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A Jazz Fest Hit List 

Now that Mardi Gras is over, let the countdown to the 2001 Jazz Fest begin. The lineup of performers was announced a month ago, and the 2001 Jazz Fest roster is one of the strongest and most creative in recent years. But as usual, there are a few questionable choices within the mix. Without even getting into the annual debate over who didn't get booked, here's a few bands who shouldn't have been booked -- and not necessarily for musical reasons.

1) Dave Matthews Band. Jazz Fest organizers have seriously underestimated Matthews' popularity -- and set up the biggest crowd and logistical nightmare in Jazz Fest history. When Matthews was first booked in 1995, his career was just starting to take off -- and the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia was still alive. Now with Garcia and the Dead gone, and Phish on indefinite hiatus, Matthews is cleaning up at the box office. According to the industry touring magazine Pollstar, Matthews sold an average of more than 38,000 tickets per city on his 2000 tour.

But even that formidable number is a deceptively low tally. Matthews has been handily selling out stadiums for a few years, but will play arenas, too. Despite greater demand in those smaller markets (even when he plays multiple-night stands), final attendance numbers for the arena cities stay in the 20-30,000 range.

You don't have to be a mathematician to figure out that Matthews can now easily sell 50,000 tickets for a single show in his sleep. And with a brand-new album and massive national marketing and publicity campaign just cranking up, his popularity will grow exponentially in the next few months.

If form holds at his Jazz Fest performance, Matthews' fan base alone at the Fair Grounds will account for what usually comprises an average day's attendance at the Fest. Now consider that Matthews is booked for May 5, the second Saturday of Jazz Fest. Then remember that Jazz Fest's second-weekend Saturdays in recent years have broken single-day attendance records. Rap superstar Mystikal is also booked May 5.

If the weather is hot that day, it's about more than attendance records. It's about public safety.

2) Paul Simon. He may be a legend, but Paul Simon's star has dimmed considerably, to the point where his certainly high performing fee deserves to be questioned. His limp 2000 album You're the One immediately sank like a stone at radio and retail, and its Grammy nomination proved one thing: Grammy voters' median age must be 55, and they love nostalgia. Simon's live shows are hardly known for their electricity, and his Lafayette performance last year was widely panned. Like Dave Matthews, Simon's Jazz Fest performance has the potential to be a safety hazard, but for a different reason: If Simon starts playing songs from The Capeman soundtrack, look for a mass stampede to other stages.

3) Sonia Dada. "Sonia who?" is the common refrain that follows this group's name in New Orleans. Despite the fact that this West Coast-based jam band has no New Orleans connections and had never even played in New Orleans except for a convention show in 1995, it landed a slot at the 2000 Jazz Fest. Now they're back on the bill again for 2001. They must have the greatest booking agent in the country.

4) Widespread Panic. It isn't the booking itself with Widespread Panic -- any band that uses the Dirty Dozen Brass Band on their albums deserves kudos. It's what Jazz Fest allows for their performance. In 1999 Jazz Fest set a misguided precedent by letting Widespread Panic play back-to-back sets on the Ray Ban stage, with a break between sets. It tied up the stage for more than three hours, and sent the message that Widespread Panic somehow deserves special treatment. The argument that the band's standard live shows are structured that way doesn't hold water; try telling that to the Meters, the Radiators, Ellis Marsalis, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Jon Cleary or any one of a thousand New Orleans bands who have played multiple-set shows their whole careers. Jazz Fest is clearly disrespecting New Orleans and Louisiana acts -- and everyone else on the bill -- if they give Widespread Panic more than one set in 2001.

5) Harry Connick Sr. At first, Connick's "Singing D.A." routine was mildly entertaining in a self-deprecating way. Yet Connick, one of New Orleans' most prominent paid public servants, has been moonlighting for years now. And let's be honest: it's Connick's name, not his musical talent, that gets him gigs. Every time he performs, he's taking money and/or exposure away from working New Orleans musicians who don't have the benefit of Connick's day-job salary. And given the nature of politics, the local clubs and Jazz Fest shouldn't book Connick at all, to avoid even the slightest appearance of impropriety.

He'd still have the luxury of a long musical career playing private fundraisers.

Email music news to Scott Jordan at scottj@gambitweekly.com.

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