About twenty years ago or so, my dad took me to what I now know to be French Quarter Fest. Truth be told, I don't really recall many specifics about that day, except for one. That day, I saw Anders Osborne perform, and the memory of the music bleeding from the stage left a lasting impact on me. It's one of the earliest memories I have of being exposed to a new exciting sound that I hadn't yet begun to understand. Years later, here I am, doing a feature on the musician behind those sounds, one of the most prolific musicians we've ever been honored to call one of our own.
It's almost always nerve-racking to interview someone you've enjoyed for years, but Osborne's demeanor would quickly allow anyone to relax as began to unravel his story. He's soft spoken, extremely down to earth, and, much like many of our residents in the Crescent City, his laissez faire attitude means he has a tendency to ramble. It's not a bad quality at all, but it's one of the reasons why he fits in with our city so well. However, while Osborne has called New Orleans home for over three decades, his journey actually began in his native country of Sweden. Growing up there, Anders discovered the wonderful world of music from distant lands. Artists such as "the Stones, George Porter and the Meters" gave him an idea of what was out there for all to hear, and he felt connected to their music.
During our conversation, it became clear that Osborne's love of Nola is full-bodied and plentiful, shared by so many locals as well as those who figure out they belong here after long travels, just as he did. The argument could be made that because he's not a "real local," he shouldn't get the vibes of the city, but after decades of making his name as a musician in the greatest city on Earth, he does exactly that. He may not have been born here, but Osborne is a New Orleans resident through and through, and when you talk to him, you feel that local state of mind flowing through him.
For him, writing, creating, and bringing music to the masses starts with an idea, and typically, "music comes before lyrics." Depending on what sounds he creates from his guitar, he's able to figure out where he wants to add, lyrically. When talking about his path in songwriting, he makes clear that he "wants the music to be relatable and that inspiration doesn't waiver." Writing for him is a "public diary." Sometimes he uses the first-person; other times, third-person.
It hasn't always been easy for him though. Struggling through addiction and getting clean were big moments for him, and while he doesn't go into too much detail about his struggles, it's clear he's learned much about himself and has been able to live the life he always hoped for.
One of the main things you notice when you speak with Osborne is how down-to-earth and funny he is. We started our call a little later than normal, as Anders explained to me that the reason for his tardiness was that he was simply enjoying the beach on a day off with his wife. He got quiet for a moment, mentioning that his wife suggested he blame her for the lateness. I told him that it really wasn't a problem at all, but the line went silent again before he quietly said, "I don't really want to blame her for it … but maybe I'll have to." Then he burst out with a boisterous laugh that would instantly put anyone at ease. It's that kind of laid-back attitude that makes him so different from all the other musicians I've interviewed and also proves my point that Nola has filled his heart and soul with the type of easygoing attitude that makes him part of the history and culture of music associated with New Orleans.
Many of us have been to his annual Christmas shows at Tipitina's, a tradition he plans to continue. As he explained the origins of that show, he mentioned just jamming with musicians with likeminded goals and ideas. What would turn into an annual event started as two friends, Osborne and Luther Dickinson, hanging out, which then became a tour in 2009 and eventually mushroomed into the show at Tips every Christmas. As Osborne puts it, "It was brought on by the joy of performing." For a fan of music, it doesn't get much better than that.
Obviously though, much of this wouldn't have been possible without his inclusion in Jazz Fest. He credits the event with helping to launch his career, but even the question of why he continues to go back to perform at Jazz Fest elicits a lighthearted response from Osborne. "Probably because they keep asking me," is his truly honest answer, but one that is also funny to hear. He's delightfully frank, and you can tell he still appreciates the invitations to perform-even though we're talking about a guy who has played the festival 27 or 28 years in a row. For him, it's clear that Jazz Fest is and has been an important part of his musical journey, and he treats it's more like a family reunion than he does a job.
For decades, we natives have gotten to experience Osborne's blues-infused rock-n-roll, and he doesn't show any signs of slowing down. His newest album, Buddha Blues, is another in a long line of great records that seals his fate as a legendary New Orleans musician and demonstrates that Osborne doesn't seem satisfied with hanging any towels up yet. When you talk to him, he's genuinely excited about music and performing. Having played both to big crowded rooms alongside bars and in small clubs where nobody was there means that he not only has earned his place among the city's greats, but also recognizes the pitfalls and triumphs alike in the process of finding a voice-in a place like no other, New Orleans, his home.
Osborne's soul is firmly entrenched in the majestic, bizarre beauty of our city. If you haven't seen him before and will be at this upcoming Thursday's Jazz Fest, do yourself a favor and checked him out. He's scheduled to play the main Acura Stage at 12:25-early in the day, but not too early to rock out. His music represents quintessential NOLA. Given his vision of continual growth as a musician and a person living in the Crescent City, you should be sure to see him when he performs. It's really a treat, for all of us, even (and especially) for Osborne and his backing band.