& The Top Notes
Guitarist Ernie Vincent has been performing in New Orleans since the early 1970s, and he's consistently kept up with the times. Vincent had a blues period, made the transition to R&B and even dabbled in disco, but in 2010, he reinvigorated the Top Notes and returned to what fans kept asking for: funk. The one-time backer for legends including Ernie K-Doe and Tommy Ridgley has kept it up since.
11:15 a.m. – noon
& The Bayou Swamp Band
Chubby Carrier has the honor of being the last winner of the Grammy Award for Best Zydeco or Cajun Album, before the category was melded back into folk music in 2012. The Church Point native is a third generation zydeco artist and his cousins (Bebe and Calvin Carrier) also are accomplished in the genre. It's no surprise that his deep body of work led Carrier to represent the state in tourism publications and ads, or that the accordion player has keys to multiple cities in Acadiana.
12:20 p.m.-1:20 p.m.
Sheraton New Orleans Fais Do-Do Stage
The Gentilly Stage is loaded on Jazz Fest's first Friday, with a closing lineup of Royal Teeth, Hozier and Wilco. But there's a good reason to get there early that has nothing to do with claiming a patch of grass: Mia Borders.
The New Orleans guitarist is no stranger to local festivals, and she returns with her unique fusion of blues, funk, rock and story-oriented folk. If that seems too sprawling to be descriptive, trust that it's an accurate representation of Borders and her band's wide range. She has a deep discography and new tunes are on the way — her newest single, "Leave Me Alone," showcases Borders' pop side, crooning over echoing electronic beats. Gentilly Stage campers may want to consider heading there from the start.
12:25 p.m.-1:20 p.m.
Royal Teeth could fit seamlessly at Buku Music + Art Project, Voodoo Music + Arts Experience or Jazz Fest. Since forming in 2010, this six-piece group has been a fixture in the modern, critical music realm, marked by appearances everywhere from New York's CMJ Music Marathon to Austin, Texas' South by Southwest. And while its music may be most apt for the stadium pop sensibilities of Voodoo, this will be the second year in a row for the New Orleans-by-way-of-Lafayette band to take the Jazz Fest stage.
Substituting traditional Cajun or zydeco instrumentation for drum machines and synths, Royal Teeth makes soaring pop songs. It's the kind of music meant to score awe-inspiring views of landscapes and life moments (Samsung did just that with the track "Wild" in a Galaxy S5 campaign last year). While the band's been performing consistently off the strength of a lone album — 2013's Glow — new music is on the way. Royal Teeth gave NPR's World Cafe an early listen to the previously unknown track "Rich" last fall, so who knows what this set may include.
1:40 p.m.-2:50 p.m.
After nearly 30 springtime pilgrimages to the stages of Jazz Fest, songwriter and accordionist Wayne Toups is no stranger at the Fair Grounds. The so-called "Cajun Springsteen" crafts grandiose rock that pulls from Southern, Cajun and zydeco traditions in a genre he dubbed "Zydecajun." He shared the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Regional Roots Music Album for The Band Courtbouillon with fellow Acadian musicians Wilson Savoy of the Pine Leaf Boys and Steve Riley.
1:45 p.m.-2:40 p.m.
The Rayo Brothers
It would be easy to dismiss The Rayo Brothers as Mumford & Sons-lite, but look past the period garb and focus on the sound. While Mumford is an arena act in costume, the Rayo Brothers' 2014 debut album, Gunslinger, showed the band is dedicated to paying homage to the frontier folk they emulate. Brothers Jesse and Daniel Reaux come from a musical lineage that includes the Lost Bayou Ramblers, so an appearance at Jazz Fest was merely a matter of time.
1:50 p.m.-2:45 p.m.
Alexey Marti is one New Orleans-based musician whose work can't be neatly labeled as jazz, but the young Cuban percussionist clearly fits in the lineup on the Jazz & Heritage Stage, which typically highlights New Orleans street beats and percussion a la brass bands and Mardi Gras Indian tribes. Whether on hand percussion, timbales or a variety of bells, Marti reveals an impressive combination of technique, showmanship, creativity and pace. He has backed Herbie Hancock and won the Thelonious Monk Jazz Institute Competition.
3:05 p.m.-4:05 p.m.
Jazz & Heritage Stage
Hozier is more than "Take Me To Church." The inescapable, Grammy Award-nominated hit is merely one facet of what the Irish artist dubs the "gospel-soul gumbo" at the center of his music. At times Hozier's self-titled debut album can evoke the genre-bending pop of Van Morrison, and at other points he seems more at home among modern folk groups such as Bon Iver or Fleet Foxes. The nimble aspect of his work is why it gets mashed up with the likes of Nirvana (online) and Annie Lennox (at award shows).
Hozier's been touring the globe off his momentum from 2014 and is scheduled for headlining gigs at Ireland's Longitude festival and Jazz Fest among others. Beyond earning heaps of reviewer praise, recent live performances increasingly feature unique wrinkles like a cover of "Jungle Love" with a member of Haim at this year's Coachella Festival. The field of potential collaborators will be rich at the fairgrounds, but Hozier's wide reach means nothing is off-limits.
3:20 p.m.-4:40 p.m.
It should be hard to pass Nigerian saxophonist Lagbaja without stopping. He wears colorful outfits and an elaborate mask, which underscores the everyman appeal he's cultivated (Lagbaja is a Yoruban word for "nobody in particular"), and his appearance may draw you in, but it's the music that has kept people listening for more than 20 years. Lagbaja harnesses Afrobeat sounds to build soulful, dance-friendly tracks infused with electronic brightness. The messages are often as complex as the compositions, and Lagbaja sometimes steps back from the mic to unleash a trademark saxophone solo.
3:55 p.m.-5 p.m.
Congo Square Stage
Nicholas Payton Trio with Vicente Archer & Bill Archer
Nicholas Payton's trumpet may get more rest than usual at Jazz Fest 2015. Late last year, the virtuoso made headlines by releasing an album with his trio in which he played trumpet on only one track. Numbers instead saw Payton slide behind the keys in a more supportive role, and the album was marked by a greater sum than the usual collection of parts — the trio's impressive melodies and solos. Payton said this was so listeners could participate — singing, rapping, or soloing themselves or simply paying more attention to parts usually overshadowed. His live performances since have been equally surprising, so expect to see Payton like you've never seen him at Jazz Fest.
4:10 p.m.– 5:10 p.m.
Zatarain's/WWOZ Jazz Tent
Wilco makes its fourth appearance at Jazz Fest since 2005, and Jazz Fest Producer Quint Davis has called them one of the "best bands in America."
The band's been delivering its brand of eclectic alternative rock for more than 20 years, gaining enough fame to be an answer on Jeopardy! and to put pressure on lawmakers with whom the band disagrees (as bandleader Jeff Tweedy did recently regarding Indiana's so-called "religious freedom" bill). All through this bigger and better evolution, Wilco's music remains current and creative, with its last album (2011's The Whole Love) being lauded in Rolling Stone and Pitchfork alike.
5:20 p.m.-7 p.m.
No matter how you define the term, Jimmy Cliff is a legend. The long-time reggae artist is a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, the only living musician to earn Jamaica's highest arts award and a major player in one of his home country's most memorable films (The Harder They Come). His 2013 Jazz Fest set — following his triumphant recording return, Rebirth, the year before — was a highlight for many, featuring the musician running through his deep catalog while encouraging everyone around him to move. He may be a few years older now, but don't expect things to slow down.
5:40 p.m.-7 p.m.
Congo Square Stage