Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band - Official YouTube video Image for "Lovin"
If it is true that the funk is its own reward, as the great philosopher, bandleader, musical alchemist, and general troublemaker George Clinton once said, then the upcoming pairing of the Asheville bands April B. & The Cool and Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band at The Firmament will be rewarding indeed. Both bands deal heavily in funk music, even if their approaches are almost entirely different.
As their name indicates, Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band are essentially a mobile dance party - a barrage of dance grooves, pumping beats, chunky wah-wah guitars, and blasting horns. They embody the tight-but-loose aesthetic of 1970s funk outfits like the Ohio Players; Earth, Wind & Fire; or, yes, George Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic collective.
April B. & The Cool / Courtesy of Libby Gamble
April B. & The Cool, on the other hand, play a deeper, more sinuous style of funk. April Bennett's singing leans toward the sensual vocals of Alicia Keys or Lauryn Hill, and her music has more space in between the grooves than the Big Fat Booty Band. She also tends to be more of a confessional writer, as the songs on her most recent release "The Sidechick Chronicles" bear out. But there are a lot of connections between these two bands, in addition to a healthy dose of mutual respect.
One of the most literal connections is guitarist John Paul "J.P." Miller, who plays in both bands. The two groups met on the Asheville, North Carolina, music scene a few years back; the Big Fat Booty Band relocated there from Boone, North Carolina, in 2005, and Bennett moved there from Greenville in 2016.
"J.P. and I met at a Booty Band show in Greenville," Bennett says. "I'd heard their music before, but I'd never experienced them live. From there our friendship kept growing. Being around the band and seeing the energy they put forth is wild. It recharges me as a musician, and it makes me want to do more.
Once Bennett moved to Asheville, Miller and the rest of the band took it upon themselves to introduce her to other musicians on the scene, as other bands had done for them back in the mid-2000s.
"I made sure to introduce April to my friends here in Asheville," Miller says, "and everybody was super-responsive and welcoming to her. There's a great funk music scene here, and if you get invited in, you're already family."
Both Miller and Bennett praise the Asheville audience's receptiveness to original music, something that's not always the case in other cities.
"It's very refreshing when you're playing an original song and you look out into the audience and see people singing along," Miller says.
"It's been a great scene for us because people appreciate hearing music," Bennett adds. "It's really nice when people are connecting with your music in that way. They'll come up to you and say, 'Thanks for making me smile tonight,' or they'll dance through the whole show. It's something I've never seen before; people will dance for HOURS and they'll enjoy what you're doing."
The two bands also share an adventurous musical appetite, which allows them both to expand into rock, jazz, and jam-band music with the ever-elastic foundation of funk as a constant.
"Back in the late '60s and early '70s, funk came from people wanting to break out of the norm and stop doing what everybody else was doing," Miller says. "Musicians like George Clinton and Sly and The Family Stone said, 'Hey, let's quit trying to conform and spread out and do our own thing.' If you listen to Funkadelic's stuff, they integrated a lot of rock into their music, which has expended the capability of funk musicians to incorporate different styles from blues, gospel, all of that into what they were doing."
"The term 'funk' is not a music," Miller adds. "It's a lifestyle, and it gives you a wider platform to express yourself and do whatever you want."
And fortuitously enough, Bennett sees a connection between that 'lifestyle' and what both bands have found in Asheville.
"Funk lends itself to the influence of other genres like jazz and rock, just as Asheville does," she says. "You can get what you want out of Asheville and it's the same with funk. You can spread out to wider genres using funk as the basis for all of it."
What: Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band, w/ April B. & The Cool