Gulf winds blew through the Fairgrounds on Saturday in steady gusts ahead of today’s storm. Beneath the cumulous clouds rolling overhead—a kind respite from the sun—were Mississippi Kites and white shore terns soaring and rising in the wind.
WWOZ live-streamed from the Blues Tent as Brother Tyrone & The Mindbenders began Day 2 of the 48th New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. People teemed at the Gospel Tent’s doors, dancing, catching that contagious feeling of community worship led in song and clap by the First Baptist Church of Vacherie Mass Choir.
Over at the Acura Stage, Travers Geoffray opened with a Pete Johnson cover, “Death Ray Boogie,” and then steamrolled his hot piano through his own catalogue. Fresh off the Mississippi Rail Company, Geoffray plays as fast as the Ferriday Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the growing crowd sang along to “Mabel” and “Take Me Home,” even though these new songs from Highway Kings were released less than a month ago. Clad in a navy suit, this showman proved he’s ready for the main stage.
Across the Fairgrounds at the Gentilly Stage, the Lost Bayou Ramblers played a raucous set with their fiddle- and accordion-stomping Cajun music. Later at the Allison Minor Music Heritage Stage, named for one of the original founders of Jazz Fest, the Rambler’s Michot brothers played a more intimate set with storytelling between songs. They played a family favorite, “Blues de Tactac,” Cajun-French for popcorn blues.
As Andre Michot explains, “‘Blues de Tactac’ means I went out last night, going out tonight, and I’ll do it again tomorrow. I ate all the popcorn at the bar and I’ll even eat some crumbs tonight. It’s just that kind of weekend.”
After 40 years of influencing jazz, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band played their funky favorites on the Acura Stage. The local favorite and internationally acclaimed Charmaine Neville Band followed Brother Tyrone and represented her family well. She wore red and green for her colorful jazz set in the standing-room-only Blues Tent, while nearby Mr. Okra sold fruit from his painted truck bed.
Michael Guidry, whose art hangs from the bleachers displaying a gate-mouthed alligator releasing warblers and red-winged black birds, says he had an “amazing day” selling his paintings from his studio booth. “I hear them before I see them,” Guidry says of the birds, his voice only audible at a close distance because of the guitars and brass resounding from nearby stages.
Like Charmaine Neville, local Jon Batiste also hails from a musically royal family. Batiste and his band, Stay Human, rocked the Acura Stage as well as they do every weeknight on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Wearing a handmade banana leaf-printed shirt, Batiste left his piano for a standup solo on his melodica, or what he calls his “harmoniboard” for its harmonica-keyboard combination.
Batiste smiles as big and wide as the white keys on his piano. At the Allison Minor Music Heritage Stage, he spoke of his calling to the piano, the band’s “social music” and “jazz two-point-oh.” Batiste expressed his love for home, “this creative community,” and distinguished two of his mentors of the same name: John Lewis the composer and pianist; and John Lewis the congressman and civil rights leader. Batiste sees his music as spreading the good word and a hope to positively influence the community. Smiles in the crowd reflect his success.
On the Gentilly Stage, Philadelphia’s Amos Lee played his hits, along with covering local favorites, like “Hey Pocky Way.” He also led the crowd in Ginuwine’s “Ride My Pony,” George Michael’s “Faith,” and closed with a lively version of Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road.” A more mellow than usual Alabama Shakes followed Amos Lee with a relaxed set. Lead singer Brittany Howard’s voice, however, is still as powerful as ever.
Starting ahead of schedule, Congo Square Stage hosted the day’s greatest collaboration with Usher and The Roots, making Jon Batiste’s Stay Human one of two late-night-TV bands to shape the day.
The Roots, currently The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon’s house band, gave Usher a funk-heavy foundation to lift his R&B songs. They covered George Clinton, and also Kool & the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie.” With The Roots’ percussion and sousaphone additions, Usher’s “Yeah!” and “U Don’t Have To Call” were especially funky renditions.
Questlove’s drum leads drove the scene while Usher and Black Thought traded lead vocals. Black Thought, in a denim jacket and a red-white-and-blue-ribboned panama hat, held the crowd’s attention with his lyricism. Usher, with his hair dyed varicolored—perhaps to match the Jazz Fest logo on the curtain behind him—led the crowd through his catalogue of sexy hits, like “My Way,” “Love In This Club,” “Confessions,” and “Climax,” all the while shedding his vanilla cream button-down.
Ultimately, Usher skinned up and led the dancing crowd shirtless and in charge. It’s a special moment when a New Orleans crowd cheers for an Atlantan. But there’s a lot that’s special about Jazz Fest, and it happens anew on every stage each of the seven days. As Andre Michot says, “It’s just that kind of weekend.”