The original Meters are slated to reunite for the first time in almost five years at the 10th anniversary Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee in June. The Meters will back Dr. John on a complete performance of his 1974 album “Desitively Bonnaroo,” from which the festival takes its name. The Meters were the studio band behind Dr. John on that original recording.
The Meters – keyboardist Art Neville, guitarist Leo Nocentelli, bassist George Porter Jr. and drummer Zigaboo Modeliste – have reunited only intermittently since they laid down the foundation for New Orleans funk in the late 1960s and ‘70s. The most recent reunion ended in 2006 with Neville, for one, expressing doubt that they would ever reform again.
“I didn’t think it would happen after the last escapade,” Nocentelli said of this latest reunion. “But something that’s worthwhile, we should be able to not throw it aside. If it’s still alive and you still feel it, learn from what you did. I’m looking forward to some longevity.”
The original Meters disbanded in 1979 amid business and personal turmoil; variations appeared sporadically. In 1989, Neville, Porter and Nocentelli hired drummer Russell Batiste Jr. and resurrected the Meters name. After Nocentelli's departure in 1994, they continued as the Funky Meters with former Neville Brothers guitarist Brian Stoltz.
The original Meters put aside their differences to reunite for a single show – and large paycheck -- in San Francisco in 2000. In 2005, they came together again to perform at New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell. That show went well, and was followed by other concerts. A new generation of music fans already knew their riffs and rhythms via jam band tributes and scores of samples on rap records. The reunited band played for much larger audiences and fees than the Funky Meters.
But by 2007, the reunion had run out of steam. When one bandmember couldn’t make himself available for a proposed gig at that year’s Bonnaroo, the reunion appeared to have run its course.
However, the principals of Superfly, the New Orleans-founded firm that co-produces Bonnaroo, were determined to land the Meters this year. During their run in the mid-2000s, the reunited Meters performed at other Superfly-produced festivals. Thus, the musicians were well-acquainted with how the Superfly principals operate, and vice versa. Superfly approached the four Meters individually with a proposal for the 2011 Bonnaroo.
“I’m pleased with the way they’re handling it,” Nocentelli said of Superfly. “On a business level, we’re not a group any more. To be a group, you have to think alike. We’re four businessmen with different opinions. You put that in a group context, it doesn’t work. The group thing comes when we’re on stage playing music.
“That doesn’t mean we can’t be dealt with. You have to deal with us on an individual basis. That’s the only way you can have any success.”
The 10th annual Bonnaroo is June 9 - 12. Most of the tens of thousands attendees camp on the 700-acre site in Manchester, Tenn., 60 miles south of Nashville. The final Bonnaroo 2011 lineup will total over 125 bands and over 20 comedians performing on 13 stages over four days.