Since the festival’s inception in 2013, LOCKN’ has become a premier destination for jam fans, each iteration outdoing the last with lineups chock full of beloved artists, rare collaborations, and standout tributes. This year, on Saturday, August 25th, the festival will honor the iconic New Orleans funk act, The Meters, for a special set titled “Foundation of Funk: Celebrating 50 Years Of The Meters.”
Foundation of Funk is led by a pair of original Meters members, bassist George Porter Jr. and drummer Zigaboo Modeliste, and features a rotating cast of all-star musicians. With the intention of keeping the music of The Meters alive and well, the band is frequently a multi-generational affair, with Porter and Modeliste joining forces with staples of the current live music scene to explore The Meters’ extensive songbook.
As Zigaboo Modeliste explained to Live For Live Music about the ongoing project, “The Foundation of Funk is really a collaboration of members of The Meters. Right now, it’s just George and myself from the original Meters. We’re celebrating 50 years of The Meters, and The Meters’ music is much more important than any one of the individual Meters. It’s about preserving the music and keeping all that together.”
Foundation of Funk – “Cissy Strut” – Brooklyn, NY – 5/20/2016
Given that The Meters’ original keyboardist Art Neville rarely plays these days, for this special LOCKN’ performance on August 25th, Foundation Of Funk is keeping it all in the family. To help celebrate The Meters’ 50th anniversary, the band has also invited Art’s brother, Cyril Neville; son, Ian Neville; and nephew, Ivan Neville, along with Ian and Ivan’s Dumpstaphunk bandmate, Tony Hall.
As George Porter Jr. told us about the upcoming Meters celebration at LOCKN’, “We were definitely thinkin’ that this is a good idea. I mean this is 50 years, and there’s no one doin’ it. None of us are doin’ it. In other words, the band itself can’t pull that off, so, you know, why not Foundation of Funk?”
We have some other individuals from New Orleans that’ll be doing the show with us. Some of them are in the Neville family, and some of them are just younger artists that followed The Meters’ music very very closely. I’m not feeling anything but excellence coming from these people because they have really studied my craft and studied it to a degree that we could actually do this. They all get the whole chemistry of how it actually works and how to make it funky, like it should be. I think it’s gonna be fantastic, it’s gonna be challenging. It’s all about performing the music the way it actually should be performed. So these people—Ivan, Ian, Tony Hall, and Cyril—they’re gonna support us with our endeavor at LOCKN’, and we look forward to doing it with that group. It seems like an obvious choice at this point.
The Meters’ Legacy
With The Meters’ 50th anniversary celebration on the horizon, it’s clear that the band certainly deserves the recognition. The New Orleans band pioneered funk music as we know it today and is increasingly being recognized for its vast contributions to music. This year, in addition to getting nominated (and snubbed) for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame for the fourth time, the Recording Academy recognized the band with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
As Zigaboo Modeliste explained to us about receiving the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, “I think it’s a thrill. When I look at the past recipients of the award, that makes me know even more that The Meters really hit a stride, and that will never go away. It seems like a lot of people recognize our talent level and what we brought to the table as we turned out original music—and good music.”
The Meters – 1974
Over the years, the band’s wealth of good material has proven to be enduring. Outside their celebrated classics like “Sophisticated Cissy”, “Cissy Strut”, “People Say”, and “Africa”, the group has influenced countless artists from a huge range of genres. In fact, The Meters’ locked-in rhythms have frequently found their way into hip-hop and pop music, making them one of the most sampled groups in history—as George Porter noted, “there were 120 some odd samples done” over the years.
Zigaboo offered his thoughts on The Meters’ enduring presence in hip-hop:
It’s still too early for me to tell exactly how The Meters’ music will continue to fit into hip-hop, but I think the Meters music is here to stay. I didn’t even understand how it got into rap, you know? But it went there, and it went there huge. Rappers sampled our songs because of the emptiness. Even though these songs had structure, they had a lot of open spaces where people could talk over it—so it worked really well in that aspect.
Hip-hop kind of disappeared for a minute, it lost its pizzazz, and now it’s coming back with a new resurgence in New Orleans and stuff. But music is music, and people copy off of music that they hear that they like, so it all depends on how the music fits into their universe. I have no doubt that the foundation that we laid is going to regenerate again. And there’s gonna be some other kind of music after hip-hop. I don’t know what that’s gonna be, but it’s gonna go there, too.
While The Meters’ crossover into hip-hop might have been unexpected at first, it highlights the iconic band’s ongoing appeal to funk-loving fans and artists for nearly half-century. However, The Meters never set out to become the pioneering force that they’re known as today. Originally a studio band, the group is what Zigaboo describes “musicians’ musicians.” He explained,
I think the message is really clear, it may not have been transmitted as much as it could have been. But I think every time the Meters showed up at an appearance, it was music from the heart and it was music well thought out. And we always were self-contained. We started up as an instrumental group, and we tried to keep morphing into different aspects of the music. And we respect the fact that funk music lovers need to be fed.
You have to really be a music lover and you have to appreciate what this type of music at this particular time period presented to the listeners. And I think that’s what really keeps people captivated. It’s a host of things. It’s the performance—personnel, okay I’ll buy that—but it’s the performance. And a good song is really a good song. And we just have had a host of really good material that we recorded.
The Meters & The Jam Scene
As the years have gone on, The Meters have cultivated a massive following within another genre outside funk: the jam scene. George Porter Jr. is a staple on jam-oriented events like Jam Cruise and has appeared multiple times with artists like Widespread Panic, Phil Lesh & Friends, Lettuce, Bob Weir & The Campfire Band, and many others. Though Porter was a member of Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann‘s side project, 7 Walkers, earlier in the decade, Porter truly solidified his adoration from Deadheads through his work with Voodoo Dead, a NOLA-flavored Dead tribute project formed for Jazz Fest in 2015 with all-star lineups that have featured the likes of Steve Kimock, Jeff Chimenti, Jackie Greene, Anders Osborne, Oteil Burbridge, and others.
In February, George Porter Jr. joined forces with another band the 2018 LOCKN’ bill—Dead & Company—much to the delight of fans. Dead & Company was in New Orleans for a make-up show, and Porter joined the ensemble for takes on “Smokestack Lightning”, “Bertha’, and “Sugaree”—a truly exciting moment given how infrequently the band welcomes special guests. Much like how Foundation of Funk honors The Meters, Dead & Company pairs original Grateful Dead members (Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzmann) with duly reverent fresh faces (John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge, and Jeff Chimenti) to celebrate the songbook of an influential band. However, aside from a handful of sit-ins, Dead & Co’s lineup has remained constant since their inception in 2015.
George Porter Jr. explained to us how the Dead & Co sit-in came about:
Every member of the band, except for the guitarist, John [Mayer], I had played with, I knew, and was friends with. The first time they were going to come to New Orleans, Bill [Kreutzmann] had reached out to me about comin’ and sittin’ in, but then, that show was canceled. After the second one was confirmed, it was Mickey [Hart] that called and asked me if I wanted to come and sit in. Shortly after I heard from Micky, I heard from Bobby [Weir]’s front office, sayin’, “Bobby wanted to know if you could come out and jam with them?”
There are friends of mine that were serious Deadhead people, and they were like, “Brah, that never happens,” you know? They don’t have people come sit in and stuff like that. So it was a great honor to be one of those people that they invited to come play. …
I mean, it wasn’t like we sat down and thought out how these songs were going to be approached. We did have a rehearsal sound check, and after the rehearsal sound check, we did pretty much have an idea of how it was going to start and how it was going to end, but everything that happened in the middle was a spontaneous combustion.
Dead & Company w/ George Porter Jr. – “Smokestack Lightning”, “Bertha”, “Sugaree” – New Orleans, LA – 2/24/2018
While George Porter Jr. is wildly recognized within the jam scene because of his frequent sit-ins, that is not to say that Zigaboo Modeliste has no roots in the genre. In fact, Modeliste first founded Foundation of Funk years ago as a way to perform with a variety of jam artists, inviting his brother in rhythm, George, to help him lead the project. Both Zigaboo and George acknowledge that jam bands tend to gravitate toward The Meters’ music. However, they both seem hesitant toward the modern “jam band” classification in general. Explains George on The Meters’ link to the jam band world,
Well, it kinda leads back to the original Meters. Back in the late ’60s and early ’70s almost, out of those first three records that came out, the longest song on those records is probably three minutes at the most. We were playing pretty much four-hour gigs, so we played a song and then we’d just jam and stretch out. So we were jamming, and as far as The Meters are concerned, in ’68, ’69, ’70, we were a jam band or whatever you call a jam band today—that’s what we were. Improvisational players that played off of each other really well. It’s kind of something that I’ve been doing almost all my life. It’s a natural fit, I guess that would be the best way to say that.
When asked about jam bands, Zigaboo Modeliste added,
I don’t consider musicians based on the “jam band” concept. We all come from different bands, and we all have played in hundreds of bands over our careers. That’s just part of the process of getting to where you want to get to. To try different bands out. Some of us are lucky enough to be in a band for 25 years. Some of us are lucky enough to be in bands for 25 minutes. It just varies.
You’re constantly trying to learn more about your acts, you know? But again, the musicians with the jam band thing, that’s just a name they gave. There’s hardly any more original bands. The only original bands I see are bands that are up-and-coming. The life expectancy of jam bands is not that long. It’s not what they set it up to be. It’s just something, like, “Oh, let me mix and match.” I’m sure that’s interesting to a certain degree. But is it music? Is everybody on the same page with it? Experimenting with that is good.
Foundation Of Funk
While it’s clear that The Meters have made an undeniable impact on music as we know it today, George Porter Jr. and Zigaboo Modeliste are looking to the future with Foundation of Funk. The band extends The Meters’ legacy into the present, with the two rhythm legends curating varying lineups of musicians who will continue to play songs from The Meters’ songbook for decades to come. However, given The Meters’ extensive repertoire, the project remains fresh, with the rotating lineup only adding to Foundation of Funk’s exploratory spirit.
As George Porter Jr. explained to us,
I think it’s a great benefit having the lineup change constantly! Whenever the guys get selected to play a gig, I make it a rule that I’ll make the phone call or send an e-mail to them asking them for the list of songs that they have under their fingers. And almost all the time, the players that are on that individual set come back with a list of songs that The Meters usually have not played. For me, that’s great, ’cause The Meters had somewhat cycled into playing the same set of songs all the time.
Going off this, Zigaboo Modeliste continued, explaining the benefits of exploring deeper cuts from The Meters’ catalog,
We never really played all the music that we recorded. There’s a lot of music that was just left on the table. We never got a chance to even go and do it. So, the mindset at that particular time was what it was. So, in order to go back and visit that, you gotta have some kind of way to deal with it. [George and I] both thought that maybe we should not only do the standard songs but try to get into those obscure Meter songs. That was fantastic as well. The listeners can have a broader range of music to listen to and maybe create a greater appreciation for the other songs that we never hardly played.
Foundation of Funk – “What’cha Say” – Bear Creek 2016
[Video: Live For Live Music]
Historically, Foundation of Funk has sought out the best and brightest musicians to help them dive deep into The Meters’ catalog, having previously rounded out the group with greats like Eric Krasno, Anders Osborne, John Medeski, Jimmy Herring, Joho Hermann, Jon Cleary, Neal Evans, and Eddie Roberts. If anything, the band has a roster of musicians who fit perfectly with the project, though they find that “the hardest part about [Foundation of Funk] is getting the right personnel with the right availability, so we could play some music and enjoy it,” says Zigaboo.
In describing what Foundation of Funk looks for in its collaborators, Zigaboo explained,
Well, it’s just like anything else. Musicians are just like chefs. They don’t want anything to be stale. They don’t want anything to be routine, so to speak, because that makes it kind of boring. The freshness of collaborating with other progressive and extremely talented individuals from other music genres and people who respect our music, I feel as though that’s being accomplished. Like I said, [The Meters] were a self-contained band. We didn’t really need other people in the band to do what we did, but now, we choose to do it this way. We want to get the best people that are out there to come jam with us and make history together.
We try to find some people that push the bar. I don’t think it would be a good idea to collaborate with people that don’t know have any indication of how the music goes or that don’t have any Meters favorites locked somewhere in their vault. There’ve got to be certain people we choose to do it with, you know? It wouldn’t make sense to get somebody that’s not totally committed to the music, per se. So, just trying to cherry pick musicians and opportunities, it’s been a bit of a challenge. I feel as though we work with enough musicians right now, that it can still be really fresh.
I think that the people that we’ve had so far, they’ve all been great. They’ve all been doing exactly what we want them to do. They’ve brought more to the table in some instances than I really thought they would. So, it really is a winning situation because I get to play with those guys that appreciate the music just as much as I do. So that right there, that’s a big hurdle to jump over.
Foundation of Funk – “Just Kissed My Baby” > “Ain’t No Use” – Sunshine Music Festival 2018
With a grounded perspective on their lineup additions, Foundation of Funk hopes to continue spreading the message of The Meters to fans on the road and in their homes. When asked about the possibility of a new album or more consistent touring, both George and Zigaboo made it clear that they have thought about it. As Zigaboo explained,
Well, that’s an open question. I don’t wanna say no to any of that, but the most important thing to be considered is if it’s attainable. If it’s possible, there probably will be some of that—I don’t know. My thing is, it all depends on my comrade, what he’s thinking. We’ve been kicking around the idea of a vinyl because anything that I wanna be involved with in terms of recording the Foundation of Funk, I really would like it to be good. And not saying that it wouldn’t be good, but we have a lot of questions still unanswered. It’s like a test tube, you know? You gotta try and figure out what music to play, who’s gonna do it with us, where we’re gonna do it, if we do it.
However, George Porter Jr. seemed more hopeful toward the possibility, adding, “I’d like to see Zig and I do some new music. In fact, we have started the recording process for three or four songs. I went out to California and laid down some tracks with Zig, and we did some overdubs on those songs. I haven’t heard them since then, that was almost a year ago now.”
George Porter Jr. continued,
I guess it kinda leads down to the fact that my personal solo career with the three bands that I play in are all over the place, so I’m not as easily available as much as anyone would want me to be in order to be a real member of a band. But now that we have management and agencies, maybe they can knock out some windows where Zig and I can get together with some players that we would like to. I would hope that we do a record that might involve several different players. If we were to put together a real record, I would think that it would be very necessary that we go out and support it. So yeah, I would think that a real tour would probably eventually come from that.
LOCKN’ Festival will return to Arrington, Virginia, from August 23rd to 26th. This year, in addition to the highly anticipated Foundation of Funk set celebrating 50 years of The Meters, the festival will host multiple nights of Dead & Company (including one with Branford Marsalis), Tedeschi Trucks Band, Umphrey’s McGee (including one with Jason Bonham), Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, and Lettuce (including a Jerry Garcia Band tribute set), plus performances from Widespread Panic, George Clinton & P-Funk, Sheryl Crow, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Blues Traveler, Turkuaz, Matisyahu, Toots & The Maytals, Moon Taxi, and much, much more.
For ticketing and more information, head over to LOCKN’s website here.