Otis and the Hurricanes heads to New Canaan

Otis and the Hurricanes will perform on Aug. 21 in New Canaan.

Otis and the Hurricanes will perform on Aug. 21 in New Canaan.

Elizabeth Cross / Contributed photo

Highlighting New Canaan Recreation Department’s Waveny summer concert series of free, open air shows on the patio of Waveny House will be Otis and the Hurricanes on Aug. 21 at 7:30 p.m. The band, made up of veteran musicians who have earned their chops touring the country and playing in and around Connecticut, is marking its 20th anniversary this year. Their sound is a blend of New Orleans funk and the Louisiana music scene that digs into the heart of American rock and roll. We talked with frontman Chris Cross (vocals and guitar), whose friends gave him the nickname of Otis when he was 12.

Andrea Valluzzo: Have you played the Waveny series before?

Chris Cross: Yeah, we’ve been doing that for a number of years. They are very nice to invite us.

AV: Tell me how the band name came about?

CC: We were under another name and the name turned out [to be] very similar to two other bands in the area so after some confusion [we changed it]. I had a nickname of Otis when I was a teenager. We went with that and the hurricane is after the drink in New Orleans. It’s that simple.

AV: Why New Orleans-style music?

CC: It just resonates in all of us. I met Joe Najmy, who plays accordion and piano, at a gig. I was subbing for their guitarist and we just hit it off and that was 20 years ago. That’s kind of the direction the band took and it’s stayed that way. It’s the rhythm and to me it’s joyous music. It’s just the spirit of the city, it’s party music. The grooves that we play just make us feel good and it seems to resonate with a lot of people around here. It’s been 20 years and we have a nice following. People come to dance. Much like the influences down there in New Orleans, our sound is a jambalaya. We do the Memphis-Chicago-Texas-New Orleans thing.

AV: What does your average setlist look like? Originals? Covers?

CC: We do a handful of originals. With the covers, I like to start with a storyline but we do it our way. We reinterpret but in the spirit of the original song so it can be different every night.

AV: What’s going on back stage right before you do a show?

CC: It’s just lively sarcastic banter. It’s all good fun jabs, that’s how we get off. We just have fun.

AV: You and Joe are the only original band members but your current lineup has been together a long time?

CC: This band has been together personnel-wise for 15 years. We all just get along well and I have subs for everyone because not everybody can make every gig. And everybody jumps in and has fun.

AV: How does working together so long play out when you’re on stage?

CC: We know each other musically. It’s like being around a table speaking. Someone wants to speak, you don’t talk at the same time. We honor the music and we allow it to breathe as best we can. More is not always better.

AV: The band is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, is that shocking to you?

CC: It’s like watching kids grow up, where does the time go?