When the funk comes to St. Louis, it sounds a lot like the blues. The city is known for blues and jazz, not the classic funk sounds of James Brown and George Clinton. Art Dwyer plays with the Soulard Blues Band and says funk isn’t easily defined. For him funk is a visceral reaction.
“When you sit down and you’re listening to a group and all of a sudden and your feet are tapping and the music makes you want to get up and you’re thinking ‘man, that’s funky!’” said Dwyer.
Dwyer and the Soulard Blues Band play Funk Fest this weekend alongside Funky Butt Brass Band, Marquis Knox, Dogtown Allstars Funkestra, Al Holliday and the Eastside Rhythm Band and more. This marks the festival’s 10th year. For the first nine years, the festival was only at Broadway Oyster Bar. This year, it includes performances at BB’s Jazz Blues and Soups and The Beale on Broadway.
Festival organizer Andy Coco says the festival doesn’t really aim to highlight “funk” as a genre. He started the event to highlight the community of musicians that play regularly on the Broadway strip often referred to as “blues row.”
“It is so not about funk at this point. We started calling it Funk Fest in homage to Jazz Fest in New Orleans, which is really no longer about jazz," he said. “When it comes down to it, it’s about St. Louis music, and when it comes to St. Louis music, it’s hard to define it because it’s so many different styles.”
Coco's original aim was to highlight a group of musicians he says are “world class.” His real focus is on gigging musicians: guitarists, drummers and singers that play regularly at one of the three participating venues. These are the musicians that keep the vibe alive.
“These are the working musicians of St. Louis, basically,” said Coco.
The organizer grew up in Pennsylvania and would come to St. Louis to visit his father who brought Cuomo to the club that would become the Broadway Oyster Bar to hear music. For him it was a life changing experience.
“That’s when I really had that moment of ‘this is where I really want to be,’” said Coco.
Bud Jostes has run The Beale on Broadway for 15 years. He seconds the opinion of downtown bar owners that business has been impacted somewhat since ballpark village opened a few blocks away. He says an event that unites the venues will remind music fans that the clubs are still booking music seven nights a week.
“We’re a destination point for live music where you can park your car, get out, go to several clubs and have a go of it,” he said.
Soulard Blues Band’s Dwyer says even though these clubs don’t feature traditional funk doesn’t the genre can regularly pop up. For him St. Louis funk comes in all shapes, sizes and sounds. It’s defined by that certain feeling that begs the question, “Is this funky?”
“Is this music funky? Yeah, man, this music is funky! And these cats are from St. Louis,” he said.
Dwyer’s band and the rest of the Funk Fest line-up will aim for that feeling Saturday and Sunday. Coco will be filming the festival for a documentary about St. Louis music he’s developing.