Sunday April 28, Jazz & Heritage Stage, 3 p.m.
Friday May 3, Acura Stage (Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars), 2:05 p.m.
Sunday May 5, Cultural Exchange Pavilion (The Boudreaux Family Celebrates Big Chief Monk Boudreaux), 12:40 p.m.
Not many people who participated in the first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival are still active in the festival today, but one of the fest’s longest-running, most important players has been Joseph Monk Boudreuax, Big Chief of the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indians. Every year, Monk leads the Golden Eagles concert band in a set at the Jazz and Heritage stage, joined by members of his family, who sing and play percussion behind him, plus a non-Indian backing band usually made up of a funk rhythm section, and a noted New Orleans electric guitarist. Last year, keyboardist Tom Worrell added significant texture to Boudreaux’s mix. But most importantly, that set showcased Monk’s phenomenal ability to tell the stories of Mardi Gras Indians in his own distinctive way, incorporating pieces of history from his own life experience, and observations on the evolution of the Indian phenomenon. He is a true griot in the African tradition, who at the same time embraces his Creole roots as a Native American, making him a living embodiment of the Mardi Gras Indian history of people from African American neighborhoods in New Orleans offering homage to the Native American brothers and sisters who aided them in their struggles against slavery.
In 1970, the event’s first year, festival organizer Quint Davis asked Monk and his good friend Big Chief Bo Dollis of the Wild Magnolias to lead a parade of Indians through the French Quarter to the jazz festival, which was held that year in what is now Armstrong Park. Mardi Gras Indian parades have continued to be a feature of the festival to this day.
This year, Monk will perform an integral part of Jazz Fest, serving as a liaison to the Indian gangs who perform at the Heritage Stage, as well as appearing several times himself. Boudreaux’s biggest showcase will be with the Voice of the Wetlands All Stars, where he will come out to sing his spectacular, “Lightning and Thunder.” Monk is a charter member of the Voice of the Wetlands band, originally formed by Tab Benoit to raise public awareness about the disappearing wetlands in southern Louisiana. Some of the wetland territories are sacred grounds for Native Americans, and Monk has been an outspoken critic of the policies that are condemning these lands to submersion in the encroaching gulf.
Monk will be on the Jazz and Heritage stage at least twice this year, once leading the Golden Eagles, where he is sure to sing specialties like, “Shallow Water,” “They Don’t Know,” and “Dance with Me.” The second show will be a Boudreaux family tribute to Monk on closing day, set to include Monk’s new wife, Wynoka Boudreaux Myri Glammaw, and his grandson J’Wan Boudreaux, spyboy of the Golden Eagles and leader of his own Indian concert band, Cha Wa. Recently, Monk has also been singing with the 101 Runners, so don’t be surprised if he joins Honey Bannister with that group on Jazz Fest’s opening day.