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Bonerama Rocks Long's Park in Lancaster, PA

Wade Luquet By

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Long's Park Amphitheater
Lancaster, Pennsylvania
June 14, 2009
While many communities have free summer concerts, few have as an impressive a lineup as the Long's Park Summer Music Series in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. With very strong local business support, the Long's Park Amphitheater Foundation is able to bring in such groups as Papa Grows Funk, Kathy Mattea, Los Lobos, Buckwheat Zydeco, and Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The 71 acre park consisting of picnic groves, a petting zoo, tennis courts, ball fields, and a lake, also boast a large amphitheater at the bottom of a softly sloping hill where thousands can enjoy music on a summer evening.

And on this summer night, an estimated five thousand music lovers did show up with their lawn chairs and blankets to hear the New Orleans brass funk group Bonerama. Central Pennsylvania audiences tend to be a polite bunch—listening intently and clapping for a good performance. But Bonerama evokes more than politeness, and by the end of the evening, most of the mixed-aged fans were out of their chairs dancing and demanding an encore from this seven-piece band fronted by three very talented trombone players.

While the trombonists—Mark Mullins, Craig Klein, and Greg Hicks—may be up front, the band also boasts equal talent in the back with Eric Bolivar on drums, Nori Narakoa on bass, Bert Cotton on electric guitar, and Joe Ashlar on organ. This unusual grouping of musicians was able to artfully mold the audience from passive listeners to active participants in the party atmosphere they created. Tunes this day ranged from flood memories like "Lost My House (But I Got My Rugulator)" and the haunting "When the Levee Breaks" to a high energy Fats Domino cover of "I'm Walkin'" The audience really sat up and took notice when the band played the protest tune "Christiania," especially when Mullins plugged his trombone into a Wah Wah pedal and a guitar amp and used the horn like what sounded to be a perfect string instrument.

While each of these trombone players are remarkable, Mullins takes his horn a bit further—some might even say he's a bit possessed. Leaning down into a low crouch position, Mullins' waits for his solo and then explodes into a mad run of the horns slide. It is stunning to the senses to experience the energy and innovation he has brought to this 14th century brass instrument incorporated with 21st century technology. He also possesses an ability to write songs for the band as demonstrated in their new studio single "Hard Times"—available for download free at the band's website This may be one of the most upbeat songs about hard times heard in a long time.

The Bones introduced Lancaster to some old New Orleans tunes when they performed a high energy version of the Allen Toussaint composition "A Certain Girl," a tune made famous by Ernie K Doe. They also tromboned up banjo great Danny Barker's 1947 tune "Save the Bones for Henry Jones." The single set concert ended with Fats Domino's "I'm Walkin.'" By then, the audience was so revved up, they demanded an encore and the boys obliged with "Crosstown Traffic," a tune by Mullin's "favorite trombonist" Jimi Hendrix. It was during this song that Bonerama's newest member, organist Ashlar, was set loose on a ripping solo. Ashlar is a young musician who has been making his mark in New Orleans the past three years as a versatile piano and organ player, and his funk groove organ is a welcome addition to the band.

Bonerama is one of those groups best seen in a live performance—in fact, most of their albums are live recordings from club dates. Luckily, they tour often and play many local gigs in New Orleans. Their trombone harmonies are uplifting as they hit the listener with an exhilarating wall of sound. Their solos are awe inspiring as they hit each note perfectly at great speed. And best of all, the band knows how to create a party atmosphere that makes the audience glad they were there. Certainly that was true for the five thousand on this summer night in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.


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