The music from New Orleans has always had its own unique quality. Along with the city being the birthplace of jazz, the essence of “The Big Easy” has a knack for seeping into other …
The music from New Orleans has always had its own unique quality. Along with the city being the birthplace of jazz, the essence of “The Big Easy” has a knack for seeping into other musical styles. It also has a knack for influencing other musicians to bring that peculiar flair to their own local area. This is part of the mantra for the Catnip Junkies who have been bringing their swingin’ sound all over New England. On August 18 at 7:30pm at The Blue Room in the heart of Pawtuxet Village on 2197 Broad Street in Cranston, folks will get to experience the band’s New Orleans inspired music. It’s part of Catnip Junkies’ monthly residency at the venue and it’s bound to get people dancing.
I had a talk with Beth Silvia from the band ahead of the show about how Catnip Junkies started, having a wide-ranging artistic background, utilizing a flexible set up and making the streets of New England a little more like the streets of New Orleans.
Rob Duguay: First off, what's the origin story behind how Catnip Junkies started?
Beth Silvia: Well, I went to New Orleans for my first time about 10 years ago and I felt like my soul went home when I heard the music on the streets, I fell in love. My background is in musical theater and I’ve been in a duo for 30 years, just doing acoustic rock. I’ve played for seniors, I’ve played for kids and I’ve done voice in college, so when I came home I knew that I needed this music in my life. I reached out to find like minded folks in every way possible, I made some friends at renaissance faires that were interested in starting a band that kind of had a swing, jazz, New Orleans feel. Then I chased down some horn players in Providence one night from the Extraordinary Rendition Band, but when the pandemic happened everything was reevaluated.
When we couldn’t play out much, we decided to put a lot of rehearsing and energy into the Catnip Junkies. I would say the band as it is now was born of the pandemic and it really struck me during that time how much live music brings a joyful energy to people in person. We decided to make it our mission to bring that awesome, joyful feel of the streets of New Orleans to the streets of New England and it became our mission. We started playing anywhere we could for anyone we could and little by little over the past three years we’ve managed to get ourselves a full season. We’re playing some really great shows like The Big E, Bristol Porchfest and Autumnfest in Woonsocket and now we’ve been collaborating with The Blue Room to do a New Orleans themed night once a month.
RD: That’s very cool. Going from having a background in musical theater to doing live music in the way you’re doing it with Catnip Junkies, do you feel that you’ve had to do any adaptation or has it been quite seamless for you with this particular project?
BS: My background is very eclectic. I took formal vocal training in college and I did musical theater for a long time. I was playing in rock and blues bands during that time as well, so I’ve been able to take all of the things that I’m passionate about and forge it into Catnip Junkies. I’m also influenced by the musician Meatloaf in the way he has drama on stage, so our band is a full on show. We have dancing, we have tap dancers, we have dancing that’s choreographed between two of us, we have a lot of drama and it’s very theatrical. It’s really just a mashup of everything I love, that New Orleans vibe, musical theater, dancing and it’s a celebration of all that so I’m in the pocket right now.
RD: Catnip Junkies are also affiliated with a group of artists and performers called The Bourbon Street Jubilee, so what makes this group different from the band? Is it more like a collective and a collaborative?
BS: The Bourbon Street Jubilee is our roadshow, we’ll take it into a theater or a place with a stage setting and we play all the music live so it’s like a vaudeville show featuring Catnip Junkies as the live music. We add friends and acquaintances who are sideshow acts like sword dancers, glass walkers, comedians and whatever else we’re providing for the next gig. The Bourbon Street Jubilee is just an extension of us, it’s like an expansion pack.
RD: That makes sense, I get that. With the Catnip Junkies being a brass band and making the streets of New England like the streets of New Orleans a mission of the band, do you feel that you have an advantage when it comes to accessibility and being able to play in various settings?
BS: Yes, for sure. We literally have people who play with us from time to time to have a larger band, but we’ll take the six of us and we’ll be on a stage with all the bells and whistles or we can pair down into a street band set up. We’ll pull a wagon and we’re actually going to be playing in between all the bands at the Rhythm & Roots Festival in Charlestown this year in this way, which is inspired by both Honk! In Boston and Pronk in Providence. This is one of our ideas to truly bring a street feel, us just pairing down and being mobile. When we pair down, there’s six or eight of us that can walk anywhere and play a set right where we are.
We can also bring the whole kit and caboodle with the suitcase drums, a trap table full of percussion instruments, the slide and the tap board. We have a few choices to choose from.
RD: What can people expect from Catnip Junkies' upcoming show at The Blue Room on Friday?
BS: This time around it’s going to be six of us, along with a tap dancer. We are very interactive, we like to pull the audience from time to time, we have jokes and there’s lots of banter going on. We go into the audience no matter how big or small the room is and we march around and people are welcome to follow us because we always encourage it. New Englanders can sometimes be a little reluctant to let loose, so we kind of give them permission to participate. Sometimes we’ll walk out into the street and play around out there, people will start dancing with us and they’ll follow us back in, which is really fun.
You can expect a lot of toe tappin’, good vibes in the room. It’s going to be a very happy and energetic show.