One of the supporting acts, a reggae band called the Movement, performs its last song at this Valentine’s night soiree at the Millennium Center at the moment.
Banshee yells echo down the marble hallways at this former Winston- Salem post office that is now flowing over with giddy smokers and beer drinkers. Round tables draped with red cloths beckon the romantically inclined in the darkened corners of the hall, and columns of white drapery set off the main fairway of the dance floor. A hula-hoop spinner swerves in front of the soundboard because, you know, a performance by Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band is a happening and not just a concert. The Asheville band’s example and the holiday have combined to induce audience members to dress in regal finery. There’s a tall peacockish-looking fellow wearing a suit jacket and a blond mane of dreads, a guy wearing tie-dye and a hard hat, swooning couples and a smattering of unattended females and single dudes getting their groove on. A description of the Booty Band’s total appearance without hyperbole would fall short of the mark of accuracy. Marauding funkateers? Bedroom earls of groove? Evangelizers of cosmic sexual dark arts of magic? They’ve clearly learned their lessons well from the godfather of funk, the enduring George Clinton, but their horn section packs an even tighter wallop than Parliament or Funkadelic ever did, calling to mind the blue heat of the third-wave New York City ska scene. A Booty Band show provides a running kaleidoscope of visual counterpoint to the thunder-broom, monster backbeat, wah guitar and trombone-saxophone orchestration. The players welcome various audience members onstage to strut and bump, and collaborate with a pair of fire dancers from the Exuro group of Winston-Salem, who spin flaming batons and eat fire. I once heard an interview on National Public Radio with Maxine Powell, the woman who created a finishing school at Motown to refine the label’s artists for maximum crossover appeal, who said she always instructed the females to tuck their buttocks in. Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band represents the diametric opposite of the Powell principle. Their dense funk and party spirits encourage members of the tribe to revel in the eccentricity their bottoms, whatever size, shape or color. The most forbidden part of the human body, it combines sensuality and earthiness. The legacy of George Clinton, who made the fateful decision to psychedelicize his soul under the sway of Jimi Hendrix and the Temptations, is a black cultural aesthetic that celebrates iconoclasm over respectability. A couple minutes after midnight, the band gets in formation and trombonist Derrick Johnson says, “It’s Saturday; you don’t have shit to do but get down, get drunk and have fun with us tonight,” and they launch into their anthem, “Gotta Go to the Booty Show.” Johnson and saxophonist Gregbob Hollowell work tight bursts of hornery, bassist Al Ingram performs a lethal breakdown and John-Paul Miller hits hot guitar licks that streak like icy saxophone solos. One of the promoters, a fellow named Crow, stands in the back, stringy long hair hanging at his shoulders, and surveys the scene with a look of satisfaction on his face. The Booty Band seems to be feeling about the same. After losing singer-songwriter Josh Phillips last year, the band has found new freedom to explore the remaining members’ untapped talents, deepen their funk and take the party to an ever-expanding array of festivals and venues. They made a good sweep of the West Coast last year, and are getting ready to release a new live CD, Greatest Hips, Vol. 2, recorded at venues from New York City to New Orleans. “Josh was starting to go in a poppy direction, and that wasn’t us,” Miller told me. “Now we’rebringing a heavier edge to it, like Funkadelic or Rage Against theMachine. People are really into it. They come up to us after the showsand tell us they’re into it. Club owners say they like it. It’s goingover really well.” Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band proudly identifiesitself with its adopted hometown of Asheville, having relocated therefrom Boone about three years ago. “We really have formed a family ofmusicians,” Miller said. “We play on each other’s albums. We help eachother on the road. We’re linking up with another Asheville act, Toubab
Krewe, and doing some promotion together for some shows coming up in Colorado, to share the costs.” Heeven went so far as to say of Asheville: “It seems like it’s about toblow up as the next Seattle.” For members of the band — who are, liketheir audience, absorbing the blows of the economy and working outtheir interpersonal hurdles — the music holds everything together. “Themusic is what keeps us as friends,” Miller said. “People can get ateach other’s throats. The music is what heals us. It’s like with theaudience: No matter how their day’s been, we allow them to relax andrelease. And it does the same thing for us.”
Bassist Al Ingram leads Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band’s funk raiding party. (courtesy photo)