When the gods in the hills raise a clatter, jovial and apocalyptic, issuing a thunderstorm to cleanse our cities with wind, rain, and the rhythmic booming of thunder, they listen to Dumpstaphunk for inspiration. Dumpstaphunk plays on a stage or from a speaker at the barbeque in the backyard of that Olympic compound in the mountains where dancing deities conjure in their cauldrons the funky back beats of their stormy designs. Present is Thor, raising his hammer and striking his anvil, turning out torrents that echo with nasty jams. The bass is slappin’, the organ is kickin’; you’ll forget that time is tickin’. This fresh groove from New Orleans blew into Tallahassee on a Friday night in January. That night, the funk fell down like rain.
One must be careful, in our post-Katrina world, when using a storm analogy to describe a band from New Orleans. But even as Dumpstaphunk can throttle up to the force of a Cat. 5, their earthy, muscular grooves possess powers to reinvigorate the spirit of the Big Easy. Dumpstaphunk, the five-piece band with style for miles, is the current embodiment of that brand of funk bred from the musical masters of N’awlins—Professor Longhair, Dr. John, and their literal forefathers, the Neville Brothers. They also cue the grooves of Sly Stone, George Clinton, and James Brown as they forge their funk: downplaying harmony and melody, bringing rhythm to the forefront, and emphasizing layers of thick bass lines and steady backbeats.
Thankfully for us, they spread their music far beyond the Orleans Parish.
I had seen Ivan Neville’s Dumpstajam, a version of Dumpstaphunk, on a Saturday night in October 2010 in Live Oak, Florida at Bear Creek Music & Art Festival—that enchanted gathering where the funk resides; where campers, jammers, revelers, and hula-hoopers unite to hear the best funk, soul, and groove bands around. While Dumpstajam was indeed impressive, I was somewhat distracted from the band’s potency at Bear Creek amid the maelstrom of funk swirling throughout the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park and Campground. To play up to their late-night billing among the venerable musicians performing that weekend (Umphrey’s McGee, moe., Soulive, Maceo Parker), Dumpstajam featured a myriad of guest performers who represented some of the greatest talents in soul music. The addition of these guest musicians transformed the athletic arrangement of Dumpstaphunk into a protean orchestration of deep booming bass lines, bellowing keyboards, vociferous vocals, garrulous guitars, and howling horns.
Dumpstaphunk proper played that Sunday night in October, but by that point responsibility had lured me back home to Tallahassee, so I missed the show.
On that Friday in January, I experienced the stripped-down essence of Dumpstaphunk: no horns, no guest players, just the five band members in a tight, streamlined performance. The band was already cookin’ when I walked in the club, The Engine Room on Railroad Avenue, a mid-sized venue with a good selection of bottled beers. Immediately, I lost myself in the throbbing of the crowd and remained entranced for the next two-plus hours. I danced with strangers. I smiled broadly. I even made a new Facebook friend. These are things I don’t normally do. I felt outside of myself.
Not only did the band wrap me up in an impulsive and involuntary trance of dance, I came to form, if only in my spellbound brain, a concord with its members. They felt like friends from a distant lifetime whom I hadn’t seen in ages. Memories of Bear Creek flashed through my mind, and I felt the harmony of the festival washing over me. What’s more, Dumpstaphunk was better than Dumpstajam, as they got to show what their band can do when unadorned.
Back on the drums, Raymond Weber, all smiles, holds down the beat. Every so often, he yells “Somebody scream!” and the crowd erupts—a primal and compelling appeal for audience involvement.
On the far left of the stage, Nick Daniels, bass, has a somewhat intimidating presence. I imagine he’s taken a few phunks out to the dumpsta’ in his day, and that he doubles as the band’s bodyguard and bouncer. You want this guy on your side.
To Daniels’ left, Ian Neville plays guitar. He’s younger than the rest of the band, has a bitchin’ afro that adds to his guitar glam, and quietly does the work of laying down the funk.
Next to Ian Neville, Tony Hall also plays bass (that’s right—two basses), and sports the most fitting mustache in the business, trim and tight, all business. This unassuming everyman exudes energy, motioning to the crowd and flexing his facial muscles to the groove.
On the far right of the stage, Ivan Neville, Ian’s older cousin, perches behind his electric organ and makes that Hammond howl. He leads the band, sings the songs, and addresses the audience. There are three things you need to know about Ivan Neville. The first thing is that Ivan Neville is a nice guy. On stage at Bear Creek, he couldn’t say enough about how much he enjoys the festival, about the quality of the music, and about how he’s a fan just like you and me. “So if you didn’t know,” he told us, “now you know.”
The second thing you must know about Ivan Neville is that he loves women. It’s a tradition for the band, when playing “Standin’ in Yo Stuff,” to invite the girls in the audience on stage to dance. When they played this song in Tallahassee, the women in the crowd stormed the stage and lavished their energies on Dumpstaphunk, who grinned wide and rode the rhythm amidst the assemblage, while the men in the audience were left to dance with each other.
Soon after, the band launched into their signature tune, “Put it in the Dumpsta’.” The third thing you need to know about Ivan Neville is that he cares about his fans. This isn’t a case of fan disillusionment, but a fact that can be proven. The song “Put it in the Dumpsta’” is as much a groove that fuses funk and rock as it is a piece of altruistic advice to move forward from times of hardship and distress and focus on the present moment in which all is well and phunky.
“We gonna take all the bad feeling. All the ill will. All the bullshit. And we gonna’ get rid of it right now,” Ivan says in the song. “And what we gonna’ do with it y’all?”
The crowd and band respond: “Put it in the dumpsta’!”
“You’re on your way to the show. But you’re driving a little too fast. The cop pulls you over, takes your weed and keeps it for himself. What you gonna’ do?”
“Put it in the dumpsta’!”
Not only has Dumpstapunk, in “Put it in the Dumpsta’,” confronted real-life problems faced by their followers, but within their music they’ve constructed a refuse bin for fans to dispose of their troubles and blunders, their failures and mistakes, their niggling concerns, bad mojo, and hoodoo-voodoo juju. Dumpstaphunk didn’t have to provide fans with this storage space for life’s detritus, this theoretical waste bin accessible through the wisdoms of funkdom. So why did Dumpstaphunk clue us in?
Because Dumpstaphunk cares.
Try it out. The next time you come home from work to find your cat has hacked up a hairball on the rug, clean it up, then put it in the dumpsta’. Not just the hairball, but the stress that goes along with it.
Next time you’re late to class and the teacher glares and marks you tardy, take your seat, clear your mind, then take that tardy and put it in the dumpsta’.
When the girl you’re sweet on says she’s too busy with work to spend time with you, and then you hear she’s down at the corner bar having drinks with your best friend, lift that girl up out of your mind and put her in the dumpsta’.
If you make it to the bus stop just in time to see the bus throttling down the road, and you start running but the driver won’t stop to let you on, take a seat on the curb, take a breath, and put that driver in the dumpsta’.
The next time Dumpstaphunk comes to your town but you’re low on cash, your car’s broken down, you’re behind at work, deprived of sleep, and haven’t called your mother in weeks, ball up your excuses in a wad of nonsense, and put it in the dumpsta’. Go see Dumpstaphunk and allow the nasty, stinky storms of phunk to blow those stresses out from your soul.