It had already been an unusually wet week for Georgia when Wasted Potential Brass Band performed at The Art Place in northeast Marietta this past Saturday, hosted by the Mountain View Arts Alliance as part of their free Summer Stars Concert Series. Dark clouds loomed over the lush grassy lawn, and the band’s equipment was covered with tarps on the unsheltered stage area in advance of start time. Ultimately, the rain came after the band had played a portion of the concert, sending musicians and roadies scurrying to re-cover equipment and audience to seek shelter when umbrellas proved not enough.
There were, however, sufficient numbers performed before the dousing to take in Wasted Potential’s colorful New Orleans-style “second line brass band” energy and flavor, enough to want to go hear them again at next opportunity. Their next scheduled public appearance will be September 15 on the square in downtown Decatur, a city that has played a big role in the band’s serendipitous history.
“It started as a pickup band in Oakhurst at a place called Steinbeck’s,” says trombonist Jamie Hemphill. “We had a blues jam on Thursday nights.” The morphing mix of musicians in those early days rallied around banjo player and comic emcee Evan Frayer, who started the unnamed group that occasionally took on the moniker Lucky Dogs, after the hot dog stands in New Orleans. But the band was fated by happenstance to don the name Wasted Potential. “Someone set up a ‘name the band’ contest at a bar gig, and we didn’t even know about it,” says Hemphill. “I remember reading through a list of insults — I mean, suggestions — and one of them was Wasted Potential, so we threw the ‘Brass Band’ on the end.”
Besides Hemphill, the current consortium of band members for Saturday’s concert included trumpeter Mico Bowles, tenor saxophonist John Hardin, vocalist Mandi Strachota, Edgar Clark on drum kit, Chris Kearney on congas and Darius Prevost on sousaphone. In the early days, a simpler blues form was the band’s staple. But their sound has developed into a raucously funky street band sound with plenty of three-horn action in its arrangements, gritty blues vocals with some soul influence and just a touch of Snoop Dog thrown in for good measure, with Prevost’s sousaphone bass lines providing the signature finishing touch to their rowdy New Orleans-inspired sound.
Exemplary of that sound was a funky, edgy rendition of a classic of New Orleans street band rep, “Little Liza Jane” — a song first published in the 1910s, but decades older, that is also found in a much tamer version in traditional folk and bluegrass repertoire. That and the other handful of songs the band was able to perform before inclement weather interceded made clear that Wasted Potential is a truly fun group to follow, whether in concert or in a street parade.
Hot off their performance at the 2018 Bonnaroo Festival in June, Wasted Potential Brass Band will release their first full length album, Ruining the Surprise Party, this fall.