Dr. John – Gris Gris

In the mood for a Hogs story?  Yea, you’ve probably heard enough.  So how about a Dogs story?  Hogs 4, March 2012.  What a year.  We had moved to our 3rd location and second within City Park aka City Pork.  We had somehow managed to convince the Park to let us turn the Frisbee Golf fields into a festival grounds that week much to the chagrin of the very vocal, vitriol spewing frisbee fanatics.  The line-up was pretty stacked in hindsight for our second attempt at adding music.  The Gourds -> Marcia Ball -> Voice of the Wetlands All Stars (Tab Benoit, Cyril Neville, Anders Osborne, George Porter Jr. Johnny Sansone) -> Trombone Shorty closing. This was back when we were a one day only festival. Hogs 4 would also be our first year with catastrophic weather.  

The whole week rumors had been swirling that the legendary Dr. John (a recording member of the VOW Allstars) was going to show up unannounced as a playing member.  He had been working on a comeback album with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys at the time so we knew he was probably fit to play.  Sadly, this sit-in had never been advanced with our production or security so while it was improbable, I was happy to play very coy about it when asked.  We had to sell tickets after all!  Thursday night it rained like feral packs of cats and dogs.  Thunder and lightning crashed through New Orleans for hours on end.  Sleep was impossible and my anxiety was at max levels.  Foolishly, I was still financially fronting the whole fest.  I was convinced I was about to lose my ass.  I vividly remember throwing up in the toilet at 3am a few times, but telling myself “No. We’re not giving up. Get to work. You need to do anything you can to make this work”  The rain finally stopped around 4am.  Rene and I headed out to the field to start remediating and salvage some kind of hope for Saturday’s fest.  We arrived to a swamp.  The whole field was severely submerged.  I couldn’t help but think the frisbee community had put the gris gris on us.

Rene and I got on the phones and called every team.  We amassed sump pumps and tractors and went to work.  The teams were incredible.  Everyone was pitching in to make this thing happen.  We were all “up to our asses in alligators” (I had to jump in a lake where we were running the pump lines and unclog a drainage pipe underwater.  The rumor was alligators were there)…but we drained the swamp.  Saturday, the sun shined hard and the patrons flocked to the fest.  Opening the gates on time was a cathartic triumph in itself.  But the best was yet to come….

Earlier in the week, Marcia Ball’s team let us know that she was going to sit-in on keys with VOW so any hope for Dr. John was extinguished in my eyes.  The time came to announce VOW and sadly no sight of the Gris Gris man.  I stayed for a couple of songs watching on stage.  Suddenly, I was mic’d to head to back-of-house production.  When I was descending the stairs, I noticed an old limousine, moreso hearse, pulling into production.  The doors opened and a very slow moving Dr. John stepped out.  Our head of production, Ed (a music legend himself knew all along as he had in fact advanced Mac and wanted to surprise us), escorted Dr. John to me at the stage.  I shook Dr. John’s hand and introduced myself.  He hesitated a response then looked at me pensively and asked in his unique slow growl, “Is this Dogs for the Pause?”  Yes.  Yes it was, I said, much too nervous to correct.  Then he responded, “Cooooool” in a slow drag and headed onstage.  He went on to finish out the rest of the set with the group.  It remains one of the most talked about sets in Hogs history and was a true honor for me personally.  

When I started collecting records, I wanted to build a nice portfolio of New Orleans artists.  This was one of my first of those purchases.  Gris Gris is an album that defies categorization and demands to be experienced as a whole. Its songs flow seamlessly into one another, creating a continuous, almost ritualistic experience. Each listen uncovers new layers of intricacy and nuance, revealing the depth of Dr. John’s artistry. Whether you’re drawn to the infectious African and Latin rhythms, the haunting chants and swampy psych melodies, or the Night Tripper’s evocative lyrics, Gris Gris is an album that leaves an indelible impression and paints the dark side of New Orleans’ “VooDoo” culture. Such a sharp contrast to the music so popular at the time (1968), Stones and Beatles.  Be sure to read the notes on the back cover of the album.

Moral of the story: don’t ever let those dastardly frisbee golfers and their VooDoo rituals stand in your way!  We broke their spell and this was the festival that really launched Hogs and truly allowed us to believe in ourselves as Festival producers.

Favorite Tracks:  Listen as a whole

Pressing: ATCO Records – ATCO SD 33-234.  Original.  1968