Bandmates of Thaddeus “Peanut” Ramsey, pictured here with his bass drum, are hosting a benefit concert Friday, to hire a lawyer who can get him in court and resolve the matter. Photo by Pableaux Johnson.

For the past 11 months, New Orleans bandleader Thaddeus Ramsey has been living in Bermuda, near a vaunted island beach – against his will.

It all started a year ago, when he withdrew $8,000 from his Chase bank account in mid-April, 2023, as he prepared for a trip to Bermuda that turned into a year of limbo.

Ramsey, 29, the bass drummer and bandleader for the Big 6 Brass Band, has spent his life at the center of New Orleans culture. He has played in brass bands; he’s sewed and masked as a Black masking Indian since he was a child. His grandfather, Ashton Ramsey, a teacher at the Tamborine & Fan program, uses magazine stories, photographs and snipped newspaper headlines to fabricate one-of-kind suits every Mardi Gras. His father was one of the inaugural members of the Treme Sidewalk Steppers social aid and pleasure club. His cousin Walter Ramsey, a gifted tuba player, helped to start The Stooges Brass Band.

From young, travel was on his mind. He grew up watching brass bands like Olympia, Dirty Dozen, Rebirth, Treme, Hot 8, and the Stooges travel the world with their music for the summer festival season. 

Last year, leading up to the Bermuda trip, Ramsey had been out of town, visiting festivals on the East Coast, trying to book other festival gigs for his group. He wanted more travel gigs for the Big 6. He was told by jazz fans at other festivals that Bermuda would be perfect.

To be completely prepared, he entered Bermuda with a total of $11,000, Ramsey said. He was hoping to vacation for a few weeks there with his cousin, then move into the role of bandleader, to meet with cricket-team leaders and club owners. He hoped to lease  a venue for a prominent Big 6 gig around the time of Bermuda’s legendary annual Cup Match between St. George’s and Somerset, which takes place each year in August. 

The Cup Match is a public holiday; the whole place celebrates. Who better, he thought, to play a festival like that than the Big 6, a band familiar with widespread celebrations like Mardi Gras? 

Before Ramsey left New Orleans, he was told that the Bermuda venues he sought would likely only hold sought-after dates during the cup match if paid in cash. So he planned accordingly. In his carry-on bag, he packed a few thousand in cash from recent gigs and the $8,000 from his bank. “Everyone knows that bands want to get out of New Orleans and travel,” he said. “And you have to have your own money to back you up.”

Thaddeus Ramsey has sewed Black masking Indians suits since he was young, starting as a spyboy with Black Feather and working his way up to big chief of Black Feather Young Generation. Photo from Mardi Gras 2023 by Pableaux Johnson.

Trying to Head Home Early, Then He’s Stuck 

His trip hit a glitch before it even started. On April 10th, one of his mentors, tuba player Jeffrey Hills, died unexpectedly in New Orleans. Ramsey had hoped the funeral would occur before he flew into Bermuda on the 20th. But it hadn’t been scheduled by the time he left.  

Soon after his arrival, Ramsey heard that Hills’ funeral was scheduled to be April 29th. He weighed his options and, with a heavy heart, decided to cut his trip short, so that he could attend his friend’s funeral and play in the procession.

On April 28, the day before the funeral, he went to the airport intending to buy a ticket back to New Orleans. Then customs agents in the airport stopped him and searched him. They said he looked suspicious, he said. At that point, he had $10,445 in his possession. 

Ramsey did not know that the cap for money that could be carried out of the country was $10,000, he said. Initially, customs agents didn’t seem to think it was a big deal. They pulled him aside and told him he’d likely be fined for the mistake and be on his way back to New Orleans.

But when some government officers came to talk with Ramsey, they confiscated his money and his passport and told him that he was unable to leave the country, he said. He was under investigation, they said. 

For the past year, he has been stuck. He is unable to go home. 

An official person with a few decades of embassy experience – who couldn’t speak on the record without government permission – said that it’s not uncommon for Americans to be detained in a foreign country. Once that happens, the U.S. citizens usually have to wait until the matter works its way through that country’s legal system. “Americans are always shocked at this,” he said. “They say, ‘Can’t you just send me home?’” 

But, as the U.S. State Department website states, its personnel cannot get an American citizen out of jail, provide legal advice, or tell a court that the citizen is innocent or guilty.   

Ramsey can’t resume his work with the Big 6; he is barred from officially getting a job or doing anything but wait in Bermuda. He also cannot establish a residence there, so he has been staying in churches who are sympathetic to him, with family and friends helping with living expenses.

Thaddeus “Peanut” Ramsey, as played music since he was tiny, growing up in a family who is central to New Orleans culture. Photo by Pableaux Johnson.

No Active Charges, He Says

At first, Ramsey was only told he was under investigation. At one point he was notified that he was being charged with “transporting criminal proceeds” out of Bermuda. 

Ramsey has handed over all of his banking information; it matched with his account of events, officials told him. He has given a timeline of everywhere he went while in Bermuda, where there are cameras on nearly every corner that can verify his whereabouts, he said.

For the first few weeks, even the first few months, he believed it was a mere misunderstanding. Once he explained the situation, the misunderstanding would be cleared up.

That hasn’t been the case. Ramsey said that he still doesn’t know what he’s being charged with — if anything, he said. At one point, thanks to folks back home, he was able to pay bail to stay out of custody, so technically he is out on bail. But nothing has moved forward. He has been given several court dates, but they haven’t shed any light on his case. Each time, he goes to the courthouse, nothing happens, and he’s given a new court date.

He most needs to get into court for a meaningful hearing, to clear up this matter, he said.

After all, he said, he hasn’t done anything to warrant being treated as a criminal. He just attempted to carry out slightly more money than allowed. During the eight days before he was stopped in the airport, he talked to a few venue owners, ate at restaurants, took a yacht ride, swam and sunbathed on the beach. 

He made no money in Bermuda, he said. So there have been no proceeds at all from his trip – much less criminal proceeds, he said.

The Lens had scant luck getting answers about his situation from authorities. Since Bermuda is a self-governing British Overseas Territory, questions from The Lens regarding what — if any — charges Ramsey is facing were directed to the British embassy in Washington, D.C. No one had responded at press time Thursday evening.

Family members said that Rep. Troy Carter is trying to reach out to Bermuda officials, to see if better communication with authorities can help him return home. But Carter’s office cannot confirm with The Lens about anything done on behalf of Ramsey or any constituents, because of confidentiality agreements, a spokesman said. Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy has done what it’s allowed to do: stay in touch with him, make sure he’s healthy and able to communicate with people back home. But by State Department regulations, their personnel cannot tell a foreign court that he is innocent or guilty or help him get a attorney.

His Big 6 bandmates believe that it’s time for him to get off the island. They are determined to raise money for a lawyer who can get him into court, to clear his name. So on Friday, they are throwing a benefit concert called #BringPeanutHome.

To his cousin Walter Ramsey, who helped to raise his younger cousin, the situation has become increasingly urgent. “It’s like my child is stuck in Bermuda,” he said. “To my knowledge, it just drew red flags that he was carrying cash. But now, they keep pushing court dates back and they haven’t brought any charges. If it was something illegal, then we should know that by now. But we don’t know none of that.”

Friday’s benefit concert for Ramsey will be held at The Rabbit Hole, 1228 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. It starts at 7 p.m.

Note: After the story published, The Music & Culture Coalition of New Orleans also set up a donation link: