Compared to most parts of the country, the American West is in tune with the natural elements surrounding it. You can hit Denver in the winter for the type of world-class skiing that would make the Swiss jealous, or in the heat of the summer glimpse into the drive that brought our nation’s expansion Westward. But one of the most exciting acts at this year’s edition of Grandoozy, the unmissable festival that debuts this September in Denver’s Overland Park, is from a distinctly different corner of the United States.
The Soul Rebels are an eight-piece brass ensemble from New Orleans that typifies their hometown’s love affair with funk, jazz, hip-hop, and soul music, and with the second-line band culture that makes New Orleans feel like America’s longest-running party. And while La. is a long way from Colo., who but The Soul Rebels could better encourage us to see the beauty in our everyday surroundings? Music spills out of every corner and crevice in New Orleans, and no group is more representative of that fact.
The Soul Rebels have been recording together since the mid-’90s, but in the last decade have seen their popularity explode both at home and around the world. They’ve collaborated with a seemingly never-ending array of artists from hip-hop (think Slick Rick, the Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, The Roots, Mobb Deep), rock (Metallica, Green Day, Marilyn Manson) and even less-recognized genres that skew closer to home: they’ve teamed up with the legendary Big Freedia to pay tribute to New Orleans’ rich tradition of bounce music. But it’s their own inimitable spin on these and other genres that makes the brass outfit a generational bright spot.
It’s not uncommon, in New Orleans, to turn a corner and be confronted by a group of people on instruments: young or old, drums or brass or woodwinds. While The Soul Rebels have been playing internationally for decades, their live shows retain that element of spontaneity: check any video that captures them on stage, and you feel the improvisational energy coursing through the set. It’s a potent reminder that music is not necessarily something concocted in a studio, packaged, and distributed for mass consumption — at its best, it’s something that bleeds out of the souls of your friends, neighbors and strangers.
With its inaugural event, Grandoozy looks to become one of the signature festivals in the West, a destination for those who want to discover new artists, new frontiers and themselves. The Soul Rebels are an unforgettable live experience that will not only fill up the Western landscape but could justify an out-of-town trip just to see them. But even if you merely happen to be in the vicinity this Sept. 14-16, do your best to stumble upon The Soul Rebels as they warp your idea of genre and era.