John Katsilometes

[The Kats Report]

The Kats Report: A new release and kickoff party mark a crucial moment for The Rockie Brown Band

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From left: James Caselton, Rockie Brown, Alfonso Bernal.
Ira Kuzma

The late-night shows, high in volume and often heavy in smoke, have led to this: a late-night show on the Strip, a venue brimming with groovers and Rockie Brown’s 10-piece band sending waves of rock through the room.

The Rockie Brown Band is trumpeting—for real, with its blazing horn section—the release of its debut CD. The title is A Brand New Day, and on this brand-new night the band is powering through a 90-minute set at Hard Rock Live. The event draws a couple hundred fans who made the trek to Hard Rock Cafe for a show starting at 9:30 on a Monday night. These friends, family members and supporters include Brown’s mother, Judy, who might have missed a gig over the past four years but I can’t recall when that would have been. They are in a party mode, and Brown delivers with a tight, choreographed set filled with original cuts from the new album.

“Let’s get goin’, sugahs!” is how Brown addresses the audience. “You ready to dance or what!?”

The Brown sound is never easy to pinpoint, which has become a trait of many top Vegas live acts. The Rockie Brown Band hearkens to a more robust version of Earth Wind & Fire, at times. You feel some Fifth Dimension, early Chicago, with Brown rekindling the voice of Amy Winehouse or Lauryn Hill.

Brown’s artistic collaborator is guitarist James Caselton. Filling out the current lineup are Tony Carboney (guitar/keys), Alfonso “Cito” Bernal (bass), Nick Kittle (drums), Michael Gonzalez (keyboard), Eddie Rich (tenor and baritone saxophone/flute), Rob Stone (alto and tenor saxophone), Isaac Tubb (trumpet/flugelhorn) and Kevin Mullinax (trombone). Impressively, the band members, to a person, do not consider the group a mere side gig—though they all have music interests outside The Rockie Brown Band. Commonly, the musicians say performing and recording with Brown is their primary artistic passion.

That dedication shows onstage, where Brown (a Vegas native) has fine-tuned her act at such haunts as the Sand Dollar Lounge and T Spot at Tuscany Suites. Her three-piece still plays at the 23rd-level bar at Mandarin Oriental each Saturday. These songs have punch, always. Those who have tracked Brown since she started performing with a simple rhythm section in 2011 have picked three or four songs from her current setlist and new album that could be radio hits—if radio hits remain a goal of rising bands today. “Meet Me on the Dance Floor” is one in particular that hooks Brown’s audiences, and on this night is one of many highlights. “Just Friends” and “Brand New Day” are others that could fall in line on Mix 94.1-FM.

Monday’s show is further boosted by appearances by trumpet great David Perrico, and a visit from the man who always brings the party, Chris Phillips of Zowie Bowie. The horn section and backing dancers Angela Jadyn (who, along with Gonzales and Tubb, back Matt Goss at Caesars Palace) and Jessenia Paz (a friend of Brown’s since the two were children) move in symmetry, and Brown simply inhabits every song. By the end, the crowd seems ready for another set—and they get one, from the Funk Jam, another band favored by late-night Vegas music fans.

Afterward I catch Brown backstage. She’s holding the trappings of a successful debut party: a setlist, a bottle of water, her smartphone, a note listing the people to thank from the stage and a dozen yellow roses.

What’s next, Rockie? Not an easy question. This band is so organic in its structure that it doesn’t have the hint of a blueprint for how to become rich and famous. “I have no idea. Everything was leading up to this,” Brown says. “You know, I’ve kind of been exploring something in Europe, and I’ll see what kind of music options are over there. That’s kind of in the works …”

Her voice trails off, and it’s so obvious that The Rockie Brown Band is a collective where every member has equal say in the band’s decisions. “We have a 10-piece band, and we’re all 10-percent holders of the band,” Brown says. “We’ve talked about it, and we want to get a tenacious manager onboard to see where it goes. We have a very unique path. It’s not a normal rock-band path.”

Certainly that’s true. Normal rock bands play regular shows and have, maybe, an idea of The Next Big Thing. But not Brown, who seems unfettered by it all. “I haven’t even been writing recently, because I’ve been planning this event,” she says. “It’s been an incredible amount of work. It’s like I’m planning a wedding. Look, I’ve got flowers and everything.”

With that, Rockie Brown makes her way back to the dancefloor. There are fans to thank, and, somewhere out there, a future to chart.

The Rockie Brown Band Performs Saturdays at Mandarin Oriental. New album available at cdbaby.com.

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