When the Krewe of Tucks makes its annual rowdy roll down St. Charles Avenue on the Saturday preceding Mardi Gras, the parade leaves a lasting impression. The Carnival organization is known for its irreverent potty humor. The king reigns from an oversized commode. Riders toss miniature toilets and custom-decorated plungers as throws, and the overarching live oak branches that shade the street are festooned with toilet paper, turning an otherwise elegant thoroughfare into what appears to be a miles-long teenage prank. Yet, there’s one float that offers an entirely different experience. The Funky Uncle is the only float that features a custom-built, studio-quality sound system that leads to both the riders and the crowds grooving to funky hits by a live band positioned aboard the front deck, creating a rolling dance party.
Float captain Chris Beary, a businessman and philanthropist, had intended to use the Funky Uncle as a roving concert attraction at festivals and block parties around New Orleans, but when the pandemic hit the idea took an entirely different turn. He envisioned the float as the centerpiece of a live-streaming concert series that would employ musicians sidelined by the lockdown while lifting the spirits of music lovers denied access to the club scene. Thus began Fridays from the Funky Uncle, a weekly webcast of musicians that launched on April 3, 2020, with a consecutive run of 105 weeks. The final regularly scheduled livestream show will be held on Wednesday, April 6, at The Howlin’ Wolf, 907 S. Peters Street.
The all-star lineup for this second-anniversary celebration includes Tom Worrell, Matt Lemler, Josh Paxton, C.R. Gruver, Jason Neville, George Porter Jr. and The Runnin Pardners, Leo Nocentelli and the Funky Uncle All-Stars. The musicians will perform hits by New Orleans’ legends whose faces are among the props on the Funky Uncle float, including Professor Longhair, James Booker, Allen Toussaint, Dr. John and Art Neville, along with Porter and Nocentelli.
Admission is $25. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the show starts at 7 p.m. Advance tickets may be purchased here. Online viewers can access the show on Facebook Live, YouTube, Twitch and the Funky Uncle website.
“We typically get more than 2,700 views per show on average,” said Beary. “We’ve put a lot of music, funk music, and other music out there for free. And in addition, we’ve created a library. If you go onto our website, you can see every show that we’ve done. Our show format is 75 minutes of music and 25 minutes of an interview.”
To date, Funky Uncle has raised more than $640,000 through donations, providing services to 852 members of the music community in need. Past performances have included Flow Tribe, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Papa Mali, Erica Falls, the Brass-a-Holics, Nigel Hall, the New Orleans Suspects, Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes and the Louisiana Sunspots, Future Cowboys, The Rumble, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers.
When Tucks returned to the streets for the 2022 Carnival season, float riders aboard the Funky Uncle handed out 4,000 limited-edition vinyl LPs of 20 songs from concerts that had been recorded as part of the livestream series.
The Funky Uncle concept started in 2014 when Beary, a businessman and philanthropist, met Cristian Duque, leader of a band called Soul Project who was hired to play at a pre-parade party hosted by a Tucks sub-krewe known as the Fat Bankers’ Social Aid and Pleasure Club. The men shared a mutual love of funk music. Beary invited Duque to join the sub-krewe as the “Ambassador of Funk,” and Duque now regularly performs at the pre-parade party and aboard the float.
When COVID-19 brought the music scene in New Orleans to a standstill, Duque suggested to Beary that a fundraiser could alleviate financial woes facing the Soul Project. Beary hit upon the idea of using the Funky Uncle float for a concert in the Tucks den and broadened the outreach to include a larger number of musicians by way of a crowd-sourced Funk Fund. The only problem in getting the program up and running was the location of the float, which was temporarily warehoused at the Blaine Kern float-building studio following Mardi Gras.
“I went over to Tucks Den, it’s not there,” said Beary. “And we’re usually the last float in the whole parade. I said to Barry Kern, ‘I need the float. I want to do the show.’ He said, ‘Chris, nobody’s even supposed to be driving on the street right now. I can’t bring the float over there.’”
Barry Kern was eventually able to get a police detail to escort the Funky Uncle float “in exchange for six boxes of copy paper,” said Beary.
The artist known as Frenchy is frequently on site at the concerts to create one of his signature “live paintings” of the performances, which are auctioned to raise additional money for the Funk Fund.
As is the case with the Howlin’ Wolf anniversary show, Funky Uncle concerts do not always come hitched to the Mardi Gras float. Acts have been booked at clubs across the city, including Tipitina’s and Buffa’s. Concerts will continue under the Funky Uncle brand, and they may be livestreamed on an occasional basis. Audiences have been allowed to attend the concerts as COVID-19 safety protocols were incrementally relaxed.
“We’re stopping doing weekly streams, mainly because clubs are back open, musicians are getting into the groove of working,” Beary said. “The request for sponsorships are dying out, and we don’t want to take money out of the clubs’ pockets and out of the bands’ pockets, so to speak, if they can get club gigs.”
Future shows sponsored by Funky Uncle will include a monster jam on Saturday, May 7, featuring BouKu Groove, The Rumble and the Funky Uncle All Stars, followed by a set by the Honey Island Swamp Band from 2 to 4 a.m. Visit the Funky Uncle website for updates.