Everyone I ran into over the weekend complained about the crowds at Jazz Fest — too many people, too pushy, too drunk, not enough this, too much that. But for those final moments during their encore, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band swarmed the stage for Wrecking Ball's "Rocky Ground" as it morphed into "When the Saints Go Marching In," and there was dead silence.
Throughout his more than two hour set, Springsteen spoke of ghosts and spirits, things that haunt, things that inspire, reminders of what was, and what we hope will become. He closed his 2006 set with "Saints." He said that performance — less than a year following Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods — has stuck with him and the band since. "Saints" isn't a song that immediately conjures death. You hear it at football games and in bars, you forget its traditional lyrics are about the end of the world.
Springsteen arrived at this verse, "Some say this world of trouble is the only one we need. But I'm waiting for that morning, when the new world is revealed." Moments later, the song moved back into "Rocky Ground," its chorus seemingly growing louder and brighter. A couple behind me noted that it was Sunday — they didn't go to church but said, "This is church." The band then closed with "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," the origin story of late saxophonist Clarence Clemons, Springsteen's current ghost.
Below is the full 24-song setlist, and I also made a Spotify playlist.
From early on Sunday, it seemed that many Jazz Festgoers were there to see Bruce Springsteen. Those camping out early were rewarded with getting to hear sets from Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue and Dr. John. But by the time Shorty raised his trombone, there was barely a free patch of grass as far back as the Crawfish Monica stand.
The wait was well worth it. In a nearly three-hour performance, Springsteen offered up everything he's known to be: 1970s rocker, Seeger-sesssion folk revivalist, spokesman for the working man and cities fallen on hard times (in New Jersey or New Orleans) a la "My City of Ruins" and "The Rising." Just like his 2006 visit, he offered an emotional version of "When the Saints Go Marching In."
Springsteen also seemed to enjoy his show more than the crowd, whether embracing or dancing with audience members, claiming a sign dedicated to Clarence Clemons or inviting Dr. John on stage and telling him that some of the gris gris stuff from the 1970s made him nervous. Even dousing himself with a sponge or throwing a beer on himself, Springsteen seemed right at home and eager for more.
There's more about that set coming in Count Basin's reviews in the May 15 Gambit. But there were other great performances at the fest on Sunday too. One of the hidden gems was the Debo Band on the Jazz & Heritage Stage. The band subtitles itself "Ethiopian Groove Collective," and at times it sounded like a big band review (with a horn section, accordion, guitars and violins) and at times it sounded like an odd and ecstatic strain of klezmer music. Lead singer Bruck Tesfaye sang in what I am guessing is one of Ethiopia's languages, and the band did two of what it described as wedding songs. In energy and spirit, it was totally what one would expect to hear at that stage from a funky New Orleans brass band.
Apparently, there was a pop and jazz movement in Ethiopia beginning in the 1960s, and what later evolved is a genre of Ethiopian pop music called Ethiopiques. Debo Band formed in Boston and is currently signed to Next Ambience/Sub Pop. There are samples of its music on that link, but the live show is much more compelling.
2012 is the 200th anniversary of Louisiana statehood, so of course we get a postage stamp to commemorate the occasion. It's being released today. And it's a nice one, so your bills will be extra pretty:
The image, "Flat Lake Sunset," is by Louisiana photographer C.C. Lockwood, and the U.S. Postal Service explains it thusly:
The photograph shows a sunset at Flat Lake in the Atchafalaya Basin, the largest contiguous river swamp in the United States. The bald cypress trees hung with Spanish moss suggest the unique ecosystem of the Basin and the opportunities the area provides for hunting, bird watching, fishing, boating, and camping.
Best of all, it's a "forever" stamp, which means it'll be good for first-class postage even after the next inevitable postal rate hike. Read more about it at the Postal Service website.
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is celebrating the Mardi Gras Indians at this year's Cultural Pavilion, and Indians made guest appearances on many stages Saturday. The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra began its performance with Big Chief Monk Boudreaux singing solo and playing tambourine. And tambourines seemed to be everywhere (even Tom Petty picked one up for a couple songs). In the previous Jazz Tent slot, Evan Christopher's Clarinet Road show featured what, at the time, I would have guessed was the longest tambourine solo ever performed in the Jazz Tent: when the band did "King of Treme" in honor of drummer Shannon Powell, he performed a long solo on tambourine. Christopher said he wrote the song for Powell, who does claim "King of Treme" as a title, and Christopher also said it is Powell's birthday. I couldn't immediately confirm that, but Christopher does seem to put a lot of effort into tracking musicians' birthdays.
Christopher's set ranged from Duke Ellington compostitions to originals such as "Creole Wild West," which included a spoken word interlude by Chuck Perkins in homage to the spirit of the Mardi Gras Indians and New Orleans.
Both Christopher and Powell stuck around for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra set, which after Monk Boudreaux's introduction featured a very reverent rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" with Irvin Mayfield leading on trumpet. The set included a slew of special guests including Kermit Ruffins singing "I've Got the World on a String," and Christopher and Ed Petersen delivered some amazing solos.
One of the more amusing performances I caught was by the woman providing sign language translation at Cee Lo Green's set. The show really picked up near the end when Goodie Mob reunited to do "Soul Food" and the group's new tune "Fight to Win." The sign interpreter gamely provided interpretive fills during instrumental parts, and she seemed to really feel the songs as much as the MCs. Bravo.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers spent two hours mostly mellowly touring through their catalog and dipping into some Traveling Wilbury hits. The band started with "Listen to Her Heart" and then throttled down to softer tunes with a few bluesy detours into Bo Diddly and J.J. Cale covers — and then an even mellower stretch with Petty on acoustic guitar. Throwing "Free Falling" into the mix picked up the audience, which was happy to sing along. If one was wondering if the sun or heat prompted Petty to tell the story behind "Spike," a song about a guy wearing a dog collar walking into a rough Gainseville, Fla. bar called the Cypress Lounge, the answer is no. He told the same story to an audience in Denver last week. (And the band followed almost the exact same set list.) Petty even threw in the same addition of "guitar thieves," referring to the theft and recovery of the band's guitars in California a couple of weeks ago.
But the crowd wasn't at all disappointed with the fired up finish with "Refugee," "Running Down a Dream," "Mary Jane's Last Dance" and "American Girl." It was a strong finish only slightly buzz-killed by the stage announcer saying "Jazz Fest had its best Pettycure ever." That joke might have been better in sign language.
More remarkable than the election itself was a statement by Leach after the election, sent out by Louisiana Democratic Party spokesman James Hallinan under his personal email account. Most of these post-election statements tend to congratulate the victor, no matter how bitter the race, but Leach not only did not congratulate Peterson — in fact, he didn't even mention her name. The statement said, in part:
Today's changing of the guard is a reminder that I represent an older generation of Louisiana Democrats who believe that interest groups should all work together under the same Democratic tent and that campaigns should be based on factual information.
I will continue to support the ideals of the Democratic Party and also the reelection campaign of President Obama.
Peterson acknowledged Leach, but was hardly warm: "As Democrats, we want to take an opportunity to thank Chairman Leach for his service to and support of the Louisiana Democratic Party," she said in a statement, before going on to say she was "proud of this fresh group of engaged Louisianians."
Leach's and Peterson's full statements are under the jump:
Benh Zeitlin's mystical Beasts of the Southern Wild wowed audiences and critics at the Sundance Film Festival and was scooped up by Fox Searchlight. Excerpts from the film are being screened at the Jazz & Heritage Foundation's Sync Up Cinema event at NOMA on Tuesday. And today, Fox Searchlight announced it will release the film June 25.
Zeitlin also created the impressive short film Glory at Sea.
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