It has been nearly a decade since Red Bull Street Kings invaded New Orleans for the culture-forward brass band competition. As the event returned on Saturday (Sept. 24), anticipation filled the air. Though the showdown did not take place underneath the city’s Claiborne Avenue “bridge” as it has in the past, New Orleans locals remained excited about an afternoon of live music.
Under the 90-degree Louisiana sun, participants and supporters waited eagerly for the familiar sound of tubas and horns. While DJ Kelly Green effortlessly mixed hit records, new bops, and chart-toppers of the past, it was clear all in attendance were there to see a showdown.
Host Downtown Lesli Brown took to the stage and introduced the judges, rapper Mia X, musician and DJ Mannie Fresh, and local legends Christie Jourdain (Original Pinettes and 2013 Red Bull Street Kings winner), Alana Harris (Deputy Director of Arts and Culture) and Chris Herrero (Band Director).
“The way brass bands and second line bands work in New Orleans is all about the energy, and it’s all about the interaction with the crowd as well,” explained Mannie Fresh to VIBE the day before the competition. “So I’m looking for high energy, I’m looking for the way you make the crowd respond to your music. I’m looking for some unique, some band unity, some steps, some cool originality. Something that’s going to make me be like, ‘Oh all right, I ain’t see that before.'”
The next morning, Mia X echoed Mannie Fresh’s sentiments. “I’m looking for style and originality,” she said. “I want to see what they’re going to bring to a lot of the traditional songs we know. But for me, I like the bands that put a twist on things. So I’m looking for the way they’re going to swag these instruments out.”
As the four competing bands second-lined into the venue, Red Bull Street Kings was officially underway. Sporty’s Brass Band, Big 6 Brass Band, Young Pinstripe Brass Band, and Kings of Brass all hoped to leave with the title.
To win, the bands played two rounds before the final two were selected for a third faceoff. The first round featured each band playing a classic brass band song and performance. For the second round, Red Bull incorporated a new element to Street Kings—one familiar to New Orleans natives. Each band was tasked with collaborating with a Hip-Hop artist for an original performance.
“It’s a new aspect of the competition, but it’s really old to New Orleans,” Mia X explained. “Because, the street queens that took it [in 2013], The Pinettes, I partner with them a lot and have been doing Hip-Hop and doing concerts with them a lot. I think, incorporating Hip-Hop with brass jazz for the competition is going to be amazing because the cadence of brass music is totally different from Hip-Hop music. You have to kind of be a skilled MC to be able to catch that particular beat.”
After the first two rounds, the judges named Kings of Brass and Sporty’s Brass Band as the final bands to compete. Both bands brought amazing energy in the third round, energizing the crowd, and showcasing sheer skill. So much so, that the panel could not make an indefinite decision.
In an unprecedented move announced by Mannie Fresh, the judges hoped for a tie-breaker round, requesting each band play 16 bars of the classic song “Why You Worried ‘Bout Me.” Both bands however had to agree to the terms.
“We want to throw it off a little bit. One more song. Blow it up,” he explained as the Kings Of Brass and Sporty’s Brass Band agreed to perform an original song for one final round.
In the end, the Kings of Brass won over the crowd and the judges as they were crowned the 2022 Red Bull Street Kings.
“This one is for the city we love. This is for everybody. This is for Big 6. This is for Sporty’s. This is for YPS (Young Pin Stripe). This is for all of you. Somebody had to win,” said Caleb Windsay of Kings of Brass as they accepted their trophy to roaring applause.
As Red Bull Street Kings ended, guests shared their hope for the competition to return next year as they headed to the parking lot, still glowing from shared experience.
“Ain’t nobody like us; nowhere in the world,” expressed a press statement from Mia X. “The culture, the food, the people. There’s no city like this city. New Orleans is touched with something special.”
All proceeds from ticket sales are set to support the following New Orleans organizations: Dinerral Shavers Foundation, Louis Armstrong Jazz Camp, and Roots of Music.