Crowds often demand that the Pork N Beans Brass Band leave the stage.

But that’s a wonderful compliment.

And the nine-person group likes nothing better than to leave their platform and snake through the crowd at performances, encouraging an energetic conga line similar to the street bands of New Orleans.

“A lot of times, we have even started a show by playing and walking through the (mix of) people,” sousaphone player Gearl Stephens said, in a telephone interview from his Indianapolis home.

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Those who attend the Columbus Area Arts Council’s final JCB NeighborFEST of the season at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 7 in front of The Commons downtown can join in the ensemble’s kinetic coolness at the last such gathering of the season. The outdoor street concerts usually attract several hundred people unwinding after work.

The band’s sound mixes jazz, funk, rhythm and blues, pop and more, Stephens said. He cannot help but be buoyed by the spirited arrangements of everything from old gospel standards such as “I’ll Fly Away” to Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream.”

“That’s absolutely true,” Stephens said. “There have been times where I’ve had to work all day, and then had a Pork N Beans gig late at night. But this (group) just brings the energy to you.

“So, I’ve never been too tired after playing with this band. It’s definitely exciting and fun.”

Listeners and audience members tell him the same kinds of things.

“They talk about the energy of the music and the exuberance,” Stephens said. “And they tell us it’s great to dance to.”

With an apparent nod to KC and the Sunshine Band, Pork N Beans’ drummer Ben Phelps, a former New Orleans resident, has put it another way in interviews: “We like to get people to shake their booty.”

Band members expect to begin that effort with a structured set list. Yet, even a highly disciplined Marine Corps tuba player such as Stephens makes room to suddenly veer in an impromptu direction when the musical muse strikes.

“We usually call audibles off that set list,” Stephens said, using a football term for changing a play or plan at the last minute. “It might be because we’re suddenly in a different mood.”

Apparently, the musicians know their crowds, and just the right recipes for moving and grooving. Because some people online have labeled their tunes as “yummy.”

Plus, Stephens mentioned that it’s not unusual to find audiences joining in on lyrics of songs. And what looks so spontaneous frequently has been practiced ad nauseam.

“It can be very challenging just to know how the rhythms are to be swung,” Stephens said. “Ben says the advantage players down in New Orleans have is that this (brass band) music they’re presently playing actually is something they’ve been listening to ever since they were born.”

Stephens and his mates love the fact that, at some concerts, their smallest listeners become their biggest fans.

“Sometimes,” he said, “one of first persons to get up on the dance floor is a little 4-year-old.”

A tasty musical recipe

What: The Columbus Area Arts Council’s final JCB NeighborFEST street concert of the season with the Indianapolis-based Pork N Beans Brass Band featuring a variety of New Orleans sounds.

When: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 7.

Where: Outdoors in front of The Commons, 300 Washington St.

Rain location: Inside The Commons.

Admission: Free.

Information: 812-376-2539 or

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5672.