We hear the blasts of the lone trumpet cutting through the rain-soaked air of downtown Greensboro on Saturday at dusk — ba-da-BAAAHHH… da — and muscle memory takes over from there.
We instinctively shuffle into line behind the Tremé Brass Band, my wife and I, as the big bass drum begins to boom, the tuba adding soft pomp to the rhythm, both of us silently hoping that our feet still know what to do.
We lived for a time in a third-floor French Quarter apartment that abutted against the legendary New Orleans neighborhood, particularly the blocks collectively known as Storyville, a notorious red-light district where jazz was born in the brothels and, later, Louis Armstrong in one of the tenements.
Sometimes, while hanging on our balcony, we’d catch the strains of a brass band from around the corner, scoot down the stairs and follow the second line to wherever it led, testing out dance moves on the chunky pavement and trying not to spill our drinks.
That was a long time ago….
Now, as the Tremé Brass Band rolls its way west, then north on its path to the Wrangler Stage for its second set of the National Folk Fest, we create room for ourselves among the zombie-walk festivalgoers and the looky-loos on the sidelines and get stepping.
A Greensboro second line is quite a different thing than the official version, created spontaneously on the streets of the Tremé, just like jazz music and, possibly, Louis Armstrong. Here the herd mentality seems to prevail, marchers falling in line like it’s their duty and not their pleasure, vacantly following the flow.
But it will do.
At the Wrangler Stage we get up close so we can steal moves from the band’s lone second-line dancer, bedecked in black funeral suit and spangled black umbrella. We shake our hips and spin each other around. On the even pavement of downtown Greensboro’s streets, our feet still know what to do.