WTUL New Orleans

Last 10 songs Pop-out Direct


An earsplitting time was had by all. GA-20, the three-piece Blues outfit hailing from Boston, brought big energy to Chickie Wah Wah on Friday, the first night of the 2023 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

The doors opened at 10:00 with the opener beginning on the half hour. The show began timely (a rarity in New Orleans) with local singer songwriter and slide guitarist, Layla Musselwhite. Daughter of legendary harmonica man, Charlie Musselwhite, Layla was raised on rhythm and blues. Her early proximity to great talents such as Big Mama Thornton and Muddy Waters, with whom her father shared stages, might have produced a ho-hum chanteuse content with riding the wave of her father’s fame, but Layla is no slouch. She’s a bed-headed badass whose musicianship and stage presence pack one hell of a punch. Her brand of hard-driving Blues proved an apt introduction for the GA-20 set that followed. 

After a few songs, I dipped to the back for a drink. At the bar I leaned in to place my order. The brass top had absorbed the body heat of the prior patron and it felt warm against my bare forearms. Though the bar was warm, the room was cold, with ceiling fans aplenty, all powered on high. The Wizard of (Chickie) Wah Wah must have imagined she was doing the audience a favor, many of whom no doubt spent the day baking in the Jazz Fest sun, but I was freezing. 

Drink in hand, I shimmied through the small crowd and out the door, to the covered side patio, for some steamy New Orleans air. Layla raged on; her sound now muffled by the wall separating the stage from the courtyard. 20 minutes passed, I thawed out and returned inside. Layla finished to great applause, stepped off the stage and back to the bar – one moment a performer, an audience member the next. That’s the beauty of an intimate New Orleans venue. 

GA-20 took the stage. Tim Carman set up on drums while Matthew Stubbs and Pat Faherty onboarded three or more guitars a piece. They played a few chords to test the sound. It was then I regretted not bringing earplugs for protection. Not unlike the ceiling fans, the instruments were powered to full blast. The Bostonians were ready. They started the set with ‘Dry Run,’ a catchy lament about meeting someone new and feeling a ‘spark’ only to realize the connection is a sham – she’s practicing her flirting. 

Two weeks ago, I’d not heard of GA-20. Then, Sydney Lane, interview coordinator, and fellow disc jockey, on local radio station WTUL connected me with a promoter for GA-20 who gifted me a spot on the guest list (Thanks, Tony!). Despite my appreciation, the newbie journalist in me was determined not to let a free ticket influence my review. I spent the days leading up to the show, streaming the newest GA-20 album, “Live In Loveland,” a compilation of live performances of eight songs from previously released albums and a few new tracks. First impression? I thought it was good, too good. I don’t play music, but even my novice ears could tell these guys are great musicians. I recognized their talent but was bothered by the purity. It felt too engineered, not gritty enough. I wanted less Dan Auerbach and more Muddy Waters. So, I arrived at 2828 Canal, notebook ready, feeling compelled to critique. I wanted not to like GA-20. They changed my mind. 

GA-20 bills themselves as a band ‘meant to be seen live.’ They’re right. What started as an assignment, with me scrawling notes in a pocket journal and taking mediocre iPhone video footage, turned into a hip shaking, two stepping good time. Their cover of Hound Dog Taylor’s “Give Me Back My Wig” was a crowd pleaser. With its minimal lyrics and cheeky subject matter, the song begs for crowd participation. The audience obliged. I was especially entertained to see a sweaty strand of guitarist Matt Stubbs’ shoulder length hair paste itself to his forehead, to resemble a prosthetic unibrow. I pointed it out to my partner. We had a good laugh as we watched Matt’s earnest attempts to free the lock with a series of head nods and hair flips. He couldn’t very well stop playing to tuck the piece behind his ear; so there it remained for the duration of the song.

One of my favorite parts of a live performance is observing how the musicians communicate with one another on stage. There’s usually a heavy dose of knowing stares and eyebrow raising. I didn’t notice that with GA-20. They seemed to know just what to expect of their bandmates, without the help of non-verbal cues – a good thing, given a look from guitarist Pat Faherty would have been completely obscured by his opaque black glasses. I found the glasses a little disconcerting. Even still, they were undeniably cool and added to the dynamic I was picking up – Matt’s the front man and Pat, the guitarist with mystique à la Almost Famous

Perhaps the most memorable part of the show was when Pat stepped off the stage and into the audience with his guitar. He played a solo as he walked through the crowd, a sea of jazz dads parting the way as he moved toward the front entrance. There was nervous excitement in the room as the crowd anticipated what might happen next. Would he return to the stage, would he carry the solo from the merch booth (arguably a pretty good sales tactic)? I don’t know that anyone guessed he’d jump on the bar, but he did. I didn’t see the moment of ascent. One moment he was grounded, the next he was strutting up the brass top bar, back to the stage, still wailing on that guitar. I shuddered as he narrowly avoided the brisk blades of a ceiling fan. A buzz cut was not rehearsed. I don’t know if any hair was sacrificed, but it wouldn’t have mattered much; he’s got a ton of hair. Pat played it off well, hardly missing a beat. He concluded the solo and returned to the stage to rejoin the band. 

Chickie Wah Wah is situated near Canal and Broad, across from the RTA hub. It’s a busy commercial area, but not one known for its music venues. The audience didn’t just happen upon this show. They’re fans who came out, eager for high energy GA-20. Having now seen them perform live I get it. GA-20 plays damn fine Chicago Blues. The group is building a dedicated fan base and collecting glowing reviews from the likes of Rolling Stone magazine. Next time I see them I expect it’ll be on a much larger stage, hopefully sans ceiling fans. Thanks for making the first Friday night of 2023 Jazz Fest one to remember!

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Last 10 songs Pop‑out Direct


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