Dave Grohl, the drummer of Nirvana and front man for Foo Fighters, is known for making cameo appearances at other musicians’ shows. On Sept. 30, my sister and I happened to be at one of these shows. Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a New Orleans outfit, was playing at the Lincoln Theater on U Street.
“Do you guys know any drummers from the D.C. area?” the group’s leader Ben Jaffe asked the crowd. Members of the audience kind of looked around and shrugged, “Sure we know a few.”
“Well we met this guy a few years ago in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina,” Jaffe continued. “He changed our lives, and we changed his life. We’ve been brothers ever since. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Dave Grohl!”
The Springfield, Virginia native then walked on stage, where there were two drum sets. He sat down at the empty kit, and looked over at the Preservation Hall drummer with a goofy smile on his face that said, “Let’s do this.” Being a New Orleans group, Preservation Hall naturally brings a ton of energy to the stage, but the venue exploded when Dave started banging on the drums like a lunatic. They played a song together, which culminated in a drum off between Dave Grohl and Preservation Hall’s percussionist. At the end of it Dave stood up to applause, thanked the audience and walked off stage. That seemed to be the end of his appearance.
Back in 2014, when I was writing at a newspaper in Colorado, I interviewed Ben Jaffe for a story ahead of the group’s show at the Belly Up (a small, mountain-town venue). Preservation Hall is the namesake for one of the most famous venues in the French Quarter, and Jaffe is the son of Allan Jaffe, who opened the place in 1961. The jazz band began touring worldwide shortly after, and it hasn’t really stopped since. Their mission is simple: To keep New Orleans jazz alive through live performances.
The group is no stranger to mainstream acts. In 2010 they toured with folk group My Morning Jacket, who they met at a festival in Mexico. When I spoke with Jaffe, he told me that someone asked him what makes him want to live in New Orleans.
“Music would be at the top of that list,” Jaffe said in 2014. “It’s a reflection of the city and the neighborhoods and all the different styles that have come out of New Orleans.”
With their appearance at the Lincoln Theater, Preservation Hall brought some of that New Orleans flavor to D.C., and the best part of the show came when they exited the stage. At the end of their last song, Dave Grohl returned, this time with a snare drum strapped to his shoulders. After bowing and bidding farewell, the group snaked into a line, exited stage right and filtered into the floor-level balconies at the Lincoln Theater. The show was not quite over.
Once outside Preservation Hall players joined Dave Grohl in a New Orleans style parade through D.C., heading south on 13th Street, where the group grabbed the attention of a squad car. The police officer made it a point to blare his siren, sending ripples through D.C., but the music carried on. People in their condos and townhouses stood at their doors and watched, wondering what was going on. The parade eventually took a right onto T Street and spilled onto 14th Street. By then the group had gained a large following. It was funny watching people’s expressions as they wondered whether they had just seen Dave Grohl walk past them in marching band gear. The more people we passed, the larger the group became, until we found our way to Black Cat at 14th and S street, where the party continued.
I’ve been to New Orleans a few times. It’s one of my favorite cities to visit because the energy in the French Quarter is contagious. For one night Preservation Hall injected that energy into D.C. and Dave Grohl went along for the ride. You can watch the tail end of the march below, with Dave Grohl leading the charge into Black Cat.