Second Lining in the Street with Jon Batiste on Saturday NightApril 21st, 2014
Jon Batiste and Stay Human – Webster Hall – April 19, 2014
At the end of what was an already excellent show, featuring everything from New Orleans standards to a “Wrecking Ball” cover to nonstop sing-alongs and even a dance contest between two audience members, all I could think was: How good are the chances that Jon Batiste becomes the next big thing? His headlining set on Saturday night at Webster Hall undoubtedly proved he has a magnetic stage presence and a lively and talented backing band in Stay Human, plus endless musical abilities to go along with a giant smile. That said, not everything is for everyone, and his improvisations stretched some songs into the 15-minute range, and lesser-known covers, like “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” might have limited appeal beyond a jazz-minded crowd.
But before I’d really even processed those thoughts, Batiste decided that his bow just wasn’t enough, and that the best way to end the show was to lead the band into the crowd and, gathering as many fans as they could, head out to the street. It began just as a singing-and-dancing huddle right out in front of the venue, but then a possessed Batiste sprinted to the corner and began a second line through the streets (and subways) of Manhattan. Followed by at least 100 fans, the band marched up Fourth Avenue, stopping traffic in half of the street and drawing at least one police car to the scene. After a brief huddle at a bus stop, Batiste took off again, toward Union Square, where he and the large singing crowd chasing him bewildered skaters and drum-circle participants. After another stop, Batiste led everyone down into the subway and onto a bench on the N/Q/R platform, where he brought the song to a finish and reveled in the applause while onlookers on both platforms tried to figure out what the hell they’d just seen.
The fans, too riled to stop, practically demanded that the band keep playing, and as an R train arrived the whole group piled on and went up to Madison Square Park, where Batiste finally outran everyone, quite literally disappearing into the night so quickly that his bandmates weren’t sure if they should keep the second line going. The tuba player and drummer hopped in a cab, but the saxophone and banjo players stayed with the crowd and brought everyone back to Webster with “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Back at the venue reality returned as security guards ushered everyone across the street and down the block, finally breaking up the fun. But at that moment, after that wild experience, whether Jon Batiste does become the next big thing suddenly seemed far less important, because what he’s doing right now already is amazing. —Sean O’Kane