Charles Skinner sings and occasionally plays trombone with Dirty Bourbon River Show, but he uses another word to describe his role in the band.
“I’m what they call the ringmaster around these parts,” he said.
Fans know Skinner as Big Charlie, and when he says “parts” he means the cradle of American music: New Orleans.
The band is informed but not defined by the music of its hometown.
“That’s something we studied, sure, but we don’t play it,” Skinner said. “What we play is our own mixture of jazz, blues, rock, circus music and klezmer and all these other things we’ve brought together.”
To drive this point home, in the video for their charming and bizarre song “Jewish Girls Who Went To Art School Know All The Angles,” band members wear T-shirts proclaiming, “If you f*ing ask me to play ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ I’ll f*ing kill you.”
So, no, DBRS isn’t Dixieland by anyone’s definition.
“We make it up a lot; we don’t like to play the same genre more than two songs in a row,” Skinner said. “It’s a lot of fun, and we capture the audience that way. … There’s something for everyone. Grandma will appreciate it, little kids will run around going crazy and anyone in between is going to have a good time.”
Even though it steers clear of its so-called traditional music, DRBS is a happy ambassador for New Orleans’ party spirit. An appearance at the Press Room in Portsmouth happens a week before the first parade of the city’s biggest season.
“I’m looking forward to Mardi Gras,” said Skinner. “We’re gonna start the party down here and then bring it to everybody else.”
Skinner noted that DBRS is making its first trip to the Northeast during this time of year.
“We’ve been west to Colorado and to Chicago, though,” he said. “When places are cold like that, people are going to come out and get drunk, because they’ve been waiting all winter to party.”
The band began in 2008 as a duo, singer/multi-instrumentalist Noah Adams and drummer Dane Schindler. Skinner and horn man Wayne Mitchell joined a year later, and they played their first official show at storied New Orleans juke joint Tipitina’s. Bass player Jimmy Williams arrived a few months later; in 2011, Matt Thomas took over Mitchell’s role.
Playing Tipitina’s was a big moment for Skinner, then 18 years old.
“It’s a crazy thing for me to think about, being on that stage,” he said. “When I was a kid growing up, my dad would tell me about it, and it was in that movie with Dennis Quaid.”
Since then, the band’s played many big hometown gigs. They did Voodoo Fest last year and are set to play New Orleans Jazz Festival this spring. Last year, DBRS traveled to Washington, D.C., for the Radio & Television Correspondents Dinner, where they dedicated the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins homage “Wolfman” to Wolf Blitzer.
The group makes records at a breakneck pace. Its eighth studio effort, Accordion Anthology, was released on New Year’s Eve.
“Our main goal is to stay interested in our music,” Skinner said. “We all come from different backgrounds. When we get together to listen to music, it’s a taste-making session. Our sound comes through us having fun.”
Young and energetic, DBRS is also blessed by circumstance, Skinner added.
“What we did was get lucky. We’re five guys who had all stopped going to college, we each studied music. None of us had wives, children or jobs we couldn’t afford to lose. That’s the rarest thing you can have with a band … It’s worked out pretty well so far.”
As seen in the February 6, 2014 issue of the Hippo.