When Anders Osborne was 19 years old, he sat next to an older man at a bar, waiting to perform. The man turned toward Osborne and asked, “You call yourself a music man or a musician?”
“I had never been asked that question before,” Osborne says. “After giving it some thought, I said, ‘I think I’m a music man.’”
He then looked back at the old man and asked, “What’s the difference?”
“He said, ‘A music man shows up when he’s needed—he plays at weddings, funerals, birthdays, random events when music is needed; a musician shows off,’” remembers Osborne. “I’ve kept that close to my heart. I always try to remember, ‘Be a music man.’”
There’s no arguing that Osborne is a “music man.” The infinite touring, the performing, the composing—it’s who he is. Osborne needs music to live the same way he needs oxygen to breathe.
Born in Uddevalla, Sweden, Osborne moved to the Crescent City as a teen, and it’s been home ever since. On a muggy New Orleans day, I catch him as he’s walking through City Park. More than a place where he’s lived for most of his life, the Big Easy has been most of Osborne’s musical education.
“There are very few places I’ve experienced where you can play music for the sake of playing music—in the moment, not thinking about [performing] as a big show,” he says. “I saw how spontaneous music could be, growing up [in New Orleans]; the brass bands, the traditional jazz, the funk of the Neville Brothers and Dr. John. [Music] is so deeply ingrained in the culture that it never felt like we were going to shows—it was just part of life.”
Osborne recalls living in a small studio apartment on Chartres Street, close to a hub where musicians gathered and innovated.
“A bunch of musicians would go to Jackson Square and just play, jam out,” he says. “The Dirty Dozen Brass Band were the founders of this whole brass band wave that started in the ’70s. That music hit me hard. That’s when I first heard something created in the moment. Kermit [Ruffins] and [Trombone] Shorty became part of [the scene]—and eventually, Rebirth [Brass Band].”
Osborne lived in California for about 10 months, just outside of Solvang—he brings it up because it marks another moment that expanded his musical vernacular. One night, he borrowed a friend’s 1970 puke green Cadillac de Ville. The Grateful Dead’s “Black Muddy River” came on the radio as Osborne ascended a winding, backwoods road.
“I was like, ‘What the hell is this?’ he says. “I have always had an affinity for heartfelt ballads—especially ballads that are so explosive and vulnerable. The sensitive nature of Jerry is just so delicate, so beautiful.”
Whether it’s one-of-a-kind jam sessions at Jackson Square or feeling the magic of the Grateful Dead for the first time alone in Central California, Osborne soaks up every musical note he hears. It wasn’t until he kicked a prolific drug habit 13 years ago that he began to see success with his Alligator debut, American Patchwork. His 2010 follow-up, Black Eye Galaxy, which Osborne co-produced with Stanton Moore and Warren Riker, earned more acclaim. Led by the autobiographical slide guitar heater “Black Tar,” the record is raw, candid, soulful and has no boundaries. Osborne displays more musical versatility with 2019’s Buddha and the Blues, an acoustic folk collection far removed from his earlier raucous gems. But he doesn’t leave out his trademark, scorching honesty. Listen to the beautifully finger-picked “Smoke & Mirrors” for a stiff middle finger aimed at Trump.
In between records, EPs and compilations, many of which garnered awards, Osborne’s musical journey has been a perpetual cyclone of touring, festivals and collaborations with the likes of Toots and the Maytals, Warren Haynes and various members of the Grateful Dead, which he holds close to his heart.
“I got to hear how [the Dead] composed their odd meters and strange arrangements,” he says. They mix styles and personalities in a very personal way. They’re not trying to be something. They just become something as they repeat it. And that’s very New Orleans.”
Along with his alliances with members of the Dead, Osborne teamed up with the North Mississippi Allstars (who performed at Armitage last year) on a project dubbed North Mississippi Osborne; he also collaborates frequently with Jackie Greene. Somehow, he finds time to produce for Tab Benoit, Johnny Sansone and, most recently, jam band favorite Railroad Earth’s new record.
So, how the hell does he have time for everything? (He’s also a fine artist whose paintings sell for thousands). Osborne says refraining from alcohol and drugs is essential, but it takes more; it’s about understanding that “spirituality is a fundamental truth.”
“There are no interpretations that can be made,” he explains. “It’s just a matter of fact. As human beings, we interpret it differently as we travel through life. It extends to everything I do. Some days it’s a huge struggle, and some days, it’s pretty easy.”
Anders Osborne plays Friday, Aug. 5 at 7:30pm (doors 6:30pm). $106 ($10 for valet parking). Armitage Winery, 705 Canham Road, Scotts Valley. tiny-winery-concerts.constantcontactsites.com.