Monumental performances by Fairgrounds royalty, plus inspiring efforts from the new kids on the block, combined for a Sunday send-off to make the closing day of Jazz Fest 2017 one for the history books.
Under this season’s first blazing-hot sun, Galactic brought the heat early at Acura Stage with a fiery “Hey Na Na” from the 2012 album Carnivale Electricos. Vocalist Erica Falls delivered the soul-stirring chants from the song title, part of the funk nouveau band’s intrepid reinterpretations of the city’s Mardi Gras musical canon. Trumpeter Shamarr Allen then took the mic to flow on a cover of old-school hip-hop duo Eric B and Rahkim’s “Paid in Full,” setting off a high-energy set proving Galactic’s power to keep fans guessing and bodies moving.
Over at the Jazz and Heritage Stage, percussionist Bill Summers played bandleader for his Jazalsa set. Ace trumpeter Maurice Brown, a Chicago native who cut his teeth at Snug Harbor 15 years ago before moving on to gigs including his role in Tedeschi Trucks Band, soared on the delicious deep groove that is “Watermelon Man,” the Herbie Hancock classic from Summers’ Headhunters era that is arguably among jazz’s most definitive songs. Joking near the set’s end that “we have 15 minutes left and 3,000 songs to do,” Summers then stated proudly, “I am an African American” (at roughly the same time as the ugly heads of hate encircled Lee Circle) before welcoming intoxicating guest female dancers on stage to highlight Dizzy Gillepsie’s 1962 opus, “A Night in Tunisia.”
The enclosed shade of the Lagniappe Stage hid views of a skywritten Pac-Man eating his dots and ghosts, as well as plane banners wishing Whistle Monster a happy 50th birthday. But the province of unique, artistically ambitious local acts showcased in fine fashion the remarkable talents and grace of songstress Sarah Quintana. “Teaching us how to get down,” the singer/guitarist/composer/yogi brought the funky folk style of her Miss River Band, highlighted by alluring flute play by Rex Gregoy. Standing solo with her Fender for a few numbers, Quintana oozed the lines, “If I’m your mistress / I can’t be your muse / You have to choose” from her original “I’m Confessing,” closing with an incredible series of delicate soprano yodels that affirmed the rising star’s many talents.
Lafayette’s Roddie Romero brought his Hub-City All Stars Fais Do Do for a foot-stomping barn burner. The raucous sax style of Derek Huston (formerly of the Iguanas) brought a furious Latin-tinged groove to the Cajun sound. Romero put the pedal to the metal on his accordion for a “we’re gonna get down / we’re gonna get down” boogie to close the set.
During the Hardhead Hunters’ set on the Jazz and Heritage Stage, Otto “Big Chief Fiyo” Dejan taunted the square and self-righteous in boasting, “I drink my Hennessy—so what?” before going inclusive with “Today, everybody is a goddamn Indian,” before launching into the here-today, gone-tomorrow paean to partying, “Before I Do.” In a somewhat silly (but still super fun) move, the Seventh Ward Mardi Gras Indian gang closed with a cover of sing-along staple, “Shout.”
Kings of Leon served up a healthy dose of guilty white-girl pleasure at Acura Stage, with heartthrob Caleb Followill’s intensely focused blue eyes sending the mostly young and female to states of squealing, take-your-shirt-off delight. Backed by his cousins in a band that showcased powerful, punkish Southern rock chops, Followill fell victim to success’ seductions a decade ago in veering towards a cheesy, pop bubble-gum blend of music, but the raging rock guitars, drums and keys more than delivered an up-tempo set highlighted by “On Call” and “Be Somebody.” Saying “God bless you” at the end, Followill (his band moved from rural Oklahoma to Nashville in 1999 but still embraces aspects of a devout Pentecostal upbringing) revealed an enduring ethos that could sustain the Kings’ rock-and-roll relevance for years to come.
Clad head to do in blue hues of tie-dye, George Porter, Jr. greeted the Gentilly Stage audience for the Meters’ jubilant Fest send-off with, “Oooooh, that smells good!” as puffs of smoke and strong whiffs of dank rose against a (mercifully) setting sun. Propelled by the guest roles of Ivan Neville on keys and a stellar horn section that included Khris Royal and Clarence Johnson III, the Meters put an exhilarating exclamation point on the fest. They also provided further proof that they helped invent funk music during a set that grooved seamlessly through a series of songs that should all now be considered immortal classics. The opening “Hand Clapping Song” set the tone for a free-wheeling celebration that went into “World Is a Little Bit Under the Weather.” The improvised jam that segued into “Hey Pocky Way” bounced to the powerhouse psychedelic swirls of Leo Nocentelli’s guitar (his formative chicken-scratch style of play seemingly abandoned). “You Got to Change (You Got to Reform)” kept up the power of positive action in leading to “Chug a Lug (Pt. 1)” and “Just Kissed My Baby” before an otherworldly marathon in “Ain’t No Use” (sung by Porter as he played the keys, with Royal subbing in on bass). Choice song selection made the silent statement that the Meters matter—now and forever—in the genre-defining, Nola-til-ya-die anthems of “Fire on the Bayou” and “Cissy Strut.”