On Sunday, June 28th, over 50 artists and tens of thousands of fans came together for Justice Comes Alive, a one-day, virtual festival harnessing the power of music to bring about collective change in response to racial inequality. The donation-based streaming event generated $55,000 and counting in funds for the participating artists, who remain out of work as the pandemic continues, as well as a number of social justice-oriented causes via PLUS1 For Black Lives Fund.

The 12-hour live-stream marathon featured new musical contributions and enlightening conversations by an array of amazing artists from around the world including George Porter Jr., founding bassist of The Meters, who performed an original song and spoke with co-host Nikki Glaspie (The Nth Power) about playing Black clubs and theaters in the ’60s and ’70s and the ways in which violence and racial tension affected the band in its earliest days, even if only from a tangential standpoint.

While The Meters mostly played the Chitlin’ Circuit early on in their run, after they toured with The Rolling Stones in 1975 and 1976, they sized out of the small, predominantly Black clubs and moved on to mid-sized theaters with majority white audiences. Perhaps, The Meters’ connection with the Stones helped make that transition easier on the band. As George explained, “To get almost directly to the point, as a band, we didn’t run into that much racism, for the most part, [but] we kind of knew what was going on out there in the world.”

George went on to talk about a gig at the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia the same night a Black Panther rally was taking place in the City of Brotherly Love. “That same night, there was a big Black Panther rally going on. [Black Panther Party co-founder] Huey Newton was in town, and they were all expected to come to the theater. … That was the only one time I can remember the tension of, ‘Man, this could be a riot if anything went down weird.'”

Although the members of The Meters weren’t directly targeted with racism, they were coached by Art Neville on how to carry themselves in order to avoid it: “Don’t do this, don’t do that, shut your mouth. If anybody say something to you, don’t talk back.” He also noted that the fact that Cyril Neville hadn’t yet joined the band at that point may have played a role in their relatively peaceful existence. “He was not the kind of person that was gonna not say anything,” George explained. “And by that time, he and [drummer] Zig [Modeliste] had started wearing Army fatigues and stuff. They had moved into radicalism. … But white America loved our music, the last thing they was gonna do was kill us.”

From there, Glaspie probed Porter about a story she had heard of The Meters playing a gig on the night that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. “That night, we were still on Bourbon Street [in New Orleans] at a club called the Ivanhoe the day that Martin Luther King was killed. Our saxophone player at that time was a guy named Gary Brown. Gary Brown… he was an antagonist, I believe that’s the best way to say it. Because we were playing a gig in a predominantly white club on Bourbon Street—where, in the sixties, it was uptight anyway—but two couples sat in front of Gary Brown and kept bugging him… What’s your name? What’s your name?”

Gary finally responded with frustration, “TN!”—”tough n-word”—which prompted the patrons to complain to the club manager. When the manager relayed the complaint to Art, who in turn told Gary Brown to keep a lid on his frustration. Brown wound up quitting the band that night in response to the incident. The story didn’t end there, however: As Porter explained, “When we was packing up that night and clearing out the tip jar, there was a .22 bullet in the bottom of the tip jar.”

Related: George Porter Jr. Talks Art Neville, Allen Toussaint, & The Hindsight Of The Meters [Interview]

When Glaspie asked if he felt that times had improved in that respect, as a Black man in the South, Porter was clear on his response: “I’m not sure if there’s any progression. … The same argument, the same fight that Black men have been fighting from when Martin Luther King was marching is pretty much the same fight we’re doing now. The only difference between then and now is that back then, we used to wake up and find a body in our alley or hanging from a tree. Today, it’s on TV, people with cell phones and stuff. You watch it go down as it’s going down. I don’t believe that our situations are any better than they were. I was recently told that the Black community in the voting population is only 13%. That means that we’re always gonna be on the short end of the stick, unless we start making a whole sh*tload of babies.”

Glaspie, however, had some compelling thoughts to add to Porter’s assessment. “I think it’s more [an issue] of, ‘we gotta show up.’ I think that all minorities have to show up and vote.” Porter wholeheartedly agreed: “That vote you don’t put in is automatically a vote for the other person you don’t want to win.” He continued, “For years and years and years, I didn’t vote. I was a non-participant. I would get involved in an argument about something that’s going on, my mom would turn around and tell me, ‘Until you vote, you got no word in this conversation.'”

Below, you can revisit the conversation between George Porter Jr. and Nikki Glaspie as well as George’s performance of “I Get High” from Justice Comes Alive. As an added bonus, you can also revisit George Porter Jr.’s two-song performance from JCA’s precursor, Quarantine Comes Alive. If you are able, please consider making a donation to Plus1 For Black Lives Fund via www.JusticeComesAlive.com.

Justice Comes Alive Conversations – George Porter Jr. and Nikki Glaspie

George Porter Jr. – “I Get High” – Justice Comes Alive

George Porter Jr. – “Junco Partner” (James Waynes), “Out In The Country” (The Meters) – Quarantine Comes Alive 

Presented by Live For Live Music in partnership with PLUS1 and Nugs.TV, Justice Comes Alive was conceived as a way to harness the power of music to bring about collective change in response to racial inequality. All funds raised from Justice Comes Alive will be split evenly between the artists on the bill and the PLUS1 For Black Lives Fund, which was developed to address and continue the fight against anti-Black racism and violence in the U.S.

Directly supporting organizations like Equal Justice InitiativeImpact Justice, and The Bail Project, the PLUS1 For Black Lives Fund focuses on empowering Black communities, movement building, keeping people out of the criminal justice system while dismantling it more broadly, and a collective, international narrative change toward the equitable treatment of Black people. 30% of the PLUS1 for Black Lives Fund is also committed to small grants for Black and Indigenous-led grassroots efforts combating racism. For more information on Justice Comes Alive, head here.