Nothing compares to being in the studio as music is being recorded, getting the opportunity to see a song take shape right before your eyes. Well, Snarky Puppy made it possible for countless people to experience that same feeling this past week when they hit the city of New Orleans to record their latest album, Family Dinner Volume 2. Over a sold-out, three-night stand, the band made musical magic before an intimate audience of about 60 guests, some of whom drove from as far as Canada to the Big Easy to be a part of this event. Taking place inside a church that had been repurposed as a recording studio, the setting was ideal for the near spiritual experience that would follow.
For the follow-up to their GRAMMY Award-winning Family Dinner Volume 1, the band called on some of their talented pals to help them mark the occasion. While I was especially excited to check out faves such as Laura Mvula, Jacob Collier and Chris Turner, I welcomed the chance to be introduced to other acts such as Becca Stevens, Benardo Aguiar, Knower and perhaps my favorite discovery of the evening, legendary Afro-Peruvian vocalist Susana Baca.
With two shows each night, I attended the first show on the recordings’ final night. And though the collective had been performing the entire set twice each night, it still possessed the excitement and passion as if they were performing it for the first time. Michael League, the band’s leader, served as the evening’s emcee, explaining the selections and how they came to choose each guest vocalist.
Despite League’s gentle warning that things could move somewhat slowly during the recording process, the night’s performances generally went over without a hitch. The personnel switches were fluid, as musicians shuffled chairs and instruments, with the next performer unassumingly entering the studio to take his or her position at the mic. We were privy to hearing all of the sounds of a recording studio, complete with vocal warmups, instrument tweaks and impromptu rehearsals. Showcasing everyone’s professionalism and top-notch skill level, each song was recorded in one take, with the exception of the set’s closing guest, David Crosby, who cut his first take short after realizing he had flubbed his lyrics on the Crosby, Stills & Nash hit, “Guinnevere.”
Though most of the evening’s songs had been previously released, Snarky Puppy breathed new life into them, creating arrangements that often detoured completely from the originals. Turner’s “Liquid Love” was almost unrecognizable as it became a funked up groove, while Crosby himself admitted to the audience that he had been blown away by the collective’s take on his 1969 folk song. Other songs given the Snarky Puppy treatment included Mvula's "Sing to the Moon," Knower's "I Remember," Stevens' "I Asked" and Collier's "Don't You Know."
One of the best parts of the entire evening was seeing each artist genuinely enjoy themselves. On more than one occasion, the audience could catch the musicians and artists make eye contact when they would ease into a good groove. The power of music was also evident in Baca, who despite the language barrier, radiated total joy during her performance of an Afro-Peruvian slave song. As the musicians echoed her call-and-response, she swayed, danced and clapped to the music, all while wearing a smile. Knower's lead singer Genevieve Artadi was a pint-sized ball of energy who also was moved to dance along as she and her bandmate Louis Cole brought their electro-funk fusion to life.
Another part that made the night so memorable was that we were forced to sit up and pay attention. We were instructed to turn our phones off, allowing us to unplug from social media and completely take in each performance (not to mention that the cellular signals could have interfered with the recording process).
All in all, the entire experience was a feel-good one, with proceeds from the ticket sales benefiting a local music charity called The Roots of Music, which empowers New Orleans youth through music education, academic support and mentorship. So in addition to being able to witness the album's recording in the flesh, the audience also got to help give back to the city's rich musical heritage.
With six shows in total from which to cull footage and recordings from, there's no telling which versions will make it to final version of Family Dinner Volume 2, especially since League revealed that the band performed each song slightly different for each show. And with no release date confirmed as of yet, just know that whenever it finally drops, you are definitely in for a treat.