Thunderstorms could only do so much to dampen spirits at Jazz Fest Sunday.
The Martha Redbone Roots Project performed at the Fais Do-Do stage early in the day. She sang several songs off her recent album of William Blake songs. Redbone is of Cherokee, Shawnee, Choctaw and African-American ancestry, and her band is a southern Appalachian string band, with a guitar, banjo, fiddle and stand up bass. And Blake's poetry suited her vocals and the band's picking. Off the album she sang "Garden of Love" and "A Poison Tree." She also sang "This Train'" (or "This Train is Bound for Glory"), which was popularized as a religious tune and later adapted into a folk anthem. But the highlight of the set was Redbone's beautiful and haunting version of "Drums," Native American singer Peter LaFarge's song about holding onto Native American heritage and pride in spite of assimilation into a culture that essentially viewed them as vanquished. Johnny Cash recorded a notable cover. (Older video of Redbone singing "Drums" after the jump.)
On the Gentilly stage, Calexico's set included songs from its recent album Algiers, recorded on the West Bank, with older songs accented with mariachi horns and Latin grooves. But the band brought a New Orleans horn section on stage for many numbers. And it all came together when the band played "See You Later, Alligator" in tribute to Bobby Charles.
Jazz Fest hit an eclectic array of high notes Saturday, ranging from Native American hip-hop to the Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra to some low-down blues by Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite.
Jazz Fest's 2013 Cultural Pavilion programming is focused on Native American music and culture and performers are spread throughout the regular tents and stages as well as the pavilion area in the lawn between the Congo Square Marketplace and Food Area II. The Canadian hip-hop trio A Tribe Called Red (pictured) had an early set on the Gentilly Stage, and it started with a traditional flourish, dancers in traditional Native American costumes on stage with the DJs. Ian "DJ NDN" Campeau, Dan "DJ Shub" General and Bear Witness mix a reggae and dub-step influenced blend of beats and Native American songs and chants. The vocal chants work really well with the slow tempo and it was pretty mellow original and compelling sound. The DJs pumped some politics into the final tune when the dedicated it to "racist sports teams everywhere," and Florida State Seminole fans couldn't have missed the dig at the sample of the "War chant" played as fans do their "tomahawk chop," which was later adopted by Washington Redskins fans.
In a more edifying moment, one of the Stoney Creek Singers who was performing on the Fais Do-Do stage explained that the traditional "rain dance" isn't done to summon rain but to offer thanks for rain.
A Tribe Called Red is on the interview stage Sunday at 4:15 p.m. The Stoney Creek Singers perform twice Sunday in the performance tent at the pavilion area, first at 12:05 p.m. and again at 3:15 p.m.
Another international visitor Saturday was Brazilian performer Magary Lord. He's created his own type of music called Black Semba, and it's a mix of African beats, Latin rhythms and some of the twinkling guitars and steel pan drums (sampled electronically) of the Caribbean. It took a few songs to get the crowd in step with its Brazilian party music, but the crowd picked it up and it's a very upbeat Latin-Caribbean blend. The group returns Sunday on the Congo Square Stage at 12:35 p.m.
The Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra turned in the best set I heard today. I am not familiar enough with Latin jazz to offer much context, but the horn section and array of percussion was simply stunning.
Also amazing was the set turned in by harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite, a blues legend at this point, and Ben Harper, who spent much of the set playing slide guitar. The two have collaborated through the last decade and released Get Up! in January. The age difference isn't as great as it seems, Musselwhite is almost 70, Harper is 43. But they seem to bridge generations and more in their extraordinarily natural connection. Musselwhite seems solidly grounded in an almost elegant style of old-school Mississippi Delta blues, and Harper has synthesized blues, folk, soul and rock and been embraced by jam band fans and younger generations, but their rapport is seamless.
The 2013 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is finally here (finally!), and we've got all you need to know to have fun at the New Orleans Fair Grounds (and after).
Lagniappe: Check out our Jazz Fest 411 to find out what you can bring and what you can't, Big Red Cotton's guide to Fair Grounds second lines during Jazz Fest and Will Coviello's breakdown of all the fundraising concerts during these exciting two weekends.
How much stuff is there to do during the first weekend of Jazz Fest? Lots. Noah Bonaparte Pais broke it all down for Eric Paulsen on the WWL Eyewitness Morning News. Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires, Deerhunter, Oblivion with Tom Cruise ... and, of course, all the fun at the Fair Grounds.
IT'S ALIVE! IT'S! A! LIIIIIVE!!!!
WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO?!?!?
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