Hurray for the Riff Raff
The songwriter of the year
Alynda Lee Segarra penned several of the most crucial, year-defining songs of 2014 on Hurray for the Riff Raff's ATO Records debut Small Town Heroes. It's "The Body Electric," however, that has turned all eyes to the folk- and country-influenced Segarra, whose powerful lyrics and delivery channel rage, hurt and hope all at once. The album was named on several year-end lists, and "The Body Electric" — Segarra's ballad against violence against women — was named American Songwriter's song of the year.
5th Ward Weebie and Big Freedia
The king and queen of bounce
Intergalactic bounce ambassador Big Freedia has a reality TV series (Queen of Bounce, which the Fuse network says is its highest-rated show ever) and a first proper full-length album, the club- and bounce-influenced Just Be Free. Freedia also broke the record for most people simultaneously twerking, bringing the Guinness World Record home with a whopping 406 people twerking at September's Central City Festival. Meanwhile, the jester in bounce's court, 5th Ward Weebie, continued to dominate the radio with "Let Me Find Out," which also reached Questlove, Snoop Dogg and your "cool" uncle.
Down, Eyehategod and Thou
The three-headed metal mammoth
New Orleans metal band Eyehategod returned with its first album in more than a decade, a brutal, sludgy self-titled behemoth released on the heels of drummer Joey LaCaze's death in 2013. Down — following singer Phil Anselmo's rejuvenated, heavier-than-ever return to the metal fray — released part two of its Down IV. (Meanwhile, Anselmo's inner comedy fan starred alongside comedian Dave Hill in the webseries Metal Grasshopper as a sort of demented, metal wizard Mr. Miyagi.) Equal parts snarling darkness and beautiful gloom, Thou released its best work, Heathen, a definitive double LP.
Return of the Mac
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival's biggest news was who wasn't playing: Dr. John, who instead headlined the French Quarter Festival and his own star-studded tribute show at the Saenger Theatre (held in the middle of Jazz Fest). Bruce Springsteen, himself a returning Jazz Fest headliner, opened Mac's tribute, which also featured John Fogerty (also stolen from the Fest), Allen Toussaint, Aaron Neville and a dozen others. The Year in Mac also included a new album, his tribute to Louis Armstrong, Ske-Dat-De-Dat... The Spirit of Satch — an idea, John told Gambit, that came to him in a dream. And he's scheduled to finish a busy year with a New Year's Eve show at Le Petit Theatre.
Benjamin Booker and Pell
The rookies of the year
Florida transplant Benjamin Booker rode a huge wave — from signing to ATO Records to opening for and jamming with Jack White within a year — based on his blues- and punk-influenced bare-bones, soulful rock 'n' roll. His self-titled debut landed on several critics' year-end lists. With his full-length debut Floating While Dreaming, New Orleans rapper Pell threw the budding cloud rap trend into a blender, with dreamy, genre-twisting production to back his quick and breezy flow and introspective lyrics.
Band that you couldn't avoid if you tried
If you were one of the many people who saw Foo Fighters three times in New Orleans in 2014, you saw the band clown around inside Preservation Hall, headline the final night of the 2014 Voodoo Music + Arts Experience and pack the House of Blues for an immediately sold-out, nearly three-hour performance (for $20). All of it, of course, was part of a commercial for its album Sonic Highways and HBO series of the same name. While the series was full of revisionist rock history (particularly in the New Orleans episode, in which rock 'n' roll architect Cosimo Matassa is hardly mentioned), the album was a Foo Fighters album — big, loud, pop rock 'n' roll — and not a genre-encompassing, reflective album on American music.
Three letters changing the New Orleans festival landscape
Electronic dance music has grown from a tiny tent among stages at Voodoo Fest to a stage (Le Plur) that's as big as any other and has more acts than all the other stages combined at the Halloween weekend festival. And for its third annual event (with a fourth coming in March 2015), the Buku Music + Art Project held a two-day dance party at Mardi Gras World boasting a lineup of popular electronic acts, DJs and producers. Expect an even bigger presence on your 2015 festival calendar.