The last time I saw Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes was at the Atlanta airport, but he wasn’t performing or even waiting for a flight. Rather, his mug appeared in a video montage promoting our national parks, and there he was on screen beaming out from underneath the brim of the Smokey-the-Bear-style campaign hat he wears as a National Park Service ranger.
It was nice to see a familiar face at this busy airport, though it wasn’t really surprising that it should be Sunpie’s. He is a man of many hats, that ranger cap being just one of them. There’s also the stovepipe-style top hat he dons, along with a skeleton costume, as part of the North Side Skull and Bones Gang, a historic Carnival marching group he helped revive a few years back. If helmets can count as hats, there would also be the one he wore while playing pro football for the Kansas City Chiefs even earlier in his remarkably varied career.
But the hat he’s probably best known for wearing these days is as bandleader of the Louisiana Sunspots, and you can catch him in that role tonight at a free, outdoor concert in Algiers Point.
The event is called Wednesdays on the Point, and it’s an annual neighborhood mini-festival spread over eight weeks. It’s held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. right at the base of the Algiers Point ferry landing, using the grassy hump of the levee as bleachers and the Algiers Courthouse and surrounding historic homes as backdrop. Various booths sell drinks and food and it feels like the whole neighborhood is out convening together for an extended happy hour with great music.
This time around, that music is the original, infectious groove of what Sunpie calls Afro-Louisiana music. The Sunspots often get labeled as a zydeco band, and while there is some zydeco in there, this band’s music has more ingredients. Like modern zydeco itself, there’s a strong vein of R&B, but also sounds conjuring Caribbean and West African traditions as well as gospel and spiritual elements. Most of all it’s fun, and eminently danceable.
The Wednesdays on the Point series has been going on since early June, and there are a few more dates on the calendar for this year’s edition. Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes have the Independence Day edition next week, which will coincide with fireworks over the river. Funk master George Porter Jr. plays July 11, the Brass-a-Holics are up July 18 and Amanda Shaw does the series finale on July 25.
Past editions of Wednesdays on the Point have always proved to be a good time. The easy, after-work time slot, the mid-week break, the all-inclusive nature of the outdoor gathering and the great music all make this a sweetheart of an event. There is a small town feel to it, which is one of the reasons some Algerines cite for living in their neighborhood in the first place.
While you’re over there, check out one of the neighborhood bars. There’s the Dry Dock Café, which is like the Liuzza’s of Algiers, or the Crown & Anchor, an English pub hidden in a New Orleans shotgun. There’s the Old Point Bar a few blocks away, which hosts an open mic night tonight. And back by the ferry landing, just next door to the Dry Dock Café, there’s Vine Dine, a nice, unpretentious neighborhood wine bar with excellent values and good cheese and meat plates to share around the table.
I always find the ferry trip to Algiers Point a worthwhile venture in its own right. The vessel makes the quick jog across the river in just a few minutes, and along the way its open decks provide a blast of free air conditioning from the reliable river breezes and a unique view of the city from the waterline.
Remember, the ferry leaves Canal Street at quarter-'til and quarter-past the hour (i.e., 5:45 p.m. and 6:15 p.m.), and makes the return trip back from Algiers Point on the hour and at the half hour (i.e., 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.).