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If the spirit displayed by the Gulf Coast musicians featured in the two Ponderosa Stomp shows at this year’s South by Southwest music festival/conference is any indication, the region will no doubt fully recover from Hurricane Katrina.

The Ponderosa Stomp bills itself as “celebrating the unsung heroes of the blues, soul, rockabilly, swamp pop and New Orleans R&B,” and celebrate it did March 17 at the Continental Club and March 18 at Opal Divine’s. The festival usually takes place in New Orleans during the week in between the two Jazzfest weekends.

While Jazzfest is pressing on in Katrina’s wake, the Stomp is taking its show on the road; the two Austin, Texas, SXSW shows will be followed by a proper blowout, a three-day affair in Memphis from May 8-10 that will serve as a benefit for Gulf Coast musicians’ charities.
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You wouldn’t know this party had been displaced while squeezing into the Continental. Stomp house band The Lil’ Band O’ Gold, led by Louisiana guitarist C.C. Adcock and accordionist Steve Riley, injected exuberance and pure joy into a week that usually is stifled by jaded music-industry types. One by one, the legends — most people not in the know would call them one-hit wonders — took the stage with no break: New Orleans funkmeister Eddie Bo, sultry soul songstress Barbara Lynn, Archie Bell (above) of “Tighten Up” fame, “Treat Her Right” singer Roy Head, swamp-popper Warren Storm, blues guitar slingerLil’ Buck Sinegal and more had the already electric crowd going bonkers.

The five-hour-plus marathon finally gave way to two more Stomp regulars, this time from the garage realm: Corpus Christi, Texas’ Zakary Thaks and Lake Charles, Louisiana’s answer to the Rolling Stones, the Bad Roads. The Thaks curiously opened with their Nuggets track, “Bad Girl.” Both bands were energetic and in fine form, but the Lil’ Band O’ Gold proved to be too tough an act to follow as most of the energy from the room had been drained as the exhausted crowd thinned out.

The next afternoon at the matinee show, the organizers wisely put on the two garage bands first and they were met with a more positive response. The event was billed as a private party for SXSW badge holders, but it was indeed open — surprisingly, there was a small crowd. That did not deter those who were there from dancing up a storm, and the party hit a Mardi Gras-esque climax when Al Johnson took the stage to belt out his signature tune, “Carnival Time.” The fans and musicians alike were so into the show that when, two hours in, Beatle Bob emerged at the front of the stage with his intrusive dance moves. He was ignored by everyone both on and off the stage.

Many of the Friday night acts followed, with the great Head closing it out. After a heartfelt Doug Sahm tribute, he led the band through a powerful, Stax-type version of “She’s About a Mover,” then his national No. 2 pop hit from 1965, “Treat Her Right.” As the frenzied fans began rushing the stage, Head started to lead the band through Ray Sharpe‘s “Linda Lu” when the PA was cut because the show was running late. It was a bizarre ending, with Head making some strange remarks about the event organizers as his mic was turned off.

New Orleans’ loss of this show was SXSW’s gain, for sure.

— By Joe Belock