The headline Jazz Fest Redux first appeared in OffBeat’s June 2000 issue. Although a Jazz Fest recap was published in every June issue since the magazine started, headlines like “Squeezing Out Sparks at Jazz Fest” or “The Best and Worst of Jazz Fest” were replaced by a recurring headline of Jazz Fest Redux. Although we are often copied by other local media, the format in OffBeat remains the original, one and only, Jazz Fest Redux. We hope you enjoy it.
Let’s hear it for Quint Davis and his merry band of festers. After enduring the chaos of the cancellation of headliners The Rolling Stones, the substitutes Fleetwood Mac; wrestling with refunds of old tickets and selling new ones; then juggling the whole festival schedule, heavy rains threatened opening day. Thousands of fans milled around in hotel lobbies checking their phones to find out when the gates would open, but even as the rain continued to beat down the staff started letting people in at 12:30.—John Swenson
Though the first grouping of acts lost their spots to the rain (the same thing happened on Second Saturday), the show went on and the fans frolicked in the swamp. Here are some of my favorite moments from Opening Day.
Cynthia Girley’s tribute to Mahalia Jackson at the Gospel Tent: While the heavens poured a howling fury on the shaking tent, Girley—dressed all in white with a white headdress—called down the celestial spirits with her powerful voice and dramatic piano playing, backed by a terrific gospel band that included a violinist.
Lulu and the Broadsides at the Lagniappe Stage: Though the band appeared to have been caught in the deluge, drummer Carlo Nuccio was spotless in an off-white jacket and fedora. That’s one of the reasons I call him “Mister Natural.” The band was spectacular as they backed Dayna “Lulu” Kurtz on a program of blues, ballads, and R&B scorchers, including her smoldering “Ice Cream Man,” and a fabulous reading of Dan Penn’s “Do Right Woman.” Robert Mache on guitar and backing vocals turned in a truly inspired performance, James Singleton got a lot of room for bass solos and Glenn Hartman added perfect accompaniment on piano and organ.
Boyfriend at the Gentilly Stage: Gentilly was a great all-woman program with Gal Holiday, the soulful Amy Helm, a rousing set from Darcy Malone (with a guest appearance from Boyfriend), and the Boyfriend stage show, an act which Alanis Morisette probably found hard to follow.
Taj Mahal at the Blues Tent: My day was made when the indefatigable Taj Mahal plowed into “Gonna Move to the Country and Paint My Mailbox Blue,” which I did (or at least to the Bywater). The Phantom Blues Band, led by Jon Cleary on keyboards, delivered that mail and some other great packages, like Horace Silver’s “Señor Blues,” and Hank Ballard and the Midnighters’ original version of “The Twist.”—John Swenson
One of the beauties of Jazz Fest is its malleability. There are literally thousands of ways you can approach a day at the festival, from the Gentilly land rush of staking out your claim to a piece of ground you hold tenaciously through the day to take in the ever-nurturing stream of conversation and music that takes place at the Alison Miner Stage. I used to subscribe to the smorgasbord approach, walking constantly from stage to stage to take in as much information about as many different acts as possible. Now I’ve relaxed and I tend to pick my spots, let circumstance guide me, and enjoy interaction with friends as much as the music. The first weekend I spent quality time talking with Marc Stone and Tom McDermott about Dr. John; chatting with Michael Cerveris and Kimberly Kaye about the New Orleans production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch; and the roster depth of Paul Sanchez’ Rolling Road Show; and marveling with Rueben Williams and David Kunian about the magnificent Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, who seems to have discovered the Fountain of Youth.—John Swenson
Some fans of the joyful chouval bwa music of Martinique and the fanciful hand-carved and man-powered carousel (in whose center the band played), made a point of climbing on board every day. The talented musical ensemble included an accordion, guitar, percussionists playing traditional instruments, and two wonderful female vocalists. Often, as the merry-go-round spun faster and faster, the tempo of the music would also liven up. The New Orleans’ term for a carousel, “flying horses,” was certainly descriptive of this seemingly innocent ride that at times really gave one a thrill with its speed—wheee!—Geraldine Wyckoff
It’s a toss-up on which venues provided the best music and spirit to be declared the “Dancing-est Spots” at the Fair Grounds. The contenders certainly included the Cultural Pavilion where the Crocodile Gumboot Dancers encouraged folks to join them in their rhythmic foot stomping. Some of those people were damned good! Other fun groups included the Santiman & Garifuna Generation that had the small tent rockin’ or more like punta rockin’.—Geraldine Wyckoff
It was a deep moment when Bonerama ended its set at the Gentilly Stage with the Led Zeppelin cut “Good Times Bad Times.” Vocalists Mark Mullins and son Michael faced off to sing the opening lines (and, given that the song is the first song on the first Led Zeppelin record, the first lines anyone ever heard Led Zeppelin sing): “In the days of my youth/ I was told what it means/ to be a man/ Now I’ve reach that age/ I’ve tried to do all those things/the best I can.” As they sang to each other, it became more than a blues tale of woe. It was an elder passing on wisdom to a son. The song became more poignant as the video camera panned to young Ben Perrine playing guitar while his father Matt blew his usual virtuoso sousaphone on the other side of the stage. Given that both Ben and Michael are close to the age that Robert Plant was when he first sang those words, it added even more depth to what most times is a trite blues cliché.—David Kunian
Herbert McCarver and The Pin Stripe Brass Band had the crowd dancing to songs like “I’ll Fly Away,” and a cover of Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day.” Steps away, Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers were doing a cover of their own, “I Can See Clearly Now.” Elsewhere, the North Mississippi Allstars had Gentilly rockin’, with minutes of uninterrupted washboard playing converging with soulful singing and tons of twang.—Amanda Mester
Once again, New Orleans trumpeters pronounced the instrument the king of the Crescent City. Masters like Nicholas Payton and Terence Blanchard demonstrated that the instrument most associated with this city through the brilliance and ingenuity of Louis Armstrong, has come a long way, baby. Electronics played a part in both of these trumpeters’ sets, primarily coming from their sidemen, yet Payton’s and Blanchard’s jazz roots remained apparent. Payton’s soft side emerged even when he went “out.” Blanchard’s passion came through in his musical storytelling and with his excellent set seemed almost as if he had scored it for this Jazz Fest event.
The Trumpet Mafia, like Joshua’s army of trumpeters that blew down the walls of Jericho, could not be denied. The kindly mob, headed by “Godfather” Ashlin Parker, triumphed in talent and sheer numbers with some 20 eager brass players making a joyful noise. One-time resident, the always dramatic Maurice Brown, who, like pianist/vocalist Davell Crawford, seemed to pop up all over the festival, was in the Mafia’s number. In dedication to the recently deceased trumpet giant Roy Hargrove, Parker brought in students of Hargrove’s alma mater, Dallas’ Booker T. Washington High School.—Geraldine Wyckoff
In the Jazz Tent, trumpeter and keyboardist Nicholas Payton presented his latest project, the Light Beings. With local stalwart Cliff Hines on modular synthesizer and guitar, and psychedelic bassist MonoNeon, the new music pulsed with intensity as Payton, wearing what appeared to be a bullet-proof vest, roamed the tent followed by a lithe dancer. At other points, he sat at the Fender Rhodes while simultaneously playing his trumpet.—Jay Mazza
In the Jazz Tent, trumpeter and keyboardist Nicholas Payton presented his latest project, the Light Beings. With local stalwart Cliff Hines on modular synthesizer and guitar, and psychedelic bassist MonoNeon, the new music pulsed with intensity as Payton, wearing what appeared to be a bullet-proof vest, roamed the tent followed by a lithe dancer. At other points, he sat at the Fender Rhodes while simultaneously playing his trumpet.—Jay Mazza
How odd it must be to see and hear Helen Gillet for the first time. Watching the cellist construct her sound, piece by piece, rubbing the surface of her instrument with the palm of her hand and looping it for something akin to brushes on a drumhead. She then adds the percussive beat of a slap against the wood, before the more expected bowing and pizzicato. Finally her deep and throaty voice, often looped to layer on itself as well, built up the depth of a one-woman orchestra. On Sunday, in the intimacy of the Lagniappe Stage— a packed paddock with its welcome shade—this nearly architectural assembly was a marvel to witness as well as hear—even for longtime fans—as the Belgian transplant ran through old favorites like “Run” and “Atchafalaya,” as well as the more recent “Slow Drag Pavageau,” that references the New Orleans bassist. As is her collaborative wont, Gillet brought a few guests up to join her, notably singer Julie Odell on PJ Harvey’s “Angelene” and percussionist Nikki Glaspie on Gillet’s own “Julian.” But Gillet’s arrangements are so well-formulated, these pairings were somewhat gratuitous. Odell’s clear high voice played well against Gillet’s throaty alto on the spooky Harvey tune, but Glaspie’s funk mastery—so powerful with Dumpstaphunk, Nth Power, and the Homies—was kind of wasted on the mournful “Julian,” even as Gillet mined the anger underneath the heartbreak and turned it into a fierce rave-up finale.—Clea Simon
Gospel in the Rain
On opening day, the voices of the 40-plus members of the Arthur and Friends Community Choir simply drowned out the sound of the rain that was pounding on the roof of the Gospel Tent. The band, with a great drummer, bassist, organist and keyboard player, really gave the vocalists the kick and backup that was required for the ensemble’s invigorating set. The musicians who perform as “accompanists” for many of the choirs and combos in the Gospel Tent often go unrecognized, though they remain the backbone and backbeat of the music. Some, like members of Jon Cleary’s Absolute Monster Gentlemen, have been in that number. Oh yeah, and the always exuberant Rosalie “The Tambourine Lady” Washington added her wonderful spirit to a set that brightened the tent under gray skies.—Geraldine Wyckoff
The evolution of the Gospel Tent is a fascinating story by itself, and one that reflects the changing demographics of New Orleans post-Katrina. Before the deluge that swept major portions of the city’s black populace away, the crowds at the Gospel Tent were predominantly black and church-going people who knew exactly what they were listening to and participated accordingly. The performers preached and interacted with them like they would on any given Sunday. There were always smatterings of white fans in the Tent, but most of them were there to experience something interesting rather than participate in praising Jesus. Over the years since then the crowds became more and more white, to the point where this year it was virtually all white, and they were not there to praise the lord but to be entertained, which in a kind of bizarre world included participating as if they were church people. Of course the singers and preachers had something to do with that, urging the crowd to participate without getting too personal about salvation. Josh Kagler and the Harmonistic Praise Crusade had the crowd read perfectly. The band—guitar, bass, drums, organ, piano and 13 voices, rocked the house with great arrangements as Josh, dressed in a black jump suit with a white stripe down the side, worked his call-and-response on the house like James Brown, repeating the irresistible refrain “I like it all right.”
The Zion Harmonizers paid tribute to founder Sherman Washington, who died in 2011 and who was responsible for creating the whole Gospel Tent program from scratch. The five male vocalists and one woman vocalist wore snazzy grey sharkskin suits and the band was as tight as a drumhead as they ripped the place apart with “Leaning to the Lord,” and actually got the crowd shouting “I Love My Jesus.” But they went on to more pop-gospel material that really hit home, starting with “People Get Ready,” then a wild version of “If I Had a Hammer,” which went on for 15 minutes as two members of the band went out into the audience, shouting and walking through the crowd as everyone got their cell phone moment.—John Swenson
Rocks of Harmony
Even the Gospel Tent staff was dancing on Sunday when octogenarian Andrew Jackson Sr., the leader of the Legendary Rocks of Harmony, stood at the edge of the stage and with the strength of a much younger man belted out, “I’m Still Here.” His son, Andrew Jr., joined him, and soon thereafter took off his deep green jacket and got down on the floor with his microphone as well as all the veterans in this 60-year-old group, who also got into the action and spirit. The fine guitarist offered an inspired rendition of “Amazing Grace,” and even the keyboardist jumped up to dance. “Do we look good?” Jackson asked the crowd. Wow, yes they looked as good as they sounded with their green suits and vests set off by their yellow shirts.—Geraldine Wyckoff
Legendary vocalist and composer Shirley Caesar lit up the Gospel Tent both spiritually and visually. A stunning rhinestone necklace sparkled as she stood center-stage to sing one of her original classics, “Jesus, I Love Calling Your Name.” A petite vocalist with powerful energy, Caesar was wonderfully backed by five vocalists—three men and two women—who provided the call and response of the tune. Among the group, one man thrilled the audience with his stunning falsetto. Not to be contained, Caesar soon came down from the stage to be among the people, and headed down an aisle singing “Coming Home.” Later, the vocalist remembered Aretha Franklin by dedicating “Mary Don’t You Weep” to the Queen of Soul, whose roots remained in gospel music.—Geraldine Wyckoff
Though New Orleans gospel legend the Reverend Lois Dejean remained seated in a wheel chair during the performance by her family’s group, the Johnson Extension, the matriarch was fully involved with the show. Looking lovely in a white dress and with her hair in a bun, Dejean sang, tapped her foot, clapped her hands and looked on admiringly as her offspring of several generations lifted their voices. The program began with the a meticulously arranged version of “The Lord’s Prayer” that began quietly and then powerfully burst forth. In tribute to the great Aretha Franklin, who passed away in 2018, the group performed a moving “How I Got Over.”—Geraldine Wyckoff
The Gumboot Dancers are a fascinating dance troupe from South Africa. Backed by an acoustic guitar, fiddle, and keyboard, the group of ten men wearing the kind of boots that would be perfect for a wet day at the Fairgrounds, stomped and marched and stepped in syncopated unison while the fiddle keened behind them.—Jay Mazza
It does not matter what I or you or ya mama or your uptight long-bearded Independence Street hipster neighbors or reformed hippie Jazz Fest veteran complainers thought about Katy Perry. The 15 or so 10-year-old kids holding hands dancing in a circle in front of me during Katy Perry’s set loved it, and they will remember how great a time they had at Jazz Fest when my ashes are scattered in the Holt Cemetery and they are returning with their kids to the Festival.—David Kunian
If things had worked out differently, Karl Denson would have appeared at Jazz Fest with his band, Tiny Universe, and the Rolling Stones. Saxophonist with the Stones since 2014, Denson and his solos have become highlights of the British classic rockers’ concerts. Although Mick Jagger’s health forced the Stones to cancel their much-anticipated Jazz Fest appearance, Denson and Tiny Universe did play make their high-energy, funk-and-groove show on the Congo Square Stage on Friday, April 26. Denson, singing, blowing sax and dancing up a storm, set a breakneck tempo for the blazing Tiny Universe set. The band members followed their leader’s choreographed example, everyone seemingly giving 150 percent during a big, relentlessly full-on performance that was, in the most audience-pleasing kind of way, anything but tiny.
Denson began making annual visits to New Orleans during Jazz Fest more than 20 years ago, originally as a member of the acid-jazz band Greyboy Allstars. Following his afternoon set on Congo Square, the flute-playing Denson sat in with the band that performed in the middle of the Chouval Bwa Traditionnel of Martinique, the hand-carved, powered-by-hand carousel that was a popular attraction at the festival’s Cultural Exchange Pavilion. Afterward, he bid the carousel’s musicians adieu by tapping his fist to his heart.—John Wirt
Time is a bitch, and the 50th Fest offered plenty of reasons to miss those gone. The Fais Do Do Stage, in particular, has been hard hit, with the loss of D.L. Menard, Canray Fontenot, and Bois Sec Ardoin, among others, not to mention Dewey Balfa (kudos to Christine Balfa, whose Balfa Toujours got many of us dancing on the first set of that delayed first Thursday opening, nearly compensating us for the weather that cancelled Goldman Thibodeaux and the Lawtell Playboys). How wonderful, then, to hear the Daiquiri Queens play fiddle-forward Cajun waltzes and laments with conviction. Sunday morning, April 29, the Lafayette combo, led by guitarist/vocalist Miriam McCracken and Jamie Lynn Fontenot (fiddle, guitar, and vocals) kept the sound pure and lively, with those twining harmonies fit to break your heart.—Clea Simon
Jazz & Heritage Stage
The Jazz & Heritage Stage, one of the best, semi-newer additions to the Fest, finds locals leading the way in New Orleans’ dance traditions. That’s where folks get down to the magnificently beaded and feathered Mardi Gras Indian gangs, like the impressively large gathering of the Comanche Hunters that boasted a strong rhythm section. The locale is also where many of this city’s hottest brass bands played while audience members did their own, varied versions of second line and buckjumpin’ steps. It was also great to hear the Caesar Brothers Funk Box at this intimate spot playing the real-deal New Orleans music that they grew up with. It was impossible to resist moving to the sound of Professor Longhair’s “Tipitina” with Norman Caesar singing and at the keys on the classic, with his brother Rickey at the drums.—Geraldine Wyckoff
Yes We Can
The Tribute to Allen Toussaint demonstrated the fact that while Jazz Fest is communal, it is also personal. The Allen Toussaint Orchestra featured musicians who performed regularly with the legendary songwriter over the years including his son, Clarence. A parade of “very special guests” included musicians and singers who knew the pianist personally.
John Boutté sang “Lipstick Traces.” Davell Crawford was visibly moved as he worked through three Toussaint classics and remarked, “This is his legacy and his children up here.” Rita Coolidge, Jimmy Buffett, and Irma Thomas followed with a song each. Ivan Neville led a sing-along on “Yes We Can Can” before his uncle Aaron hushed the giant infield with a stellar rendition of “All These Things,” complete with the original horn arrangement.—Jay Mazza
The Sons of Jazz Brass Band could arguably be called the fourth generation of the brass band revival that began in earnest with the 1960s return of Danny Barker to New Orleans after a long career in New York. The group of youngsters rolled through tunes from the brass band canon with a vigor reminiscent of the early days of the Rebirth Brass Band. They had one ringer in the group—trombonist Tyrus Chapman—a veteran of Rebirth and the founder of his own Highsteppers Brass Band.—Jay Mazza
Cantrell and Logic
Logic is two thirds through his set at Congo Square, and he looks down at someone in the audience near the front and says, “That’s right, girl. You getting down. You know what you’re doing! Keep it up.” He paused for a moment, and then says incredulously, “And you’re the mayor?” The video screens reveal that it is, indeed, our honorable Mayor LaToya Cantrell hands in the air doing her thang to Logic’s music. Logic doesn’t miss a beat and then blurts out, “And you fine, too!”—David Kunian
Everyone understands the scheduled 7 p.m. end to any Jazz Fest day is an immutable line in Quint Davis’ sand not to be crossed. Knowing this, the huge gathering prematurely deserted guitarist Carlos Santana’s set in droves to avoid the inevitable rush. But upon completing what all assumed would be a final song at exactly the prescribed time, he announced the band really did not feel like ending the set, and invited Trombone Shorty to join him on stage.
How often does one hear such an innovative guitarist trade licks with any trombone player? Who could imagine any player other than New Orleans’ young master of the instrument flawlessly echoing the sweet, sultry tones of Santana’s guitar in a classic call and response style? The departing flow of Fest aficionados slowly reversed course, soon re-filling the trampled, muddied turf in front of the stage.
One usually expects just one song under these circumstances—but Santana moves to the beat of his own drummer (so to speak), and as usual, surprised us all, and perhaps even himself and Trombone Shorty too. Apparently as homage to his second wife and current drummer, Cindy Blackman, he delivered an exceptional rendition of “Fever.” With his back to the audience, he serenaded only her, singing the lyrics with his guitar, as Shorty quietly interjected brief riffs to complement a moving ode to eternal love.—Thomas Cole
Carlos Santana found himself one of the greatest drummers currently working in jazz/rock, so he did the only respectable thing and married her. The addition of collaborator and wife Cindy Blackman has really galvanized Santana’s band: She drove them harder than any previous Santana drummer (and this band’s had too many drummers to count), making chestnuts like “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen” and “Toussaint L’Ouverture” sound positively furious. Carlos easily matched her energy, doing plenty of his trademark high-intensity solos but also playing lyrically on “Mona Lisa” (part of a new, Rick Rubin-produced album). It’s a cliché to say that a long-running band sounds better than ever at Fest, but this was one of the rare times it really was true.—Brett Milano
At the Congo Square Stage, PJ Morton delighted an early afternoon crowd with renditions of his solo material and covers. “I’ve never played Jazz Fest this early,” he said before launching into “Sticking to My Guns,” from the album Gumbo. He took longtime fans back a few years with “New Orleans Girl,” which appeared on 2016’s Bounce & Soul, Vol. 1. The original version features Trombone Shorty, who wasn’t with PJ for this set. It didn’t matter. Morton’s band made up for the lack of horns, and then some.
New Orleans rapper Pell showed up to deliver his guest verse. His mic wasn’t functioning properly at the onset, but the adoring crowd took up the slack, rapping along. Morton really hit his stride when delivering a cover of his musical icon, Stevie Wonder. When “Higher Ground” started, all the folks who had been sitting got up and began dancing. It was clear Morton earned himself fans out of the people who had previously been unaware of his talent.
By the time the song was done, Mayor LaToya Cantrell was grooving along. Morton eventually ran through more of his own material, including “First Began,” “Go Through Your Phone,” and his take on the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love.”—Amanda Mester
A mutual admiration society seemed to be going on when the musical Marsalis family closed out the Jazz Tent on the first Sunday of the festival. The main focus of love and esteem was on patriarch, pianist, composer, and educator Ellis Marsalis whose original works were prominent throughout the set that was dedicated to his wife, the wise and witty late Delores Marsalis. The set, which included saxophonist Branford, trumpeter Wynton, trombonist Delfeayo and drummer Jason Marsalis, began and ended with traditional New Orleans jazz though Ellis, a master of all styles, often pushed the music in a more forward direction and got things swinging. Great to see Branford and Wynton side-by-side like back in the days of the Wynton Marsalis Quintet. The combination still works, though these great musicians have successfully and artistically taken different paths.—Geraldine Wyckoff
New Orleans musical dynasty the Marsalis family geared up for one of the most anticipated and intimate events of day, a tribute to their father, jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis. The Jazz Tent was packed to the brim, crowded enough for people to bicker over prime viewing spots. Everyone wanted to see Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo, and Jason Marsalis, trumpeter, saxophonist, trombonist and drummer respectively, play with their father in this rare family reunion.
Watching them play felt like sitting at the Marsalis family dinner table as they lovingly ribbed each other about their day. Instead of fighting for attention like most kids do, they each worked to make the other heard, playing to make each one sound best in his solo. Ellis, at his piano bench with his children standing in front of him, obviously sat at the head of the table. They played some of Ellis’s compositions, including “Duke in Blue.”—Emily Carmichael
Dobet Gnahore of Ivory Coast
It is a truism that you hear the best music in the process of moving from one stage to the next. I caught Dobet Gnahore that way, when her mix of punk rock and African drone guitar enticed me into the Cultural Exchange Pavilion. Gnahore alternated between smiling and menacing vocals as she moved all over the stage, jumping up and down and goading her band to take the music higher.—David Kunian
What Not To Do
George Porter Jr. opened the last day of the celebratory 50th New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival by reaching back 50 years to play old familiar songs, as well as tunes of a more recent vintage. His regular Runnin’ Pardners unit was augmented by a stop-on-a-dime horn section featuring Khris Royal on alto sax, Tracy Griffin on trumpet, and Jeff Albert on trombone.
Porter, Jr., whose voice was showing a little of the wear and tear most festers were feeling, told a story about being a young musician and being schooled by David Lastie of the famed Lastie musical family. “He told me what not to do instead of what to do,” he said with a chuckle before launching into “Make Me A Pallet on the Floor.” The tune started as a slow gospel incantation and ended as an up-tempo funk raver.—Jay Mazza
Let it Bleed
The Radiators cover songs in a way that many Fishheads feel are better than the originals. Granted, this is entirely subjective. But since their repertoire includes numerous songs by the Rolling Stones, there was considerable discussion, as fans waited for the band to take the stage, concerning whether any of those songs would be on the set list.
With a scant hour and ten minutes allotted, it seemed unlikely. So when the first notes of “Let It Bleed” sounded, a collective whoop went up. When they closed with “Sympathy for the Devil,” thousands of music lovers, including many who wished the Stones had played three days earlier, lustily sang along.—Jay Mazza
If you’re a Meters junkie, there are very few variations you haven’t seen by now. But the set by Foundations of Funk—which is half the original Meters and three-fifths of Dumpstaphunk, plus horns—managed to dig up songs that no Meters incarnation has played (to our knowledge) in decades, including the ballad, “Love Is for Me,” and the buried single “Stretch Your Rubber Band” (plus the infrequently played “Chicken Strut,” usually overlooked because few members are ever willing to make the requisite chicken noises). The horns also meant that “Hey Pocky Way” could finally be played like the original studio version, and still sounded as fresh.—Brett Milano
Oh, man Dumpstaphunk with horns really makes it. The bad band has been known to use wind instruments before, when it once teamed with Bonerama. At the big Acura Stage (can you imagine what this area would have looked like if Ivan Neville and company was the lead-off band to the Rolling Stones?), Dumpstaphunk with leader Ivan on multiple keys and vocals, the down-at-the-bottom-of-the-trash-bins bassists and vocalists Tony Hall and Nick Daniels plus guitarist Ian Neville and drummer Alvin Ford Jr., hit hard. Ian, usually a solid rhythm player, really stepped up on the tune “The Gasman,” with its hilarious lyrics. Later, saxophonist Karl Denson, who had been touring with the Stones and headlined his own Jazz Fest set, helped crank it up a notch.—Geraldine Wyckoff
Cowsill’s Peace Protest Set
Of all the artists who delved into ’60s material at Jazz Fest, Susan Cowsill did it the best. She announced early on that it would be a “peace protest” set, and half of it was appropriate covers: Mama Cass Elliott’s “New World Coming,” the Youngbloods’ “Get Together,” Melanie’s “Lay Down,” and the O’Jays’ “Love Train” (plus a lovely version of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds,” done in honor of her drummer/husband Russ Broussard’s late brother). Points for choosing songs that don’t often get covered, and her crystalline voice was perfect for them—and for the thematically-linked original songs, including a couple of new ones, that were done in between. None of it was presented as nostalgia, but as words of wisdom that still apply.—Brett Milano
Jazz Fest is always great for the unexpected treat, and my favorite moment of the day came at the Kids Tent, where Bruce Daigrepont played a lovely set of Cajun two-steps and waltzes featuring the virtuoso fiddle playing of Gina Forsyth, as dozens of toddlers gleefully hopped around to the music. The magical dance beat of Cajun music is clearly something humans can relate to while they’re still in diapers, which is a wonderful thing to witness.—John Swenson
Los Lobos’ set at the blues tent was basically the usual thing—but damn, it sure is a great thing. They chose to build the volume through this show, putting the Mexican trad material upfront and building to full throttle rock ’n’ roll, closing out with their often-played, but still highly satisfying cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Bertha.” The one surprise came when they enthused about Tom Jones’ set the previous day, then played their song “Everybody Loves a Train,” which Jones had covered (on disc, not at the Fest). Peak of the set however was “I Got Loaded,” always one that the Fest crowds seem to relate to strongly.—Brett Milano
I saw Little Feat once with Lowell George and about a dozen times without him, so I don’t side with the Feat diehards who toss the reunion years away as insignificant. Seems like the band does however, because their Fest set was the first I’ve seen to include nothing but Lowell-era songs. They’re a part-time band these days, and keyboardist/founder Bill Payne doubles as a full-time Doobie Brother (he played the Fest with both). It took them awhile to heat up—and truly, the 15-minutes of solos on “Dixie Chicken” don’t need to be obligatory anymore—and they were plagued by sound problems as well, especially after John Gros came on to add a second keyboard. The old Feat groove finally clicked on an extended “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now.” And thanks to the sign interpreter who was onstage during their set, I can now say that I know the ASL for “Give me weed, whites, and wine.”—Brett Milano
Quick show of hands: How many people miss those two-ton AXS TV cameras and the way they used to swoop down six inches above your head? Didn’t think so.—Brett Milano
Okay, the Fais Do-Do Stage two-stepped, waltzed, and swayed every day—these fans of zydeco and Cajun music, thankfully, can’t help themselves. Accordionist and impressive vocalist Geno Delafose, and his French Rockin’ Boogie band, provided beautifully presented and tonally pure music on classic tunes like “Eunice Two-Step” in the neighborly venue. It was also the spot to catch the next, mighty generation of zydeco artists as they paid tribute to the late King of Zydeco, Clifton Chenier, and the robustly wonderful Buckwheat Zydeco. C.J. Chenier, Clifton’s son, played a moving rendition of his father’s signature song, “I’m Coming Home,” that silenced the crowd in.—Geraldine Wyckoff
Heritage of Jazz
Jazz Fest producer/director Quint Davis introduced 3L Ifèdè, a magical drum and dance troupe from the African country of Benin, on the Congo Square Stage by saying, “we got the name backwards, it should have been the New Orleans Heritage of Jazz Festival.” The group, which featured hand drummers and costumed dancers, mesmerized a small crowd that grew exponentially as festers were drawn to the chanting, drumming, and swirling dancers.—Jay Mazza
Virtuosic and Soulful
James Carter, a native of Detroit, immediately paid homage to New Orleans and the brilliant composer and soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet, by performing his “Chant in the Night.” Performing it on soprano, the multi-saxophonist Carter warmed up the Jazz Tent crowd, many of whom probably had not previously had the pleasure of hearing him live, with his ability to re-interpret the classics. Virtuosic and soulful, the New York resident popped his tenor sax while the groove was laid down by organist Gerard Gibbs on the big B3, and Alex White on drums. Working within this setting, the versatile saxophonist who has teamed with notables like trumpeter Lester Bowie and the World Saxophone Quartet, obviously enjoyed plenty of room to get down and use his skills to investigate the music, and in doing so pleasurably surprised many in the audience.—Geraldine Wyckoff
The love for the late Alvin Batiste, the modern jazz clarinetist (that’s not an oxymoron), was so palpable in the Jazz Tent during a tribute to the musician and educator that his presence filled the air and music. Longtime associate and former student drummer Herman Jackson led the band. Jackson, whose unusual approach to playing disregards indicated bars, has always set him apart from, and made him a perfect foil for, Batiste’s music. The band featured a variety of woodwind players, including alto saxophonists Donald Harrison and Wes Anderson. Special moments included a reading by Alvin’s wife, Edith Batiste, and vocals by Ed Perkins on a tune he recorded with Batiste, “Everloving Star,” back in 1971.—Geraldine Wyckoff
Generosity of Spirit
Spencer Bohren played an inspired set on Saturday morning, full of elegant musicianship and generosity of spirit. Acoustic blues is always his forte, but he threw in some stirring gospel (“Doing church a day early,” he noted). He ended the set with a strong rock ballad, “Making it Home to You” (his latest CD’s title track). His stage chat included a few references to the cancer he’s been fighting, but it was the positivity and musicality that came through. (Bohren also appeared later that morning in a reunion of loose-knit super-group the Write Brothers, one of the highlights in Paul Sanchez’s Rolling Road Show set).—Brett Milano
Like a vestigial tale, the myth of the Stones at Jazz Fest persisted as Week Two loomed. Stones fans came out in force, wearing their colors Wednesday night for the Foundations of Funk show at the Fillmore, where Keith Richards was rumored to be joining his X-Pensive Winos bandmate Ivan Neville. No-show there, but the fans got treated to a healthy dose of Meters funk powered by the timeless rhythm section of George Porter Jr. on bass and Zigaboo Modeliste on drums. As he showed during a masterful set at Jazz Fest, Porter is the real leader of this band, running them through changes and dynamic shifts, and Ian Neville on guitar does a spectacular job of playing this music faithfully, but with his own approach.
There was a buzz at Jazz Fest Thursday morning that Richards would be joining Neville on the Acura Stage later in the day. There were plenty of Rolling Stones shirts in the crowd when Andy J. Forest and the Swampcrawlers opened the proceedings at the Blues Tent with “Blues Blues,” and ripped through a set featuring a smoking “Mellow Down Easy,” “Breach in the Levee,” the John Lee Hooker-style blues “12 Bar Dive,” and his traditional finale, “Crazy Legs.” Forest’s harmonica blues was definitely a tonic for Stones fans who liked Blue & Lonesome. The Blues Tent was really the place to be on Stones Thursday, from Forest’s spirited opener, through a madhouse set by Glen David Andrews, and on to a spectacular finale from Mavis Staples. Glen David fronted a three- trombone rock band with two backing vocalists and rolled out with a 20-minute version of “I Can Be Bad By Myself” that had the crowd on its feet and screaming from the get-go. Andrews always brings his best game to Jazz Fest and he was his usual self, arriving on stage in an iridescent green jacket which he quickly disposed of. While running around the stage, he urged the audience to react to his bandmates after each solo. GDA is so over the top that he enlisted one of his singers to perform an operatic version of “Over the Rainbow” that had many in the audience scratching their heads. But it was just another moment in the ever-surprising GDA circus. Later in the day, Mavis Staples was joined by Glen David’s cousin Trombone Shorty on a set that featured several numbers from her new album, We Get By.
There were some strange moments on Stones Thursday. Like when the wacky Egg Yolk Jubilee tumbled into “Time Is On My Side” on the Lagniappe Stage. Seeing a New Orleans band imitating the Rolling Stones imitating Irma Thomas was, well, surreal.—John Swenson
Between Big Chief “Little” Charles Taylor’s prayerful opening of “Indian Red,” and Tom Jones singing a celebratory version of Prince’s “Kiss,” it was a full day of rousing music on what was to have been Stones Thursday. Snippets of the legendary band’s music was heard, including a full version of “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’” from Dumpstaphunk, with a guest solo by the Stones’ touring saxophonist Karl Denson. Countless fans represented, including one proud geezer sporting a 1978 “Greatest Rock ’n’ Roll Band in the World” tour T-shirt.—Jay Mazza
Despite all the lineup hoopla on the second Thursday, it was a beautiful (albeit muggy) day at the Fair Grounds. It really felt like Locals Thursday, with acts like Anders Osborne, Samantha Fish, Ivan Neville/Dumpstaphunk, and Cowboy Mouth rocking the Acura Stage. Cowboy Mouth and Dumpstaphunk, like a few other acts throughout the day, interpolated some Rolling Stones material into their set. The inclusion worked perfectly alongside the dozens of festers I saw sporting the vintage Stones and Fleetwood Mac T-shirts purchased at tours in decades past. It was clear many of us were dismayed, but with remarkable performances from Mavis Staples, Ziggy Marley, and Tom Jones, it was hard to remain disappointed.—Amanda Mester
The Lizard Kings
There is music you pretty much only get to hear at Jazz Fest and private events, so if you couldn’t decipher the secret code of Zeke Fishhead and Los Reyes de Legartos, you wouldn’t know it was Ed Volker of Radiators fame backed by the magnificent Iguanas. The announcer at the Lagniappe Stage has mangled the name every time he’s introduced the group, so this time Zeke got the drop on him by launching into “Where Were You When the Light Went Out?” before he could announce them. Much of the material is taken from the numerous Zeke Fishhead projects released over the last few years. “Go Down Swinging” featured a muscular tenor saxophone exchange between Joe Cabral and guest Rob Wagner, whose disparate styles complemented each other well, and some powerful percussion breaks from Michael Skinkus, who seemed to be compensating for losing his Fest-opening performance with his band Moyuba to the deluge of rain that postponed Friday’s opener.
I thought we’d hear many Rolling Stones covers at this year’s Fest, but as far as I know only Sweet Crude checked in with “Paint It Black,” before Zeke Fishhead sent one out of the paddock with a crippling version of “Jumping Jack Flash,” hypnotic and incessantly wobbling like a Junko Partner, highlighted by a Cabral solo that clocked in somewhere between Bobby Keys and Pharaoh Sanders, and ended with a “Jump Back Baby” coda. “Coup de Gras” was an appropriate finale to this masterful set.—John Swenson
Monk’s gathering of the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indians on Sunday at the Jazz and Heritage Stage was a joyous affair, packed with people dancing to favorites like “Dance With Me,” and singing along to “Indian Red” and “Little Liza Jane.” Resplendent in his sky blue Mardi Gras/wedding suit dappled with bright red gems, Monk demonstrated his mastery of the Mardi Gras Indian idiom with a version of “Shallow Water” that started out as a medium tempo chant, then went into a double time section with Monk rapping a story about heading out to mock battle on a Mardi Gras morning. Grandson J’Wan Boudreaux, Spy Boy of the Golden Eagles and leader of the Grammy-nominated Cha Wa band, took a turn singing Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing.” Tom Worrell turned in outstanding musical support of the Indians on keyboards.—John Swenson
In the Cultural Exchange Pavilion, the family of Big Chief Monk Boudreaux celebrated his long career with an intimate gathering. Flanked by his daughter, son, and grandson, in addition to several other family members, the black Indians reached back to a time before the tribes performed with electric guitars and funk musicians. Supported simply by the drums of his brother’s Indian Rhythm Section and their own tambourines, Monk said, “This is how we used to do it, then we had to take it to another level.”—Jay Mazza
John Fogerty is the last artist you’d expect to get all dewy-eyed about Woodstock, since Creedence apparently had a bad set there (it’s one of the few that was never released) and the stripped-down rootsy nature of his music was always an antidote to hippie-era indulgence. But he showed up at Fest with a concept show, “My 50 Year Trip,” that was Woodstock gone Vegas—dancers, extra players, cheesy psychedelic backdrops and loads of unnecessary covers (including his son Shane playing the Hendrix version of “Star Spangled Banner”), all of which undercut the timeless nature of his music. The best moment came when he went off script and brought Rockin’ Dopsie, Jr. onstage for “Jambalaya” (Fogerty had a minor hit with the Hank Williams song in 1972, and hasn’t played it much since). He still got to all the greatest hits, but the Woodstock silliness kept him from going deeper into the gem-heavy Creedence, or his solo catalogue.—Brett Milano
Tank and the Bangas
My first set of the day was Tank and the Bangas, who just a day before dropped its major label debut, Green Balloon. As such, the group’s costumes and set were tinged in various shades of green, with Tarriona “Tank” Ball wearing a billowing gown. Performing singles like “Spaceships,” “Nice Things,” and “Smoke.Netflix.Chill,” the New Orleans group was less frenetic than years past, but nonetheless displayed the funk, hip-hop, poetry, soul and rock influences prevalent in their dynamic sound. At one point in the set, Tank told the crowd, “It’s a big deal for New Orleans. Born and raised!” while discussing the group’s recent appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. It was a sweet moment on the Acura Stage, when New Orleans music fans in the crowd shared in a collective sense of pride that Tank and the Bangas were homegrown.—Amanda Mester
Reimagined as Reggae
Most surprising cover of the first weekend had to come from Jason Marsalis, who’s moved back to drums after a few years concentrating on vibes. During a set of mostly-original new material, he unveiled a cover of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds track “You Still Believe in Me”—without doubt the first time one of Brian Wilson’s most sublime melodies has been reimagined as reggae.—Brett Milano
When Los Angeles jazz composer and saxophonist Kamasi Washington took the Gentilly Stage during the four o’clock hour, the sky was pierced with his band’s Afrofuturistic take on the canon. Fans of Washington could be overheard explaining how excited they were to hear what kind of extended rendition Washington and his band would take on any given song. In all, they performed only five songs: “Show Us the Way,” “Rhythm Changes,” “Truth,” “Street Fighter Mas,” and “Fist of Fury.”—Amanda Mester
Dave Matthews Band
Someday when the tots, shorties, and young’uns who attended the Dave Matthews Band set are asked, “When did you first hear the 12-letter cuss word for a person who commits an incestuous union with their mother,” they will have to say that it was when Dave Matthews busted out their surprising yet right-on version of Prince’s “Sexy Motherfucker.”—David Kunian
Credit Kevin Griffin of Better Than Ezra for one of the most irreverent and funniest gestures of the first weekend. He pointed out a few times that he’d love to use the catwalk that was added to the Acura Stage, but that Katy Perry (who was up two sets later) had forbidden it. Finally he said he didn’t need the catwalk anyway, so he jumped off the side of the stage and went halfway into the packed Acura crowd—at which point guest pianist John Gros struck up Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” which they proceeded to cover. It became a perfect send-up of larger-than-life arena shows.—Brett Milano
Before sitting at the piano, Herbie Hancock graciously crossed the Jazz Tent stage to greet the huge buzzing crowd. A true master of jazz, Hancock represented all elements of jazz, some of which he helped to initiate through his long and innovative career. He moved back and forth between the acoustic piano and electric keys and tied them together with his like-minded, progressive musicians on sax, bass, guitar and drums. A wise man, Hancock concluded his show with a tune that folks could hum and dance along to, his hit with the Headhunters, “Cantaloupe Island,” that led to a standing ovation and one last number to say good-bye.—Geraldine Wyckoff
Rivers’ Summer Rain
Based on my unscientific survey, most fest-goers had Johnny Rivers as a distant third choice for Sunday’s headline set, behind Al Green and Van Morrison (both of which were packed; Rivers had plenty of open seats in the Blues Tent). But let’s hear it for dark horses: the reports I heard all say that Van and Green walked through their sets, while Rivers and his group revved it up like a first-class roadhouse band, packing a good dozen hits into his hour-long set. “Secret Agent Man” is the one everybody remembered, but the beautifully wistful, end-of-the ’60s ballad “Summer Rain” was the real standout.—Brett Milano
Tom McDermott/Evan Christopher
My favorite stage at Jazz Fest is the Lagniappe Stage located in the paddock. Pianist Tom McDermott and Evan Christopher are a great duo that suits the acoustic-friendly nature of the stage. Or, as Christopher said, “No Jazz Fest is complete without Tom McDermott and Evan Christopher.” True to the eclectic nature of both musicians, they mixed up styles, starting off with James P. Johnson’s “I Don’t Know,” and heading into an irreverent version of Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag.” “The instructions are ‘Not to Be Played Too Fast’,” noted Christopher. “We’ll show him!” They did a French musette from their album Almost Native, a tribute to Henry Butler, “Heavy Henry,” and Jelly Roll Morton’s “Shreveport Stomp.”—John Swenson
Thirty-two years ago at my first Jazz Fest, the barrel-chested baritone of Luther Kent was one of the New Orleans secrets that knocked me out. He was still in top form at Jazz Fest 50, storming through a classic set of blues and R&B at the Blues Tent powered by drummer Allyn Robinson, and a horn section that featured trombonist Jeff Albert. The classics just rolled out: “Cross Cut Saw,” “Just A Little Bit,” “Flip Flop and Fly,” “Let the Good Times Roll,” and a long second line rollout of “Hey Pocky Way.”—John Swenson
Tom Jones put on a headlining performance, delighting fans with classics like “Delilah,” “It’s Not Unusual,” “What’s New Pussycat,” and much more. For the reggae lovers, Ziggy Marley’s Congo Square Stage show was a must-see. The son of a global icon (Bob Marley, heard of him?), Ziggy reminded Jazz Fest that he’s a gifted musician in his own damn right.—Amanda Mester
After devouring two yakiniku po’boys from Ajun Cajun, I visited the Gentilly Stage to catch Shamarr Allen & The Underdawgs. All the band members, Allen included, were adorned with True Orleans merch, named after the group’s 2018 album. Alternating between his signature tiny horn and vocals, Allen deftly delivered an early afternoon set featuring the brassy, funky and hip-hop infusion of music he’s known for. He was sporting gold sneakers (the trumpet ones from Humidity?) and by the time he left the stage, his grey T was drenched through with sweat.—Amanda Mester
At the Congo Square Stage the Queen Diva Big Freedia entered to “Formation,” the anthem by Beyoncé (who has sampled Freedia). The crowd was positively overflowing for the bounce superstar’s performance, which was as high energy and entertaining as last year’s. Flanked by her signature dancers and endless stage presence, Freedia had the crowd as excited to hear her say “girl down” and “you already know” as for her full-fledged songs, from “Rent” to “Duffy,” to “Explode.” Freedia’s discography is easily one of the most exciting things to hear at Jazz Fest.—Amanda Mester
Do not miss Galactic these days. The band balances tight and loose in perfect proportion. Erica Falls has become a forceful, passionate, and strong front woman for this band, and she takes their playing to another level. I’ve been seeing them for over 20 years and they play better than they ever have. What other band in the world’s playing peaks two decades into the game?—David Kunian
Costume Changes for Diana Ross
With all the Rolling Stones talk going on, it seldom got mentioned that there was a ’60s group who had twice the number one hits the Stones did (12, to the Stones’ six), and their singer was alive and well at Jazz Fest. Yes, the Supremes were quite arguably the second-greatest group to exist in the ’60s, and the first half-hour of Diana Ross’ set was a beautiful run through their catalogue: seven songs (including the crucial “Stop in the Name of Love,” “Love Child,” and “Come See About Me”) that were played in full, not tossed off in medleys. This of course meant that the rest of her set was a bit of an anticlimax—the middle stretch was devoted to ’70s/’80s dance hits, the last section to ballads—but she sang well, though she had to compete with the loudly-miked backup singers. She also managed six costume changes in a 75 minute set, something not even matched when Lady Gaga played with Tony Bennett a few years back.—Brett Milano
At 5:45 p.m. on the dot, Diana Ross hit the Gentilly Stage. For anyone on social media, her performance became the talk of the town, and for good reason. I counted six costume changes, five more than I’ve ever seen at Jazz Fest. Between a white fur coat, a red ball gown, a gold number, and three other looks, the icon was a showstopper in every sense. She performed everything from “The Boss” to “Do You Know Where You’re Going?” and a handful of the songs that first made her a household name. Of course, there was material from her tenure with The Supremes (I wouldn’t be surprised if neighbors living around the Fair Grounds could hear us all singing “Stop! In the Name of Love”). Performing past 7 p.m., when Jazz Fest officially ends, Ms. Ross delighted the crowd with an encore. Most memorably, though, she seemed genuinely pleased to be on stage for us. The 75-year-old also gifted us “The Theme From Mahogany” and “Ain’t No Mountain High.”—Amanda Mester
Irma Thomas’ Gospel
Classic singles like “It’s Raining,” “Ruler of My Heart,” and “Wish Someone Would Care,” make it easy to hear why Irma Thomas remains the undisputed Soul Queen of New Orleans. But there’s also another side to the legendary singer’s life and music, one that she reserves exclusively for church on Sundays and for all-too-rare gospel sets like the one she performed on the closing day of this year’s Jazz Fest. Leading a full band that included organ, piano and white-robed backing vocalists, Thomas set the bar high early on with a rendition of “How I Got Over,” the hymn that Mahalia Jackson released back in 1951, three years before Irma’s first audition for Specialty Records. “This all started with a tribute we did to that lady right up there,” said the singer, pointing to one of the vintage photos that lined the gospel tent. “Every year when I’m doing this gospel set, I try to include at least a couple of her songs—although practically everything I’m singing, she sang at one time or another.” The set went on to include spiritual anthems like “All Night Long,” “I’ve Been Singing Hallelujah,” and an especially moving version of “Wade in the Water,” the hymn she remembers the choir singing when, as a teenage mother, she first stepped into the pool to be baptized. Six decades later—with her pitch still perfect and her range undiminished—Thomas offered up the kind of sacred soul performance that could make even the most stubborn heathen believe, if only for a moment, that she might be onto something.—Bill Forman
It took Bonnie Raitt one glance to size up her crowd as she stood front and center of the Acura Stage. In front of her, a canopy of primary-colored umbrellas cast shade over lawn chairs and slouching tank tops. “You look beautiful and hot and greasy! Just like I like it,” Raitt said. With that, she encapsulated the first sunny Sunday of Jazz Fest.
Jazz Fest staff introduced Raitt as the “blues queen of Jazz Fest,” a quintessential addition to the 50th anniversary lineup. Indeed, she embodied the romance of the festival. Her performance shined with infinite youth and a dash of gray in her fire red hair–playful, yet calm and wizened. Isn’t that, at least in part, what Jazz Fest is all about? The ability for anyone, no matter their age, to throw on a floppy hat and maybe a pair of chaco sandals, and be playful? And to keep doing so for decades?—Emily Carmichael
“Since this is the last day of Jazz Fest,” said Carsie Blanton, “we’re going to start with a dirty song.” The young New Orleans songstress and her band followed through on that promise with their rendition of “Jacket,” one of the most overtly bawdy and wryly hilarious songs on her recently released Buck Up album: “I make a quick pit stop at the Molly Pitcher/ You say you got a girl, but I don’t see her wit’ya/ You say you want a drink, but I want something stiffer/ You say I oughta keep it clean, I ain’t a Swiffer.” Blanton likes to call her work “genre-fluid,” an apt description for an artist who can effortlessly shift from risqué swing-jazz to gorgeously arranged Americana. Bringing that eclecticism to the stage, without ever letting go of her audience’s attention, is a sure sign that this won’t be her last Jazz Fest.—Bill Forman
Jazz Fest Ecstasy
Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews has the upmost respect for the traditions and history of New Orleans music and culture despite his rock star trappings and funk-rock band. So it was not much of a surprise last year when he brought up members of the Neville family. This year, the appearance of the Nevilles was scheduled, but it was a big surprise when singer Aaron Neville joined his brother Cyril, son Ivan, and nephew Ian.
Aaron had not appeared on the Acura Stage since the last time the Neville Brothers closed the Jazz Fest in 2013 (unless you count earlier in the day when he was part of the Allen Toussaint tribute). He delivered a superb version of “Yellow Moon” before hushing the massive crowd with the classic Neville Brothers Jazz Fest closing medley of “Amazing Grace” and Bob Marley’s “One Love.”
The beatific look on Troy’s face said it all. After the massive applause died down, Aaron said, “I changed his name to Trombone Slim,” and their embrace made it clear that we were all Nevilles as the sun began to set on the 50th Jazz Fest.
Of course, Trombone “Slim” was not done. With the stage pared down to his band, Orleans Avenue (augmented by second drummer Alvin Ford, percussionist Weedie Braimah and Troy’s nephew Jenard Andrews of the New Breed Brass Band on parade snare), he proceeded to push the crowd into Jazz Fest ecstasy. Besides being a potent trombonist, trumpeter, and vocalist, Troy is also a bandleader and crowd rouser, with a crack unit built for such a moment. He drove and we all rode along to the finish line with grins a mile wide.—Jay Mazza
Jazz Fest wrapped up with one of its strongest days of music. The resilience of the culture really stood out as both big stages were packed with local artists: the Delfeayo Marsalis Big Band and John Boutté opened for Herbie Hancock at the Jazz Tent; soul music superstars Chaka Khan and Maze featuring Frankie Beverly rocked the Congo Square Stage; The Mavericks headlined the Fais Do Do Stage after a solid lineup of Cajun and Zydeco music; and Indians, brass bands and Boukman Eksperyans of Haiti kept the Heritage Stage packed with dancers all afternoon. The music comes with its own survival strategies to keep things growing even after 50 years and a lineup of ancestors longer than the list of current performers. Trombone Shorty of course brought the New Orleans family tradition into the 21st century with a triumphant fusion of the Andrews and Neville families to close out the festival. Indians show a remarkable ability to keep adapting their traditional chants and sacred songs into larger formats that embrace a lot more of the tradition. The Hardhead Hunters Mardi Gras Indians, resplendent in their colorfully feathered suits, use a woman vocalist and a funk rhythm section to take their music into different directions. Combining Indian chants and brass band rhythms with tuba-powered bass and powerhouse funk, they chanted “Clap Your Hands, Move Your Feet,” sounding like a New Orleans edition of P-Funk.
Elsewhere, Yvette Landry stirred them up at the Fais Do Do Stage with her hot rockabilly band. Dressed in a silver lamé dress, the guitar-slinging Landry greeted the crowd with the incendiary “Let’s Have a Party” and rolled through a scintillating Louisiana rockabilly dance party, blazing through “Slow Down,” some Bobby Charles tunes, and swamp pop.
For years, Jazz Fest has featured another country’s music as part of the menu, and this strategy has reaped many benefits, creating a whole new tent, the Cultural Exchange Pavilion World Journey, with returnees from South Africa, Congo, Bahamas, Haiti, Cuba, Brazil, Benin, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere, all emphasizing the common ground that New Orleans music shares with the music of Africa and the African diaspora. These musicians are not headliners, but they carry the Jazz Fest ethos forward effectively, especially in the context of New Orleans musicians (just off the top of my head, Leyla McCalla, Panorama Jazz Band, Tom McDermott, Michael Skinkus and Moyuba, Patrice Fisher and Arpa) who embrace similar territory.
One service Jazz Fest has reliably provided is keeping the Radiators an active force in the festival’s lineup even after the band stopped performing regularly several years ago. The only other place on earth the Rads sound as good as they do on the Gentilly Stage is at Tipitina’s, and closing day’s set was a happy reunion for the band’s dedicated fans. From the melodic strains of Ed Volker’s “Love Grows On You” and “Rise and Shine,” to the great new Earl King tribute, “King Earl,” and old favorites like “Death of the Blues,” “Sparkplug,” “Papaya,” and “Smoking Hole,” the band dazzled in the late afternoon sunshine. Guitarist Camile Baudoin wore his star-shaped stage pass like a sheriff’s badge and he wielded his authority on a blistering “No. 2 Pencil.” And the Radiators made sure they left no Stone unrolled with terrific renditions of “Let It Bleed,” and a set-closing “Sympathy for the Devil.”—John Swenson