Galactic at Hollywood ArtsPark: "A New Orleans Throw Down"

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A group of college kids with a passion for jammin' and a desire to funk -- that's how NOLA's funkmeisters Galactic got their start in the music biz nearly two decades ago.

"We were all, myself, Rob [Mercurio, bassist], Jeff [Raines, guitarist], and Stanton [Moore, drummer], in school in New Orleans around the same time," recalls keyboardist Rich Vogel. (Harps and horns player Ben Ellman joined later.) "We were all kinda in the clubs checking out music and learning about the local music scene."

Originally from Omaha, Nebraska, "home of the funk," Vogel jokes, the keys player moved to the Big Easy to study history and music at Layola University. A "historically informed funk musician" at heart, he fell head over heels in love with the sounds of the city.

"I used to hear them [Rob, Jeff, and the rest of the jam crew] play at house parties and dirty little bar gigs. At one point, I struck up a conversation and said, 'Hey, I think you need a keyboard player,' and they said something like, 'Do you think it should be you?' I said, 'Yes, definitely!' They said, 'Come over.' 

"They had a rehearsal space in this old warehouse," he continues. "I remember we set the Leslie speaker in the middle of the room, and we started playing. Then I came in with the organ. At one point, I noticed Stan looked up from the drums to look at the organ. From that moment on, I got a feeling by the look on his face that I was in the band."

Sure enough, Vogel made the cut.

Twenty years and ten albums later (with an 11th one underway this spring), Galactic is bigger than ever. And on January 30, the jam band will transform Hollywood ArtsPark into a "New Orleans throwdown" as it brings groovy Carnivale Electricos vibes to the 954.

"It's the first time we ever thought about doing a record with that kind of theme," the music junkie explains of the band's tenth studio album, which pays tribute to Mardi Gras and NOLA's carnival culture.

"We thought it would be interesting to take it beyond carnival in New Orleans and get in touch locally and abroad in Brazil. It [Carnivale Electricos] represents two poles -- New Orleans being the north pole of the carnival world and Brazil being the south pole. That's how it's supposed to work. It's supposed to be a pretty good record, something you can put on during Mardi Gras."

With tracks featuring Al "Carnival Time" Johnson (who remade his classic hit for the album), War Chief Juan Prado, and Brazilian drum troupe Casa Samba, among other notable acts, the album fulfills its purpose.

However, Carnivale Electricos is also symbolic of Galactic's evolution and popularity as a band: "After all this time being a New Orleans band and all the associations and artists we know, we can do something that's carnival-focused," Vogel says. "We can get a Mardi Gras Indian chief to come and do a track; we can get collaborations that will bring out the depths of that culture. When we were a young band, we probably couldn't get all those people to return our calls.

"We realized we were at the point of our career where we can pull that off."

Its reputation may have a lot to do with it, but the magic of Galactic's music lies in its versatility. From recording with Big Freedia, the Allman Brothers Band, and the Roots, Galactic's funk blends in perfectly with almost any genre.

"It comes from being music lovers, really," the keyboardist says. "We end up collaborating with people we admire. It begins with that. The goal is to make something together that is both them and us. It's not exactly what we or them would do on our own. That's the fun of the collaboration -- you meet in the middle."

To many, Galactic is emblematic of Louisiana's largest city. For band members, though, it's a band that just happens to be based in New Orleans.

"I mean, we're one representation of it," he says. "Most of us aren't from here. Stan the drummer is the only one who actually grew up here, but we all came down after high school and started playing around town.

"We kinda represent it from the insider/outsider perspective. We've tried to absorb as much from the music scene and its history as we can and put it through our own filter and make it a little bit different.

"It's all rooted in New Orleans music, old-school funk, and even R&B," Vogel summarizes. "If we represent New Orleans at all, it's because we've been out there almost 20 years. We've worked with a lot of guest artists that aren't from here, but we always go back."

Galactic. With the Monophonics. 7 to 11 p.m. Friday, January 30, at Hollywood ArtsPark, 1 Young Circle, Hollywood. Free. Call 954-921-3500, or visit hollywoodfl.org/artspark.

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