Hot 8 Brass Band 'bringing New Orleans' to Shepherdstown

November 13, 2008|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- Hot 8 Brass Band tuba player and band leader Bennie "Big Peter" Pete, 32, said that for him and the rest of Hot 8 Brass Band, their school music program gave them more than a reason to keep off of the rough New Orleans streets.

Music, he said, gave them a future.

"We had a band teacher who told all of us, when it came to work you could always join or sit in to perform with a band," Pete said during a telephone interview driving on the way to his New Orleans home.

Hot 8 Brass Band will perform their fusion of traditional New Orleans brass music blended with hip-hop, rock, jazz and funk on Friday, Nov. 14, in Shepherd University's Frank Center Theater. Pete promises audience members that the band will be "bringing New Orleans to them."

Pete, along with fellow members Jerome Jones and Harry Cook, founded Hot 8 Brass Band in 1995.


Many of the members performed together in middle and high school marching bands. "We needed to do something extra. We had a lot of energy," he said. "When we played music, we could express ourselves."

Pete said music also kept them out of trouble. "Here in New Orleans, if you can play an instrument, you can play almost anywhere," he said. "It really kept us on the straight and narrow."

Their original arrangements for favorites such as the spiritual "(I'll) Fly Away" and Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" quickly earned Hot 8 Brass Band a following and respect of their peers. They also regularly appeared in second line parades, a New Orleans tradition often part of funeral processions.

But then The Storm came. Hurricane Katrina swallowed New Orleans, and, like many of those who made the Crescent City home, Hot 8 band members and their families fled. Pete said they were staying at a hotel in New York with other Katrina evacuees when they met director Spike Lee in the hotel lobby. Lee was interviewing those displaced by Katrina for his HBO documentary, "When the Levees Broke."

Lee immediately took a liking to the group, telling them that he wanted them to stick around a little longer. "The rest, they say, is history," Pete said with a laugh.

Later, while many New Orleanians returned, Pete said he wasn't sure about going home.

"I didn't want to come back, but I made a promise," he said.

One of those promises was to keep the music alive in New Orleans. Pete wants to make sure to pass on the gift of music to the next generation. "They have a lot of energy they're just crying out for the need of direction," he says.

If you go ...

WHAT: Hot 8 Brass Band

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 14

WHERE: Frank Center Theater, Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, W.Va.

COST: Tickets cost $5 to $20; free to Shepherd students with Rambler ID

CONTACT: Call 304-876-5113

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