Jazz Fest: Day 2 – Mr. Davis, Tear Down that Gate

Typically, when civic officials dress down, it’s more awkward than when they’re in their suits in non-suit venues. Yesterday, Mayor Mitch Landrieu made it work with a black “Our City Our Town” T-shirt, jeans, very blue Chuck Taylors (normally my footwear of choice, so I’m biased) and wrap-around cheaters. But if he spends a full weekend walking the grounds in those Chucks, he’s going to know why I sport hiking boots for two weekends a year. To the music:

Big Freedia by Erika Goldring

— Because Jazz Fest is one of the biggest gigs many bands play in a year—and their best chance to reach a lot of people at one time—it’s often an occasion to hear them in a way that economics prevent from happening on a regular basis. I love Shannon McNally’s voice in almost any configuration, but the songs from the recent Western Ballad benefited from a band that included a piano player at a grand piano and producer (and co-conspirator on the album) Mark Bingham on bass. On “When I Die,” the band was stately behind McNally’s lonesome vocal, but Bingham’s bass was in constant motion, suggesting the complex world behind the seemingly simple lyric.

— A sign that the bounce artists are stepping up their game: they were on time. In the past, Big Freedia and Sissy Nobby were notorious for being late to their Jazz Fest gigs, but at 12:35 sharp, Katey Red was onstage and doing old school shout-outs to New Orleans neighborhoods.

— There were at least 12 police officers watching Sissy Nobby dance in front of the Congo Square Stage. If somebody had opened a bank in the photo pit, it would have had the safest money in town.

— At the emotional tribute to the late Herman Ernest in the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage, Dr. John spoke of Ernest’s love of jokes. In airports, he’d grab famous people to take photos with him, taking them unaware. “He grabbed Johnny Mathis and took picture,” Dr. John said. “He did it with Bishop Tutu.”

— By now, grousing about the DMZ in front of the bigger stages is pointless, but it’s hard to resist when it becomes an issue as it was on Saturday. When Sissy Nobby needed dancers, she went out and had to work her way around the barricades to get to people. Once she found a few young women ready to shake their booties, there was plenty of room to do so. That chasm seemed to hamper Haitian vocalist Emeline Michel, who couldn’t seem to reach the crowd, and Fantasia was so put off by it that she too left the stage and performed from the ground instead. It’s one thing when the gulf is a mere haves vs. have-nots issue (the Class War is coming!), but when it affects the show, something needs to be done.

Jon Bon Jovi by Erika Goldring

— In the middle of “The More Things Change,” Jon Bon Jovi sounded like he was ready for a Matlock marathon as he complained that now it’s Justin Bieber; it used to be Justin Timberlake. Today it’s “Ice-T and Jay-Z” while rap used to be NWA, and now it’s all “Google and Gaga.” The bit ends with him asserting that one thing stays the same—”Me”—as if he hadn’t benefited from changes when his sound became the vogue in the mid-1980s.

I gather the moment was supposed to say that in this ever-changin’ world in which we live in—thanks for the redundancy, Paul—Bon Jovi’s constant, but it made him sound out of touch at best (Ice-T’s heyday predates NWA by a year and Jay-Z by more than a decade). Or, are we to assume that he considers hip-hop so beneath him that its leading artists don’t even cross his radar? Or that he’s so technologically and culturally illiterate that Google and Lady Gaga are actually confusable? Is he saying that names today sound funny? Or, is he simply pandering to his audience, sharing a moment of cultural anxiety with them, then reassuring them that he—and by extension, them—are doing just fine by being themselves and don’t need to engage their culture? Or was it just a bunch of words and stuff he said that’s not supposed to be thought about, and we can all go back to rocking now?