‘It’s always good to get back, but a lot of people were pretty shook up,” said Eric Lindell, after returning to the Forestville Club a few weeks ago in the wake of the North Bay fires.
But he was glad to play some music to give his fans some solace after last month’s disaster.
“Music is just a universal language. It runs so deep,” he said. “It gives people a real sense of normalcy … people want to get together and talk and share stories. Music is a powerful thing.”
Lindell, with his soulful voice and muscular guitar sound, made a name for himself as a musician in Sonoma County in the 1990s, before moving on to New Orleans.
He’s coming to Sebastopol’s HopMonk Abbey on Nov. 30, as part of an all-star New Orleans funk band called Dragon Smoke, which only plays a few gigs a year beyond the Crescent City.
With legend Ivan Neville and the rhythm section from the innovative groove band Galactic, Dragon Smoke came out of the New Orleans’ Superjam tradition, whereby musicians from different bands play together.
After about 15 years together, the band sounds better than ever, Lindell said during a mid-November interview.
In response to fans’ wishes, Dragon Smoke will play two sets with no opening act at the HopMonk.
Dragon Smoke bassist Robert Mercurio, highly respected for his work with Galactic, said he “knows that feeling” of playing after a disaster: he played with other New Orleans musicians in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Live music is a way for people to “let it all go, to try to forget the crap that they’re dealing with,” Mercurio said. “It really brings it back to the rawness of what entertainment means. It’s an extra special feeling. It’s really what music was meant to do.”
After moving to Sonoma County from San Mateo as a kid in the mid-1970s, Lindell lived all over Sonoma County before moving to Louisiana with his wife, Sarah, in 1999. He’s found a musical home there and become an integral part of New Orleans’ music scene.
“My wife is from Louisiana so we thought we’d try it out,” he said during a phone interview from his ranch, north of Lake Pontchartrain, about an hour from New Orleans.
The New Orleans music scene is “special because it’s a very small community and a pretty close-knit community,” he said.
“It’s very open — there are so many great players, and so much of everybody playing with everybody. I’ve never really seen that anywhere else, and that’s a strong thing for a musical community to have.”
New Orleans’ open spirit led to collaborations with Mercurio and Galactic’s drummer, Stanton Moore. Then Ivan Neville joined the band.
Dragon Smoke, Mercurio said, “can go from a down-and-dirty soulful Ivan song to an upbeat Lindell number,” noting that Lindell has a strong connection to the North Bay.
“Sometimes we’ll go into one of his classic songs, and you just feel the excitement, like, ‘Yeah I love this song!’ You really get the sense of the hometown hero feeling,’” Mercurio said.
Dragon Smoke’s early gigs were at a New Orleans’ club by the Mississippi River called The Dragon’s Den, Lindell said, which led to the band’s name.