- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2003

"It's this dream come true," says Donna Simpson of the Waifs. "At the same time, when you're in something so deep, when you're so involved and engrossed in something, you often don't see it. Things hit me when I'm telling my friends back home what I did."

Miss Simpson is in the middle of living that dream as the group opens its American tour at the Iota on Tuesday.

The Waifs are three extremely talented singer-songwriter-guitarists from Western Australia. When Donna and Vicki Simpson met Joshua Cunningham 11 years ago, none of them would have guessed where it would lead. The Simpson sisters were traveling around Australia in an old van and singing Bob Dylan, James Taylor and Billy Joel songs in pubs. Mr. Cunningham was playing guitar in a rock cover band. The musical chemistry was immediate and the three began playing and traveling together.

Today they regularly sell out 1,200- to 1,500-seat venues all over Australia. "Up All Night," their new album, was Australia's No. 1 album in the first week of its release. In the United States, their easy yet energetic brand of bluesy folk-pop has wowed audiences at the Newport Folk Festival and other festivals for two years running.

"The only dream I ever had when I was learning guitar," Donna Simpson recalls, "was to maybe tour with Bob Dylan one day. That was sort of my dream as a teenager. But I was never ambitious about it. I never set any wheels in motion. I just kept playing."

The playing paid off. The Waifs have just finished touring Australia with Mr. Dylan and Ani Difranco.

It's perfect that Miss Difranco, the ultimate independent music success story, has connected with the Waifs. Like her, the group has built its success independently. Early on, the trio created a distribution system for selling its music. And recently they formed their own independent recording label.

"The reason that the Waifs … have done OK," Donna Simpson says, "is that we do tour and we have been out there on the road actually playing to people and not relying on the media to pull you through, not relying on radio and TV. People can come to a gig and see it and feel it. You can't beat that."

All that touring has resulted in tight harmonies and outstanding musicianship. Mr. Cunningham has a clean, quick, flat-picking guitar style. And Vicki Simpson gets a wonderful sound from her harmonica that is both fresh yet old-fashioned. The playing provides an ideal accompaniment for the spirited, moving, and yet unembellished, songwriting from all three Waifs.

•••

Saturday night, the State Theater in Falls Church will play host to another independent-minded bunch of musicians. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band has been doing it their own way for a long time. When the band formed 25 years ago, they were trying to be a traditional New Orleans brass band, the type that played at New Orleans funerals and marched in parades.

What has evolved is anything but traditional. The band has become a model for creativity, self-expression and out-and-out good times.

Since the band's inception, the members have been bringing in a variety of musical experiences, including rhythm and blues, jazz, rock 'n' roll and later funk and disco.

"So we mixed this all in with the traditional music and came up with Dirty Dozen," says baritone sax player Roger Lewis, laughing. It isn't surprising to see Duke Ellington's "Caravan," the Jacksons' "Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground)" and the New Orleans Mardi Gras classic "Big Chief," lined up next to each other on the band's playlist.

"It's like a big old pot of musical gumbo, with every sound and every experience imaginable," says Mr. Lewis. "I guess that's what made our band different from most bands of the past. 'Cause nobody had never did that. It wasn't a calculated plan to do that, it was just that you got your own band, you can do whatever you want to do."

The mix of musical styles is always entertaining and the band members are outrageously talented musicians. This is good-time music, and six horn players hitting chords together will rattle the windows. Underneath everything that the band plays are the energy, rhythm and passion of New Orleans music. They follow in the tradition of Professor Longhair, the Neville Brothers, Allen Toussaint, Dave Bartholomew and Dr. John.

"New Orleans music is like getting three experiences all in one," Mr. Lewis says. "You get something for your mind, something for your body and something for your soul. So you got all these feelings that are happening over the course of the night. You know what I mean? Every human being can relate to that."

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