Indianapolis sports a great many bands specializing in a variety of musical genres, but finding New Orleans-style brass bands among them is rare, because there is really only one. But the funky sounds of the Big Easy have made it here by way of the Pork & Beans Brass Band, a group consisting of local musicians.
The band got its start when several of its members attended a brass band festival in Kentucky, and after watching it they asked themselves, "Why are we not playing this stuff?"
A year-and-a-half later, after juggling the professional and personal schedules of its many members, making time to rehearse and playing gigs here and there, Pork & Beans played alongside the 12-man Kansas Bible Company group May 16 at Radio Radio.
This unique sound made its way to Indianapolis, of all places, because it is infectious. "Have you heard it," says band member Ben Phelps. "Because when you hear it, it's addictive."
Phelps snaps away on a marching snare drum and is incredibly passionate about the music. As a New Orleans resident for several years, Phelps developed a love for the rhythms and beats, the horn lines and the smooth saxophone notes that define the New Orleans-style brass bands. So when he heard from friends that a group was getting together to play it in his native Indianapolis, he was on board.
Many of the other band members had never heard the style of music before joining the band, but they were enticed by its groove and funk just as Phelps was. Gearl Stephens and Josh Reynolds have been playing sousaphone and trombone, respectively, for decades, and were burnt out on the classical pieces and marching tunes they had been taught to play during their musical education. But once they were introduced to the more improvised and fun-loving brass band sound, they found a new passion for their instruments and joined Pork & Beans as well.
"I was just playing along in the basement, and I hadn't played in a while," says Stephens. "It had been six or seven years, and this stuff just really drove me to start playing again."
"We've all played a lot of different kinds of music throughout our musical careers, different styles, different bands, different groups," Reynolds adds. "And when I heard the music, it was infectious."
Stephens says the group enjoys busking, or playing on street corners for money. "There's nobody else doing this kind of style," he says. "There are rock bands and a good number of jazz ensembles, but nobody is doing what we do."
Phelps says that part of the fun of what they play is that it is so unique to the city, to Hoosiers that are so used to brass bands sticking to polka or marching tunes. "That's one of the things that we're doing," Phelps says. "We're covering a style of music you don't hear many places; we think it's fun and people tend to think it's fun."
The group enjoys playing classic New Orleans tunes, but they also mix it up and do occasional covers in the New Orleans brass band style. In a performance last week they played a cover of Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams."
Phelps says that bringing genres of music such as New Orleans-style brass band to Indianapolis is important because exposing people to different kinds of music is exposing them to different cultures. "We've got that connection to that culture and that funky music that makes you want to get up and dance," he says.
Stephens and Reynolds added that they hope their music inspires someone to pick up an instrument and dare to play differently than what their music teacher told them to, to be bold and to try different kinds of music.
"Listening to this stuff inspired me to get back into playing because I was so burnt out with the classical music and marching music," Stephens says. "So if some other kid hears this kind of music and is inspired to try something different in school or typical settings, I think that's great."
Pork & Beans Brass Band consists of nine Indianapolis residents and professionals: Bret Reyburn (trumpet), Demian Hostetter (trumpet), Josh Reynolds (trombone), Clarence Jones (trombone), Ben Mishkin (trombone), Brian Hoover (saxophone), Gearl Stephens (sousaphone), Ben Phelps (snare drum), and Ray Duffey (bass drum).