Home » Jazz Articles » Live Review » The North Mississippi Allstars: The Essex Experience Gr...


The North Mississippi Allstars: The Essex Experience Green - 2023 Old Stage Summer Series

The North Mississippi Allstars:  The Essex Experience Green - 2023 Old Stage Summer Series

Courtesy Ross Mickel/Bootleggers Beware


Sign in to view read count
The North Mississippi Allstars
The Essex Experience Green
2023 Old Stage Summer Series
Essex, Vermont
July 29, 2023

After an afternoon of steady rain, comparable to but hardly so severe as those that caused flooding in the state of Vermont earlier in the summer, the clouds parted and the sun shone over the Green Mountains the evening of July 29th, allowing local blues savant and radio personality Mr. Charlie Frazier to introduce the North Mississippi Allstars.

Taking 'The Old Stage' at the Essex Experience with no little relish, it was as if it had been ages since the group's last visit to Vermont. In fact, it was just last November, but it was a differently-conceived group on the Main Stage at The Flynn Center in Burlington last fall, with Luther and Cody Dickinson accompanied by the Rebirth Brass Band and special guest Cedric Burnside.

The current NMA is a stripped-down trio lineup consisting of the two siblings plus bassist/vocalist (and sometimes guitarist and drummer) Joey Williams, late of The Blind Boys of Alabama. And fittingly, the bulk of the setlist, including "Goin' Down South" and "Ship," was quite familiar from the repertoire of previous such streamlined configurations dating back to earlier in the 2000s.

With drummer Dickinson commencing a modified NOLA funeral march rhythm, the band opened with "Sittin' On Top of the World," whereby his guitarist brother began a clinic on electric guitar where he teased tunes like the Allman Brothers Band's "Mountain Jam" and Jimi Hendrix' "Third Stone from the Sun." At such intervals throughout the single set—and there were more than a few—Luther comported himself with no little joie de vivre in the midst of exploring the possibilities of the instrument.

Accordingly, it was impossible not to delight in watching him and his bandmates for the better part of the two hours they played. And it was no surprise that some three-hundred fifty to four-hundred hearty souls braved the wet clammy weather as the sky darkened to share in the collective conviviality.

"Set Sail Pt.1," from Set Sail (New West Records, 2002) was the rare exception among well-trod selections like "Call That Gone" that appeared late in the set. But its inclusion was testament to how the Dickinsons have positioned NMA as something of an artistic ground zero for themselves: after involvement in any number of other projects (Sisters of the Strawberry Moon, Gina Sicilia), plus adventurous studio efforts like the latest on the New West label, the duo return revivified to freshen the output of the group they founded in 1996.

The warmth and intimacy that radiated from the stage kept those departing at just a trickle after the first hour. It was as if the threesome was simply enjoying another Saturday night rediscovering their roots with friends like Williams. So it was a moot point when the latter took over lead vocals on a rendition of "You Gotta Move" that sounded suspiciously similar in arrangement to the opening number.

The infectious nature of the musicianship was undeniable during those repetitive moments and others such as "Shake (Yo Mama)." Some ever-so-brief plodding did occur when opener John Fusco joined the group on-stage, but Luther Dickinson quite deliberately got him to pick up the pace: walking across the stage, he used his own instrument in some call and response to encourage the man to play organ rather than engaging in faux gospel testifying (the addition of the keyboard made perfect musical sense within the guitar/bass/drums format). It was this segment too that called to mind (and ear) how the al fresco sound system never got too loud for its own good (even if it lacked some depth and presence).

Hearkening to Williams' tenure with Robert Randolph, a small handful of instrument switches among the core threesome caused some meandering as the show drew to a close. Performed by Williams on guitar and Luther on bass, the cover of Bob Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody" was merely stolid, while "Stayed Out All Night (Let Me In)," was less notable for the quality of the playing and singing than Cody Dickinson's position playing guitar and singing lead at the front of the stage (Williams took over the drums at this juncture).

But "K.C. Jones (On the Road Again)" provided a momentary respite from a certain aimless quality cropping up in the presentation as it culminated around 10pm (in order to meet the curfew of the venue). And even more spirited interplay arose from incorporating Vermont native harpist Mark Lavoie and Burlington saxophone icon/Phish accompanist Dave Grippo into the stage proceedings.

That spirited fraternization during this interlude emphasized the (overly?) casual atmosphere that dominated this concert. But it wasn't given final punctuation with any encore, rousing or otherwise, so the musicians' unassuming exit—to a smattering of applause from a somewhat confused crowd—turned out to be a somewhat stunted conclusion to the affair.

In the end, though, the denouement was a fitting reflection not only on the North Mississippi Allstars' generally cheerful and charming presence at this tour stop, but also on the sight of the near full-moon hovering in the night sky: just like the group that had just finished playing, the celestial body, just not to its fullest extent.

< Previous

Next >



For the Love of Jazz
Get the Jazz Near You newsletter All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

You Can Help
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.




Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and upcoming jazz events near you.