Celebrating Jazz Fest 2014 made all the better with delightful weather.
By Frank Etheridge, Jon Garelick, David Kunian, Stephen Maloney, Brett Milano, Clea Simon, John Swenson, Dan Willging and Geraldine Wyckoff.
Take a look back at what made Jazz Fest 2014 so special, from the perspective of OffBeat’s krewe of writers, reviewers and photographers.
Now 45 years young, Jazz Fest 2014 celebrated middle age with dignity and purpose. The depth and breadth of the music presented was simply staggering. Old and new schools were served. At the Gospel Tent you could hear the 33-voice gospel singing of Voices of Peter Claver, powered by a massive Bootsy Collins bass riff, getting the entire tent to repeat the call-and-response chant of “Higher.” At the Lagniappe Stage, you could hear Ed Volker howling and yodeling and ululating as he sang “Go Down Swinging,” “Better Days,” “White Rabbit” and “My Baby’s Got Some Bad Kung Fu” backed by his Trio Mollusc. On the same stage you could hear Alexis & the Samurai, one of the city’s newest bands, pay tribute to old-timer John Fogerty by singing “Who’ll Stop the Rain.” At Congo Square, you could hear Partners-N-Crime finish off the New Orleans Hip Hop Experience, giving a shout out to Hollygrove. You could hear Wendell Brunious rip it up on “Big Chief,” Orange Kellin burn Jelly Roll Morton, Roy Rogers doing Robert Johnson, Helen Gillet putting her own stamp on Lou Reed’s “Pale Blue Eyes.”
Jazz Fest 2014 meant several beautiful experiences on a sunny, breezy spring day, the type of weather that graced all of the second weekend. Find a patch of grass, sit down and dig the slow, languorous progress of the blimp circling the field. Even at its most crowded, there’s always a place to sit at one of the smaller stages, or the children’s tent, which has always featured some great music and in years past often offered a glimpse at future stars like Amanda Shaw and Hunter Hayes. This year, I really enjoyed seeing the teenaged members of the Huval-Fuselier Cajun Band (drums, fiddle, accordion, guitar) playing the traditional music of their Acadian roots.
I find myself trying to find alternatives to the massive crowds at the big stages but I fully understand why so many stadium rockers are drawn to New Orleans and especially to Jazz Fest, where their performances are contextualized by the richest musical heritage in America. In the 1960s popular music utilized the technological advantages of the electronic age to make itself physically bigger through amplification. Now digital technology has created a culture of the pop-avatar transubstantiated into the cloud, a virtual culture that is literally everywhere at once. Of course that also means it is nowhere specifically, so the eccentricities that are formed by the isolation of regional music scenes from each other are diluted. New Orleans is the last major American city with an indigenous culture that, so far, has resisted this dilution. No wonder so many artists nurtured on common roots eagerly want to drink from its well.
For all the often-legitimate complaints about inappropriate national acts spoiling the Jazz Fest vibe, this event still provides a kind of cultural diversity no other large-scale American festival can boast of. The swirling eddies of sound emanating from the stages, parades and the people themselves give a bustling marketplace feel to the festival grounds that can be sensually addictive. Festival organizers have been adept at bringing indigenous music from other countries into the mix year after year. This year featured the return of Brazilian music, represented by groups like Ginga Mundo Caporira and the fabulous drummers and singers of Os Negões (both from the Bahia region). It was truly inspiring to hear the syncopated, ambulatory hop of second line rhythms alternating with the relentless hypnotic samba roll. (JS)
Though history is everywhere at the Fest, the Louisiana Repertory Ensemble always makes it explicit: source material is cited, dates given. All of which would be pointless if the LRE didn’t render that history in flesh-and-blood: pianist David Boeddinghaus’ ripping take on Meade “Lux” Lewis’s “Honky Tonk Train Blues,” trumpeter Charlie Fardella’s faithful, but hard-swinging homage to Louis Armstrong’s famous solo on “Potato Head Blues,” and the band’s heedless collective improv on the Armstrong Hot Seven’s “Melancholy Blues.” This was history served hot. (JG)
Carlos Santana, showed why he’s a national treasure during an Acura Stage set extending past 7:30 p.m. Weaving delicate, psychedelic guitar throughout, Santana dug deep into his catalogue for “Fried Neckbones” along with welcoming Rob Thomas on stage to recapture their mega-hit “Smooth.” (FE)
Alejandro Escovedo on the Fais Do Do stage? It had to be a mistake. The acerbic rocker had the requisite “ethnic” heritage—he hails from the same musical Mexican family that produced Pete Escovedo and (Pete’s daughter/Alejandro’s niece) Sheila E. But this is the man who helped turn rockabilly into cowpunk thirty years ago, via Rank and File. Plus, the crowd is too big for Escovedo’s no-longer-cult status. But as Escovedo snarled and whispered through the dry despair of “Bottom of the World” (regretting Austin’s metamorphosis into another Houston and his own long battle with Hep C), it began to make sense. By the time he started shredding Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane,” surfing the feedback, the notoriously erratic Fais Do Do sound offered an intimacy that the Gentilly, excuse me, Galaxy stage might not have. Was this the first time the Clash’s “Straight to Hell” closed out a set on a stage that had seen the likes of Canray Fontenot and Dewey Balfa? Possibly, but it’s all just “Les Flames d’Enfer,” after all. (CS)
I’m not sure what was stranger, hearing the full throttle, nighttime rock of Alejandro Escovedo in the daytime, or seeing how many people who came out to see him that I never see when the sun is above the horizon. (DK)
Cajun bands equipped with saxophones must have been the thing at this year’s Jazz Fest. On Sunday, May 4, well-travelled New Orleans’ sax-man Derek Huston (now a member) joined Roddie Romero and the Hub City All Stars. While Eric Adcock bounced on keys and Romero sizzled on accordion and vocals, the pompadour sax-man made every note count and was a contributing factor as to why the group swung so freely. (DW)
No matter they opened with the classic anthem “Rebel without a Pause” Public Enemy’s extended sound-check with an unidentified MC saying “One Love” repeatedly seemed too much like practice for many that departed the hip-hop legends’ Congo Square set early. (FE)
For us diehard Allen Toussaint fans, his set this year was particularly interesting for a glimpse of his songwriting process. As usual he snuck in a few unheard songs, all on subjects close to his heart: One was in praise of Jazz Fest, another a salute to Meters guitarist Leo Nocentelli, and the last was about a hot night at Tipitina’s. All three were clearly works in progress (the line “You’ve got nothing to lose but the blues” turned up in two songs), but the Tip’s song had a chorus hook as memorable as those in his ’60s hits, which is saying something. In recent years Toussaint’s also done a song about Jimmy Buffett, but this year he instead brought out Buffett himself—and sorry, Parrot-haters, but Buffett’s version of Jesse Winchesters “I Wave Bye Bye” was subtle and heartfelt. (BM)
The Shotgun Jazz Band plays with a certain attitude that is right on and refreshing. It’s edgy but not off-putting. Many times you hear traditional jazz done with the attitude that panders to the tourists and has the vibe of “Really, in the grand scheme of things, nobody likes this music so please like us.” The Shotgun Jazz Band has a little more punk rock that comes off as “We know we’re good and this is great music, so if you don’t, tough luck.” As lead singer Marla Dixon said during a sing along, “If you don’t sing, we’ll stay here until you do.” (DK)
Anders Osborne gave some insight into his masterful songwriting by telling his Acura Stage audience that up-tempo rocker “Five Bullets” off his Peace album was inspired by the shooting at a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. second line parade. Osborne’s top-notch performance was highlighted by the stellar work on keys by Marco Benevento, a special guest the for entire set who helped push the delicious reggae groove that introduced “Sarah Anne,” along with a face-melting “On the Road to Charlie Parker” finale. (FE)
One of the great things about Jazz Fest is that you never know who’s going to be sitting in with whom until you get there. Such was the case with BeauSoleil, who’s normally known as BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet but for Jazz Fest, it was more like BeauSoleil avec Charles Neville as the pearly-white smiling, sax-honking Neville joined the worldwide ambassadors of Cajun music. “We’ve done this up north,” Michael said while introducing his special guest. “So we decided it was time to try it in the South.” For the first few songs, the sax-man played but didn’t solo; causing me to wonder what good would this be if Neville was never audible in the mix. But it wasn’t long before he blended in; taking meaningful rides after Michael’s ferocious fiddling and brother David’s machine-gunned solos on acoustic guitar. Although the entire set would be familiar to any longtime BeauSoleil aficionado, it was ingeniously slanted towards Neville with selections from zydeco, blues and swamp pop, not to mention a classic New Orleans R&B tune such as Dave Bartholomew’s “It’s You I Love” that Michael sang in both English and French. One song featured Michael and Mitch Reed on twin fiddles, flanking Neville on either side. At one point they both turned towards him, framing him visually with fiddles as he wailed away on sax. Towards the end, the group played Roswell Rudd’s masterpiece “Bambako to Carencro,” making it seem like it could have been a hybrid version of a Neville Brothers song like “Yellow Moon.” (DW)
Baca and His Conjunto Quartet offered yet more proof that relaxation is the key to dance-music swing, whatever the tempo. So no matter how frenetic the doubled melody lines of nephew Josh Baca’s button accordion, Max—on his 12-string bajo sexton—bassist Noel Hernandez, and drummer Chris Rivera kept the grooves smooth, allowing the dancers at the Fais Do-Do stage to make the transition from Cajun two-step to Texas polka. In the meantime, Baca also served up an affecting vocal tribute to his old Texas Tornados compadre Doug Sahm with “The Rains Came.” (JG)
It took Paul Sanchez to remind me of what I was missing from Bruce Springsteen. I watched the first part of Springsteen’s set from various vantage points around the perimeter of the crowd at the Acura stage. The giant flat-screen TVs allowed a good look at Springsteen as he vaulted around the stage, pouring out energy while leading a band that has always been a little rhythmically cumbersome in stadium settings. The substitution of Tom Morello for Miami Steve Van Zandt only exacerbated that problem. But that’s what you get with anthems. They tend to be big and unwieldy, designed to appeal to the largest audiences possible. Sheer momentum replaces groove and nuances are lost. This is a real dilemma for a writer as talented as Springsteen. In order to play for audiences of this size the songs inevitably suffer. The crowd, which had staked out its folding chair positions from early in the day, was in a good mood and appeared to be enjoying the show without being moved to get out of those chairs and dance, which is the response most successful Jazz Fest sets engender. It felt somewhat like being at a sold out baseball game on a lazy summer afternoon.
Right next door at Congo Square Trey Songz was bringing the kind of flow-instead-of-show more typical of great Jazz Fest experiences and the highly engaged audience was showing the love. Very few chair people on this field. I kept going, making my way over to the Lagniappe stage located in the Fair Grounds paddock, where Paul Sanchez was leading his latest aggregation, Minimum Rage. Midway through his set Sanchez asked the band to leave the stage. “A lot of folks over at the Acura stage couldn’t get close enough to Bruce Springsteen,” he said, “but they can see me.” He began to play a solo acoustic version of “Thunder Road,” a gentle, understated reading of this Springsteen classic that made you think about every lyric as he sang, all the while caressing the bittersweet melody. It was a triumph, a great version of a great song. It made me think of what Springsteen used to sound like playing intimate stages like Max’s Kansas City with an adventurous band that was closer to a unit of jazz improvisers than the stadium-filling machine it became. Sanchez finished his set and I wandered back to Acura, where Bruce played the Monster Rock rendition of “Thunder Road” to close his show. It was big enough to satisfy the enormous crowd, an appropriate moment for what Jazz Fest has become. In a way, what’s happened to Jazz Fest as its grown and prospered parallels what happened to Springsteen as he evolved from a great songwriter into a stadium celebrity. I miss the smaller gestures of the more subtly-nuanced Springsteen the way I miss the smaller, community-oriented Jazz Fest. For a moment during the Paul Sanchez set I got a little bit of both. (JS)
South Louisiana axe-slinger Tab Benoit played with an incredible slow-blues burn on his eloquent ballad “Nothing Takes the Place of You” in a rousing pre-Clapton set marked with emotion and intensity far above that of Slow Hand himself. (FE)
The chair people overwhelmed security trying to keep the aisles by the track open during Eric Clapton, but security won for Bruce Springsteen, making it possible to get to the beer tent and back within one song. (SM)
If Bobby Lounge had been Elvis, the world would be a better place. That much was clear as the pianist/personality belted out the option during an Allison Miner Stage interview on Sunday. That set was as much music as talk, though Olivia de Havilland and Jerry Lee Lewis, both influences, were invoked with robust glee. An hour later, on the Lagniappe Stage, Lounge was in full regalia, coming out in his iron lung for such rollicking classics as “Ten Foot Woman.” And while burlesque queen Athena made a lovely sidekick, her throaty numbers (“Do Your Duty,” etc.) served to slow the momentum. Lounge’s own wonderfully filthy shaggy dog tales—and they were both filthy and shaggy—made for better breathers. (CS)
Local outfit Dirty Bourbon River Show’s “gypsy brass” wowed a small-but-boogieing Lagniappe Stage crowd, with saxophonist Matt Thomas’ work on both baritone and tenor sax powering both down-tempo ballads (“All Your Love”) and swinging crowd-pleasers (“Wolfman”). (FE)
Jim McCormick is a great songwriter and Beatin Path was and proved itself to be still a great rock band. As they rocked out on the McCormick-penned/Jason Aldean-recorded “Take A Little Ride,” all the artificial ideas about genre and radio segregation fell away in the crunch, drive, and roll of a great energetic tune. (DK)
Punctuating a triumphant return marked by an old-school song selection and pure bass dominance by Mike Gordon (check the “Down with Disease” that followed their unacceptable taking of a set break), it was a virtual love-phest between Quint Davis and Phish during their respective post-show stage banter. Pianist Page McConnell offered a sincere thank-you for being invited back after the (unspoken) 1996 debacle before the “Julius” encore, after which Davis remarked it was “good to have [Phish] back home” and then thanked Phish fans “for swimming in the pond today.” (FE)
Call it “chamber jazz” if you must, but when pianist Tom McDermott and clarinetist Evan Christopher get together for a mix of ancient classics and deep-grained originals, they never lose the pulse of the dance floor. On “Tango Ambiguo,” McDermott let the third beat hang in the air while he and clarinetist Evan Christopher sashayed through the tune. And their beguine was a reminder that the word denoted a lilting West Indian dance form before it became part of a Cole Porter title. (JG)
On the second Friday, the Acura Stage could have been renamed the Diva Stage with a lineup of Mia Borders, Amanda Shaw, Theresa Anderson, Christina Aguilera and Fred LeBlanc. (DK)
Roll over, Robert Plant: The weekend’s great Led Zeppelin moment wound up belonging to Christina Aguilera, who vamped her way through a perfectly raunchy “Whole Lotta Love.” Write her off as a pop diva if you will, but her set was the antithesis of Beyonce’s gaudy, largely lip-synched show at Essence last year. The woman has pipes, and she also has taste; honoring the occasion with covers of Etta James (“At Last”), Nina Simone (“Sugar in My Bowl”) and Labelle (“Lady Marmalade”); all of which she introduced by proclaiming her love for jazz and R&B. Even the pop material was classy, especially the gospel-tinged “Makes Me Wanna Pray” (which borrowed a familiar Traffic organ part, also played live). And to the many journalists who marveled that she could strut and be sexy while visibly pregnant—well, surprise! (BM)
Theresa Andersson’s been largely MIA over the past year, so it was no surprise that she was well into a new musical phase at her Fest appearance. She’s still using the vocal tape-loops that were her trademark in recent years, but now she’s integrating them with a live band—a large live band with two full-kit drummers, double keyboards and guitars, and John Michael Rouchell on bass. Much of the material (including a heavily rearranged “Birds Fly Away”) was familiar, but the richly layered, melodically textured arrangements got close to the best prog rock at times. Still, she stripped it all down for her finale, a solo a capella chanting of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Find the Cost of Freedom.” Given the song’s somber nature, the gathering Aguilera crowd and the danger of the tape-loops malfunctioning (which they in fact did, as the looped harmonies were much lower than her live leads) she risked losing the crowd, but most were floored by it. It was one of the gutsiest things I saw anyone do on the main stage. (BM)
The saying goes, “piano players rarely ever play together.” The same holds true for zydeco accordionists except in the case of the Buckwheat Zydeco Lifetime Tribute set. The small Fais Do-Do Stage was loaded with “squeezebox” players and others from the zydeco world. First up was the man of the hour, Buckwheat himself, who was obviously having some fun as he soulfully belted out “Hard to Stop.” At first his son was getting down on the rubboard but then moved over to play the keyboard side of Buckwheat’s accordion at the same time as his father. Never saw that before. When Buckwheat switched to organ, he took over the accordion with Rockin’ Dopsie, Jr. on rubboard. Other guests included accordion master C.J. Chenier, the Grammy-winning Terrance Simien and vocalist Zachary Richard with guitarist Lil Buck Sinegal beefing up the band. Buckwheat remarked that most of the time, he and the other players who often tour heavily were on opposite coasts—not on the same stage. (GW)
Jazz Fest has really become two festivals inside the same space. The Fair Grounds site still collects an eclectic mix of local music and folklife studded with gospel, blues, funk, jazz, hip-hop, zydeco and Cajun lineups. Most of the people who come for the traditional fare move around from spot to spot during the day. The Acura stage at the far end of the track is where the biggest draws like Springsteen headline. The fans who come for these acts stake out space in front of the big stage early in the day for what amounts to the Acura/Shell rock festival. More than half of the crowd is usually there all day waiting for the band they came to see, getting up only for necessities like replenishing beer or buying a po-boy.
The Springsteen crowd had been camped out in front of the stage since shortly after the gates opened. They were there for the bands on that stage and they saw a terrific show, from Marc Broussard’s opening set through a memorable turn from Allen Toussaint and a spectacular performance by what is probably the best festival band anywhere, the Voice of the Wetlands Allstars. Moments like this are a prime chance for a local headliner to win over an entirely new audience.
The Voice of the Wetlands All Stars did not waste this opportunity to add a few thousand Springsteen fans to their growing list of followers. The most versatile band in Louisiana offered early star turns to founder Tab Benoit and Anders Osborne, who has grown in stature as a solo act since the band formed. Vocalist/guitarist Benoit has emerged as a complete frontman, a Cajun bluesman in the tradition but with a personal style. He grabbed the crowd by its collective throat with his save-the-wetlands call to action, “Don’t Let the Water Wash Us Away.” On Johnny Sansone’s frontline turn “The Lord is Waiting and the Devil is Too” Sansone blew fierce harmonica choruses and sang his heart out in one of the best individual performances of the festival.
That’s what happens when you have a band full of leaders—one completely different delivery after another, each a spectacular turn—who can support each other’s spotlight moments. There are five outstanding vocalists here—Benoit, Osborne, Sansone for starters, and then the great Cyril Neville and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux to finish up. Cyril picked up the baton at the height of the show for the incendiary “Ain’t No Funk Like Louisiana Funk” and brought it all to yet another level before saying “Give it up for Monk Boudreaux—Uptown Ruler!” Monk sang “Me Donkey Want Water,” then the whole band went into “Little Liza Jane,” wrapping up a very satisfying set. (JS)
Marcia Ball had backup. Not for her voice, which was a bit raw after a week of shows by the time she hit the Galaxy Stage on Thursday. But on keys: supporting her own marvelously raucous barrelhouse piano was secret weapon Joe Krown on B3 (the two also have played together at Snug Harbor). Soloing on new tunes, like the sultry “Get You a Woman” and the fast blues of “The Squeeze is On,” the organist kept the big band funky, before Ball took over for “Louisiana 1927.” Her voice, by the way—it might have been rough, but it still made the high notes. (CS)
Along with the Neville Brothers not appearing as a group, this was also the first year in memory with no Meters, funky Meters or Meter Men set on the fair Grounds. You could still get a fix on the final Sunday, however: First George Porter, Jr.’s venerable Running Partners played a Meters-heavy set, as usual choosing the less obvious songs and creatively messing with the arrangements. Then Dumpstaphunk brought out guest stars Art and Cyril Neville (“because they really should be here on a Sunday,” Ivan Neville pointed out), who did the inevitable “Hey Pocky Way” and “Fire On the Bayou”—but really, a Jazz Fest without those tunes would be like a frat party without “Louie Louie.” Cyril also shone on “No More Okey Doke,” a less overplayed gem. To quote the entire lyric of a vintage Meters song, “The same old thing… the same old thing… but it still is good, y’all.” (BM)
Even though they are not booked like they used to be, the second Sunday at the Fair Grounds is still Neville Day. I heard at least eight with Art, Ian, Ivan, Cyril, and Jason funking it up with Dumpstaphunk on the Acura Stage and Aaron, Charles, Cyril, and Jason on Aaron Neville’s closing Blues Tent set. Even with more new music, New Orleans and otherwise, populating the stages at Jazz Fest, the Nevilles aren’t even close to losing their relevance in the New Orleans musical world. (DK)
With the first generation of Nevilles becoming elder statesman of New Orleans music, the next generation seems to have stepped up to fill those large and always fashionable shoes. We may have literally seen the torch be passed on the Acura Stage as Ivan Neville helped out Art “Poppa Funk” Neville with the lead vocals to “Fiyo on the Bayou” before Art dropped out to let Ivan rock out this Meters/Neville Brothers anthem. (DK)
Big bands are a dying breed these days but as long as Luther Kent & Trickbag are around, there will always be a special occasion where they can seek refuge and roar once more. And roar Trickbag did, a razor sharp 11-piece, horn-heavy aggregation that can soar, swoop and stop on a dime. The core band has been together for over 30 years, at one point playing four-five nights/week for 15 years at Kent’s legendary 2 a.m. Bourbon Street gigs. This year’s Jazz Fest performance marked Kent & Trickbag’s 37th appearance and included special guest David Torkanowksy on B-3. As is customary with old school blues/R&B bands, Trickbag opened with a hot number before Kent took the stage and blasted through such selections as “Sick and Tired,” “Crosscut Saw” and “Straighten It Out” before closing with a dazzling rendition of “Let the Good Times Roll.” Trickbag might have been big but so were Kent’s overpowering pipes that have withstood the test of the time. If his iron horse voice was a bridge, it’d span Lake Pontchartrain. (DW)
The music that one hears at Jazz Fest is full of songs that encourage partying, drinking, good times etc. What distinguished the great Jason Isbell’s set is that it was full of songs about bad partying and people drinking too much and doing bad drugs and suffering the consequences. There was an occasional rising from those consequences, but his music showed the perils of such behavior. And he did rock out with the anthems “Super 8” and “Never Gonna Change” to leave on an upbeat note. (DK)
From afar, Smithfield Fair resembled a folk group from the early ’60s with the Brothers Smith decked out in matching attire consisting of yellow shirts, green tweed ties, blue-green vests and chino tan slacks and Dudley-Brian’s wife Jan in a lavender blouse topped in a royal blue velvet blazer. But their harmonies were alluring, something not easily found between the typical Jazz Fest sounds of funky basses, splattering tubas and shrieking clarinets. It was also Smithfield’s first public gig as a quartet in years with prodigal brother Joel recently rejoining the ensemble as a full-time member. Besides the harmonies, Smithfield was doubly entertaining. On the intro to the groove-bound “Fishlips,” Dudley-Brian Smith explained that the song was inspired by an old girlfriend “who was probably still out there looking for him.”
“That’s because you still owe her money,” someone bellowed from the audience.
Bob was quick-witted as well. Originally the set was supposed to close with “Hard Time Come Again,” but when it became apparent that more time was left, the group did what it does best and knocked out three more tunes emphasizing its resounding, impressive harmonies. (DW)
This was not as much a collision of worlds as one might expect, but both seemed to have a great time and share a respect and love of all that New Orleans culture encompasses. The moment that captivated me was that after Big Freedia went through all the various names for bounce music and the dances that accompany it, Peggy Scott Laborde giggled. It compensated for the fact Laborde, host of the WYES Rex Ball presentation each year, did not say the words, “Azz Everywhere.” (DK)
New Orleans Meets New York could have been the title of the Henry Butler, Steven Bernstein & the Hot 9 set or perhaps Henry Butler with Horns. Butler performed on a baby grand and keyboards at the side of the stage, though musically, he was definitely the center of focus. Bernstein, a slide trumpeter and alto horn player, enthusiastically led this hard-core group that included saxophones, a trombone, violin, clarinet, guitar, bass and our own Donald Edwards on drums. Butler, who now lives in New York, has always been adept at many genres and with this talented ensemble they all came together as one—this city’s jazz traditions and second line and rhythm and blues beats together with sophisticated modern jazz enhanced by Bernstein and the Hot 9 or as Butler put it, “this crazy band.”
Allen Toussaint sat in (Henry on keys, Allen on piano) and romped on the classic “Jock-A-Mo.” (GW)
These fine gentlemen—the Deslondes—had the Grapes of Wrath/New Lower 9th Ward look down to a T, while they played great, understated folk and country. However, they could have smiled a little and not looked so serious. (DK)
String Cheese Incident put an exclamation point on their Acura Stage marathon with a touching, rehearsed cover of the Staples Singers’ “People Get Ready” accompanied by the lush vocal harmonies of the Blind Boys of Alabama. (FE)
Since the gates had just opened, there weren’t many Jazz Festers milling around at the start of Joe Hall and the Louisiana Cane Cutters’ 11:15 a.m. set at the Fais Do Do Stage on the last day of Jazz Fest. But that didn’t deter Hall. The unflappable big guy quickly got it rolling with the band’s powerhouse approach to vintage Creole la la music, and drew more and more intrigued listeners with every song until there was a respectable-sized crowd in attendance. Midway through, Hall stopped to introduce his diverse band including two fellow Creoles, bassist Mike Bell and drummer Jock Randall; frottoir-ist Mark Stoltz of Michigan; 17-year-old Cajun fiddler Zach Fuselier and ULL music major Nico Guiang from the Philippines. “As you can see from my band, this is music from a culture but it knows no color,” Hall diplomatically explained. Then he mentioned his late friend, Cajun musician Al Berard and the upcoming tribute at the Allison Miner Musical Heritage Stage. Hall next launched into a riveting rendition of “Bayou Sorrell Two Step,” a song learned indirectly from Berard.
At the tribute, Hall was joined by Berard’s lovely daughters, Maegan Berard and Laura Huval as well as her husband Adrian, all accomplished musicians. Herman Fuselier moderated the proceedings and kept the conversation flowing smoothly. “My dad never forced music on us,” Laura explained. “But he always kept a guitar tuned in the house.” Laura went on to say that when she was at school at LSU, her dad would call her at the last minute to fill in on guitar at a gig. “I was so horrible at first and I didn’t know the changes,” she explained. “But he kept going like this [demonstrating how he tilted his head from one side to the other for each chord change] until I caught on.” Understandably so, at times Laura and Maegan fought back tears and trembling lips, as did members of the audience. Laura and Maegan sang a few of their father’s tunes, like “Dans La Louisiane” and “Saute la barriére,” with gale-force voices that were practically hair-parting and jaw-dropping. But there were moments of levity as well. When Adrian tersely recounted his memories of Berard, which initially consisted of jamming and squirrel hunting, Laura quickly added “And married one of his daughters” in an unmistakable audible voice that resulted in smirks, fits of laughter and relief to wet eyes. (DW)
The best news of the Fest was the improved attitude by security in the Blues Tent. People were up and dancing to artists like African guitarist Bombino as well as 12-string stick-guitarist Tizuma from Brazil who was backed by an all-women vocal and percussion group. Meanwhile the worst news was the extremely bass-heavy sound at the Congo Square Stage. Unless one was standing in just the right spot, it drowned out the vocals of Davell Crawford (great rhythm and blues repertoire though), Nigel Hall and Charlie Wilson. Nobody seemed to get the message about this problem. (GW)
Trumpeter Wendell Brunious knows that art and entertainment need not be mutually exclusive, nor does this Preservation Hall regular see any reason to segregate musical eras and styles. So he played a lovely, respectful version of Duke Ellington’s “Azalea” (with Harmon mute) that recalled the master’s recording with Louis Armstrong, and he wasn’t shy about throwing some bebop licks into Armstrong’s “My Monday Date.” For Brunious, these pieces, along with Louis Jordan’s “Jump, Jive and Wail” and “Big Chief,” are all part of the same wonderful world. (JG)
When in doubt, go to the Gospel Tent—it always swings, remains good advice. The some 45 voices of the McDonogh 35 Gospel Choir once again made a joyful noise in celebrating its 30th year at Jazz Fest. Led by Veronica Downs, a renowned figure in the gospel community, this ensemble, noted as the first high school gospel choir in the city, works tightly as a group as well as backing up some excellent solo vocalists. One was really screamin’ and preachin’. These young men and women have some fun with support from their friends and family in the audience.
The smaller, veteran gospel groups like the Wimberley Family and the Rocks of Harmony always put on strong performances and this year was no exception. In both cases, they carried their own bands filled with really talented musicians, dressed sharp, did some testifying at the edge of the stage with several members jumping down to the tent’s floor to thrill and get closer to the audience. These sets were old-time, harmony-filled gospel at its best. (GW)
The fuzzy E-minor feedback leading into John Fogerty’s opening “Born on the Bayou” set the tone for a classic Creedence set. (FE)
Top Five Moments
1. Preservation Hall Band, “Tootie Ma Is a Big Fine Thing”: Outstanding performance of a refurbished classic that has become a favorite of a new generation of traditional jazz players and fans following the Tom Waits cover and appearance on Treme. Roughly a century after this music was invented, it’s still alive and well.
2. Paul Sanchez and Shamarr Allen, “Love Is Blind”: At the end of his Jazz Fest set, Paul Sanchez brought out trumpeter Shamarr Allen to play the signature song on their wonderful collaboration Bridging the Gap. The musical eclecticism and aspiration for racial harmony contained in this song epitomize everything that Jazz Fest stands for at its best.
3. The Radiators, “Suck the Head”: In their return to the Gentilly stage at Jazz Fest, the Radiators played one of their most legendary songs. It was also the first song the band ever played at Jazz Fest. In 1978, as the backup group for Earl King, they opened with “Suck the Head” before bringing King onstage.
4. John Fogerty, “Ramble Tamble”: The only outsider on my list makes it as one of the most pleasant surprises of JF 14 for me. In 1969 I saw Creedence Clearwater Revival at the Atlantic City Pop festival, two weeks before Woodstock. It was one of the greatest sets of rock music I’ve ever witnessed. Fogerty’s catalog can still echo that power 45 years later.
5. The Wild Magnolias, “Poppa Was a Rolling Stone”/”Smoke My Peace Pipe”: “I promised myself I wouldn’t cry,” said Bo Dollis, Jr., who led the Wild Magnolias at Jazz Fest for the first time without his father, the iconic Mardi Gras Indian Bo Dollis. He dedicated this song to Bo and proceeded to unleash an astonishing display of energy, propelled by genius rhythm and lead guitar parts from June Yamagishi. (JS)