A Party on Wheels For Any Occasion: The New Orleans Music Company’s New Retro Party Truck Is Insanely Cool
By Milan Miller
1972 Chevy farm truck retrofitted into a DJ Truck and Mobile Performance Stage… a party on wheels for any event and any occasion.
For Dr. Brice Miller, cultural entrepreneurship has been a way of life since he was a student at Andrew J. Bell Junior High School in Treme, and New Orleans has always served as his playground.
“I am New Orleans culture,” he says, while on break from his gig at the Spotted Cat on a recent Friday. It’s the first day Dr. Miller has come to Frenchmen Street in what is definitely the coolest entertainment truck in town: a fully customized 1972 Chevy C30 stake bed truck, whose former life was an Ohio farm truck.
The vintage truck is painted a flat metallic cinnamon red and the bed was sanded and cleared, maintaining the rustic originality. A funky retro logo adorns the doors as well and sides of the truck bed for Dr. Miller’s newest entrepreneurial endeavor: NOLA DJ Truck. The suspension is lowered just enough to hug the street while providing clearance for the custom exhaust that allows the 350 engine to comfortably roar. The entire frame has been painted flat black. At night, the entire truck glows and pulsates with an assortment of LED lights beneath the truck and dancing party lights in the DJ booth. This is an absolutely awesome vehicle!
He calls this truck “Big Bertha.”
“I’ve been having this idea on my endeavor agenda for a few years,” he tells me. “I’ve looked at used ambulances, fire trucks, even hearses, but nothing seemed the right fit. Then surfing the internet one night this truck appears, I contact the owner, drive to Mississippi the next day with my family, take a test drive, wifey approves, and I give him a check on the spot. Not only was I dreaming of building this truck, I was looking for a creative way to expand services for The New Orleans Music Company. This was nothing but God’s plan.”
As we talk, Big Bertha has become the backdrop for folk to take pictures. “Man, my grandfather had a truck like this when I was a kid in Tennessee, but it was nowhere as cool as this,” a gentlemen says. “It’s so clean and original,” says a woman who has been asked to take a picture for a group of young couples.
Dr. Miller glows with pride as onlookers admire Big Bertha. But there was a lot of work that took place to get Big Bertha to be the cool backdrop for photos the truck has become.
FROM OHIO TO MISSISSIPPI TO FACEBOOK TO NOLA
According to the gentleman the truck was purchased from, the truck originally was owned by one of his childhood neighbors in Ohio. The truck was a family farm truck and never ventured outside the town. When the owner passed away he was able to purchase the vehicle from the family, including all the repair and upkeep records! When the new owner and his family moved down to Mississippi, the truck was used to cruise up and down the beach, bring their kids to school and carry their racing go-karts to and from the track. The gentlemen also owned a company installing in-ground swimming pools, so the truck would be used for marketing the business by parking it outside the construction site.
Dr. Miller asked the gentleman to send some video of the truck driving. Immediate response. For such an old truck whose original life was a true farm truck, the truck was rather solid and ran like a clock. No smoke. No oil drips. No hesitations. No exhaust leaks. Turn the key and she growls. The four speed transmission easily shifted. And the ultimate cool factor, it has a fully functional dump bed!
For Dr. Miller, “Even if it wasn’t for a business venture, I would have bought this truck just to have a super unique hot-rod. How many cool-ass farm trucks do you see driving around New Orleans? Seeing a handsome jazz musician driving this truck wearing a suit and bowtie on his way to a gig. That’s some Hollywood shit!”
On a drizzling Sunday morning, the Miller family took a road trip to Long Beach, Mississippi to see the truck in person. After driving up and down the coast a few times a deal was struck. With the payment and paperwork exchanged, arrangements were made for the truck to be shipped to New Orleans.
INSPIRATION: THE RED BULL EVENT TRUCK
Dr. Miller shares his original inspiration:
It must have been around 2010 or 2011. I was Assistant Director for the Office of Diversity at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and was planning the annual Community Culture Festival, which I had created in 2008. I’m not sure how, but I stumbled across the Red Bull Event Truck online. Its cool factor had me awestruck. The truck became my screensaver, it was that cool.
Then in 2011 I was in New Orleans for some performances. This particular weekend was also the Red Bull Street King’s Brass Band competition beneath the Claiborne overpass. What did I see? Yes, the Red Bull truck! I took tones of pictures and lots of mental notes. The concept was sorta revolutionary. I could never get this truck out of my mind. Over the years I’ve researched and researched. Recently, the last several years, I observed a rampant phenomenon of vans and odd vehicles being retrofitted not as only food trucks, but as wine trucks, beer trucks, and mobile DJ vehicles. Then around 2018, I became almost obsessed with the need to create another business venture––something different, something unique.
I promise, I can only say the manifestation of this idea into a reality was purely God’s plan. I was moving at an exponential rate of business success when I hit the brakes and made one of the worst professional decisions ever––I accepted a position with the Mayor’s Office. The experience reminded me 1) everything that glitter ain’t gold and 2) never give up on your dreams. And just like that, within 30 days of me leaving City Hall and taking a week vacation in Mexico, Big Bertha was on a tow truck heading from Mississippi to New Orleans.
BIRTH OF NOLA DJ TRUCK
God works in mysterious ways. Dr. Miller was recruited by Mayor Latoya Cantrell to lead the Office of Cultural Economy. While the hire was a good look externally, the appointment proved to not be the best fit for his family. After four months, Dr. Miller parted ways with City Hall. “I was rather relieved,” Miller says. The next day he and his family left for a seven day cruise to Mexico, which was oddly planned several months in advance. This provided time for both reflection and planning for the future. “After that political fiasco, I vowed to invest myself fully in my company and build a scalable enterprise I can pass on to my kids,” he says. Literally, within 30 days after returning, the 1972 Chevy farm truck was on a AAA flatbed tow truck headed to New Orleans and Dr. Miller’s graphic designer, Emily Frock was drawing concepts.
“I’ve always been an innovator, I don’t do shit other folk do. I’m a risk taker. My energy thrives in turning these crazy ideas into monetizable realities. I’ve also been blessed with an amazing career, I’m at the point of fully living my best life. This truck is a dream come true,” Dr. Miller excitedly tells me.
Not one to take blessings for granted, Dr. Miller knew what he had to do: convert this old farm truck into the DJ Truck he had both envisioned and prayed for. With more than 20 years as an academic professional, a master’s degree, a interdisciplinary PhD, and countless achievements, the Grammy nominated trumpeter felt it was time retire from “giving ideas away” and “building successful programs for others” and fully invest in The New Orleans Music Company –– the company he founded as a junior at St. Augustine High School. And because he’s also been building custom vehicles (something he credits his father, saxophonist Dwight Miller, with) –– one of my first solo builds was a 1968 Chevy C10 truck, which is also a second generation like the 1972 –– he could already envision how to make an already cool truck even hipper.
Indeed, a quick Internet search confirmed the 1968 through 1972 Chevy truck are some of the most sought after and customized trucks on the planet!
Although he was in the beginning stages of restoring a 1952 Chevy Styline Deluxe, work started on Big Bertha immediately. Brice Sr. and Brice Jr. (age 13) began sanding the aged paint, fixing a few dings, sanding and painting the frame and underbody, and most time worthy, sanding the original wood planks by hand. “I’m sure my neighbors thought I was crazy, trying to figure out what I was going to do with an old farm truck. After a poll on Facebook, the family agreed to simply update the original red paint.
Just when you’d think there’s no room for more cultural innovation in New Orleans, one of the city’s leading jazz musicians and cultural entrepreneurs looked at the past to create something (geared towards the future) sorta new. Once upon a time bandwagons pushed societal norms, promoted jazz records, and helped politicians reach wider popularity. Realizing how important bandwagons were, The New Orleans Music Company has decided to bring its’ version to the streets of the city.
A DREAM + A CRAZY IDEA BECOMES A REALITY
As a city where live music is the status quo, the ability to simply pull up to a space and get the party started and having the large open bed which allows ample room for brass bands and traditional jazz bands, Big Bertha is the perfect entertainment truck platform for New Orleans.
With that said, you can imagine my sheer delight when my dad called me in New York to tell me he was thinking about purchasing an old-fashion farm truck, originally from Ohio to convert into a mobile DJ truck and bandwagon. I actually though he was joking, until my phone beginning receiving a flurry of photos and videos––this man has actually bought a farm truck, I told one of my co-workers at MTV. After hearing his ideas, it seems like the DJ truck concept would be a no-brainer for the wide-range of live events, parades, street parties, conventions, and festivals that happen in New Orleans on a daily basis.
If you ask me, minus my bias, but Dr. Brice Miller (my dad and owner of The New Orleans Music Company) has definitely come up with a recipe for a uniquely cool entertainment service. The NOLA DJ Truck is the only vehicle of its kind, not only in New Orleans, but in America!
From parties and parades, conventions, conferences, casinos, action sports competitions to downtown clubs, the NOLA DJ Truck can be there; park and party. Reminiscent of the bandwagons of a bygone era that were used to promote goods, drive politicians to rural communities, or parade bands down the main drag promoting events, Big Bertha brings a modern interpretation in a retro package. Yep, looking for something totally unique, hip, and fun? No need to look any further than NOLA DJ Truck.
Book Big Bertha for your next event!