DJ Soul Sister brings funk to Tipitina’s in annual birthday bash

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Cameron Poole

Kate Parker, Staff Reporter

She’s the Queen of Rare Grooves, and when she throws a party, the townspeople gather. Attendees were lined up outside Tipitina’s for DJ Soul Sister’s 11th Annual Birthday Jam featuring DJ Jazzy Jeff last Friday night.

The Birthday Jam had the feel and experience characteristic of a true New Orleans show. The Tipitina’s dance floor was packed with local die-hard Soul Sister fans and international tourists alike, all sharing the experience of an exciting show. While everyone else was occupied with absorbing the performance in its entirety, Melissa Weber, better known as DJ Soul Sister to WWOZ listeners, was hard at work laying down grooves in the most soulful fashion.

For the 90-minute set at the Birthday Jam, Weber brought close to 400 records, more than she needed, so if the spirit of a song hit her and she heard it in her head, she could play it.

“I don’t pre-plan my sets,” Weber said. “When I’m DJing, mixing, blending and beat-matching, I have to be in the moment with the records. I can’t take my concentration off the music to do other things like look out into the crowd and see what other people are doing. I can only play music I love and do what makes me happy.”

Grammy-winning DJ Jazzy Jeff, whom Weber refers to as “the Jimi Hendrix of turntablists,” was this year’s special Birthday Jam guest, one of many in a long line of acts with enough passion and talent to share a show with Soul Sister.

Past Birthday Jam artists have included Dam-Funk, DJ Maseo of De La Soul, the Chuck Brown Band of Washington, D.C., go-go music, DJ KON of Boston (Weber’s “favorite DJ in the world”), Dumpstaphunk feat. Ivan Neville, a James Brown Get-Down featuring Christian McBride, Nigel Hall, Jennifer Hartswick, Eric “Benny” Bloom of Lettuce and many other special guests.

“One of my first-ever Birthday Jams featured Trombone Shorty’s band way before the massive popularity he enjoys today,” Weber said.

This extensive list of past guests indicates just how long she has been embedded in the rich music scene of New Orleans. Weber has come a long way since she first began, partly due to the immense support of local musical institutions where she has her shows.

“Tipitina’s really urged and inspired me to play on their big stage, which is really hallowed ground for musicians,” Weber said. “I didn’t feel I belonged there at all. The people at Tipitina’s were the ones who pushed me to think bigger outside of the small lounges and clubs I was playing at.”

Fans who are a part of the queen of rare groove’s cult following especially understand her importance to the musical culture of New Orleans. Weber kept the party going all night, using her signature crate-digging style to select soul, funk, rare groove, disco and other types of soulful records as the moment came.
“Everything I’m doing now is a dream come true, and I used to imagine throwing parties and doing music when I was little,” Weber said. “I was so painfully shy growing up, so if I can see my dreams come true, then anyone else can too, and that’s my favorite part of being a part of the amazing music community in this city.”