Hot 8 Brass Band at the Button Factory

The Hot 8 Brass Band playing at The Button Factory in Temple Bar on July 17th 2019.
Photo by Dermot Carmody

By Dermot Carmody

The Hot 8 Brass Band brought the second line parades of their native New Orleans to a heaving, happy and hopping July night at The Button Factory in Temple Bar.

The band was formed from the fusion of two high school brass bands by sousaphone player and bandleader Benni Pete in 1996. Like the communities its members come from, the Hot 8 Brass band was dispersed in the process of evacuation and resettlement that tore New Orleans apart in the wake of the massive damage done to the city by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The band reformed and played to the re-located New Orelans people around the US. They began to play abroad as well and opened for R&B singer Lauryn Hill’s tour.

The Hot 8 Brass Band also featured prominently in two HBO documentaries about New Orleans post-Katrina directed by Spike Lee: When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2016) and If God Is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise (2010). They’ve released a number of albums including 2017’s On The Spot and the Grammy-nominated The Life & Times Of… The Hot 8 Brass Band in 2015.

Apart from Katrina, the band has suffered personal tragedy, losing four members over the years, three of them to gun violence. In 1996, 17 year old trumpeter Jacob Johnson was shot dead in his home. Then in 2004 trombonist Joseph “Shotgun Joe” Johnson was shot dead by police officers in disputed circumstances when they stopped his truck. Two years later snare drummer Dinerral Shavers was shot dead while driving with his family. Additionally, the band lost 28 year old trombonist Demond Dorsey to a heart attack.

The band’s music builds on a bedrock of traditional New Orleans marching jazz to incorporate R&B, rap and hip hop influences. There can be up to 10 in the ensemble, but on this night there were eight: saxophone, two trombones, two trumpets, snare, bass drum and the humongous sousaphone.

The result is a soulful, dance-inducing house party. The voices of the horns soar above the rhythm section of the bass and snare drummers and the bass lines from the depths of the Mississippi mud channeled through Benni Pete’s sousaphone.

Early on in the Button Factory the band had the audience enthusiastically committed to call and response singing and waving its arms in the air like it just don’t care. Their eclectic repertoire of Hot 8 “remixes” create a number of highlights.

From a thorough de-electronification of Joy Division in Love Will Tear Us Apart, through epic versions of Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing and Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together the Hot 8 work the room until it becomes practically physiologically impossible not to dance.

Possibly the most affecting highlight of the night is their version of the American jazz classic St. James Infirmary Blues. The spirit of Louis Armstrong is there in the opening bars of solo trumpet quoting Chopin’s funeral march into the wonderful dirge with dizzyingly beautiful patterns of the horn lines woven around the stomping lament of the rhythm section. 

Despite the tragedy in their back story, or perhaps because of how they have come through it all, The Hot 8 Brass Band embodies the power of their music to bring people together in a healing and joyously life-affirming way.

For more about The Hot 8 Brass Band visit