Playing this Summer: North of the Quarter
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The Mississippi River connects St. Louis with New Orleans geographically. But there’s also a strong musical connection between the two cities that goes back to the days when riverboats carried passengers – and musicians who transported jazz, blues and ragtime influences – up and down the Big Muddy.
North of the Quarter, a fairly recent addition to the St. Louis music scene, carries on that connection with a New Orleans reference to the French Quarter in its name – as well as a repertoire that includes plenty of Big Easy musical references.
But according to the band’s drummer, Toby Mechem, North of the Quarter actually had its beginnings in an elementary school play at Avery School in Webster Groves.
“It's not a very rock n' roll story,” explains Mechem, “but four of us (Bob Buckman, Kevin Schofield, John Short, and me) had kids at the same grade school. Avery has been doing a play every year for something like 65 years, where parents write it, act in it, play the music, run the lights, etc. We all ended up in the band one year, had a blast and decided to keep it going with a group we called Accident In the Lab.”
But Mechem was a huge fan of New Orleans music, and really wanted to start a band that played NOLA music after visiting the city several years ago. Almost two years ago, he and Schofield decided it was time to get North of the Quarter off the ground.
“We initially wanted a male singer,” says Mechem, “but we came across a post by Mae Soule that she was looking for a band. All the influences she listed were on our hit list, so we figured we should at least listen to her. The first time I heard her sing I forgot about wanting a male vocalist!”
The next step was adding a horn section, and that element came together when Mechem ran into an old friend, trombonist John Covelli, at a concert by the New Orleans band, Bonerama.
“John and I had been friends through a prior work relationship, but had never played together,” states Mechem. ”When I ran into him at the Bonerama concert it was like a light went off. I called him soon after and it all started falling into place.”
North of the Quarter plays June 21 at the Gazebo Concert series in Webster Groves. Here’s additional background about the band, from drummer Mechem. For more info, go to www.northofthequarter.com.
HOME: Our home is Webster Groves. Six of us live within about six blocks of each other. Mae Soule and Khamali Moore aren't Webster residents, but I like to think my basement is kind of a second home for them.
AGE: We will hit our two-year anniversary this fall. The rhythm section has been playing together for about seven years in a band called Accident in the Lab, but Mae and the horns joined in 2011. Our individual ages run from 18 to “over 55.”
INSTRUMENTS: Mae Soule - vocals and percussion; Kevin Schofield - guitar, banjo, background vocals; Bob Buckman - keys, background vocals; John Short - bass, background vocals; Toby Mechem - drums, background vocals; Khamali Moore – trumpet; Mark Casey – saxophone; John Covelli - trombone, horn leader.
HOBBY: There are various things we all like to do, but really, it’s all about music for all eight of us. I hate to call it a hobby, because we’re very serious about it. But until it pays the bills (ha!) I guess I have to say music is our hobby.
LAST CONCERT I ATTENDED: I saw Trombone Shorty at Blues Week in St. Louis and followed that up a week later with a band called Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes at the Maple Leaf in New Orleans. We cover one of their songs, so I wanted to check them out in person. Their CDs don’t capture their energy very well, but live they put on an amazing show. I would recommend them to any music fan headed to NOLA.
LATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: I’m not sure if this qualifies as an accomplishment, but my son and I were just winners in the Post-Dispatch’s Father/Son Look-Alike Contest. The poor thing actually does look like me. And he’s a drummer, so they printed a goofy picture of him playing on my head. I’m very proud of him and hope I can live vicariously through him when I get too old to play drums myself!
WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO: We all love music, and everybody brings a different background to the band. What we all share is the feeling that St. Louis deserves a bigger place on the map than it has historically received. As jazz musicians left New Orleans on their way to Chicago, they played here first. Jazz, blues, rock n’ roll – we have a legitimate claim to all of it. From Scott Joplin through Chuck Berry and Miles Davis to Wilco and beyond, this area has contributed a lot to the pantheon of legendary musicians. All we want to do is add our name to that list. Just kidding! North of the Quarter just wants to expose people to some music and artists they might not otherwise hear in St. Louis. And hopefully they have a good time while they’re doing it!
QUOTE: I have two I really like. The first is at the beginning of a song by a band called Stars: "When there's nothing left to burn, you must set yourself on fire." Which can be interpreted a couple of ways, but for me, it says that if you're not happy with something in your life, you need to take it upon yourself to change it. Not happy with your job? Don't wait for something to happen to make it better. Determine what you need to do and work toward it. Have too much debt? Get rid of some stuff! Can't find a band you want to play in? Start one yourself!
The second quote is, "Before you say something bad about someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you say it you're a mile away. Plus, you have their shoes." That means absolutely nothing but it makes me laugh.
Gazebo Concert Series
Looking to double your free entertainment menu? The Gazebo Concert Series in Webster Groves has just what you’re looking for – pairing live music with showings of movies in an outdoor setting.
Concerts are held every Friday evening from June 14 – July 12 at the Gazebo Park in Webster Groves, the triangular green space located at the intersections of Big Bend Blvd., Lockwood Ave. and Old Orchard Ave. Concerts are free, with the music starting at 7 p.m., followed by the showing of a movie on a large portable screen. Lawn chairs or blankets are advised, and you’ll find booths serving ice cream and beverages. Several restaurants are close to the park, but you can bring coolers with food and your choice of beverages.
Future concerts in the series include the Jim Manley Quartet on June 28, followed by “The Big Chill,” A July 5 concert by Miss Jubilee and the Humdingers paired with “Some like It Hot,” and a final July 12 event featuring Erin Bode and the film, “Undefeated.”
For more information, go to www.oldorchardwg.com.