The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was bracketed by rain on its first and last days, but in between was a deluge of talent, great shows, poignant moments and good cheer. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band and My Morning Jacket shared entertaining collaborations. Simon and Garfunkel struck up a little harmony while some former Meters got down with some funk. And arena rockers Pearl Jam both saluted troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and called out BP for the ongoing ecological disaster in the Gulf. Count Basin found it a memorable festival.
Jesse McBride and the Next Generation
Jesse McBride and the Next Generation has all of the elements that make modern jazz great. The band looks clean, but not so clean that they couldn't throw down on Sauvage Street. It played some great new music (James Westfall's "Harry Potter"), some should-have-been-classics ("Beautiful Old Ladies") and some classics redone (Davell Crawford's reworking of the melody of "Body and Soul"). Johnaye Kendrick provided killer vocals, and Harold Battiste, who says so much with so few notes, made a guest appearance. The band's effect creeps up on an audience: you sit listening to the pretty yet sophisticated music before realizing what total monsters the members are on their instruments.
Performing on the Lagniappe Stage, singer/songwriter Andrew Duhon showed he may be wise beyond his years with songs like "Growing Older Now" and "Scared to Death of Dying" (though he sings he's "not afraid to live") from Songs I Wrote Before I Met You, a minimal country, blues and folk album studded with lap steel, upright bass and simple percussion. Duhon & the Lonesome Crows truly shine with simple arrangements and his harmonica, both featured on the band's latest Dreaming When You Leave, released at Jazz Fest.
A nearly hourlong delay and several excruciating minutes of a vocal mic soundcheck did not discourage the crowd awaiting a bounce rap showcase on the Congo Square Stage. Sissy rappers Big Freedia, Sissy Nobby and Katey Red bolted onstage for 15 minutes of back-to-back-to-back "Azz Everywhere" bangers. Katey Red strutted in a tube dress and heels while the crew performed signature hits like Nobby's "Spinning Top," and a lone, onstage booty shaker drove the crowd wild.
Davell Crawford's Blues Tent set was labeled "One Foot in the Blues," but he also had feet in R&B, soul and funk, including a Meters cover. On one Howlin' Wolf song, he stepped away from the keyboard altogether. But the performance was sizzling, and guests Dr. John and Jon Cleary offered their own takes on a wide array of blues-influenced music.
Note to visitors: It's no big thing to confuse cochon de lait and cafe au lait, but when loudly ordering "cochon au lait" it's probably best to skip the authentic French accent.
George French; Lionel Batiste
As George French wrapped up his set at the Economy Hall Tent, "Uncle" Lionel Batiste led a second line through the crowd, a long line of handkerchief-waving festival attendees strutting behind him. French saluted Batiste, the longtime Treme Brass Band bass drummer and the 2010 Congo Square poster star, as the crowd rained applause on the group.
The funky Meters
The funky Meters could be Jazz Fest's house band. Art Neville and company staged a fest-defining set on a cloud-covered, storm-threatened opening Saturday. "Do y'all hear George Porter?" the elder Neville asked from behind his piano, and the crowd ate it up. But the loudest ovations of the afternoon weren't for Porter's talking bass lines or a scorching rendition of "Fire On the Bayou." They came first when the sun played peek-a-boo from behind its humid, overcast blanket, and then again for then mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu, who followed the funky Meters onstage (no easy task) to introduce two special guests. "I know we were nervous yesterday," Landrieu said, "but did anyone have any doubt that when Simon and Garfunkel were here, the sun would come out and shine on New Orleans?" Only every weathercaster in the city.
Simon & Garfunkel
You have to feel for Art Garfunkel: The hapless Tom to Paul Simon's Jerry wasn't even the most beloved "Art" to appear on the Acura Stage on the first Saturday (Art Neville took the honors). The reconstituted duo launched with a rocking version of "A Hazy Shade of Winter" and things seemed to be going smashingly. But the folk legends' progression into their more serene, nuanced signature numbers perhaps revealed why Simon has performed Garfunkel-less for most of the past two decades. The harmonies on "I Am a Rock" and "America" proved too high a bar for the current incarnation of Art's previously angelic vocals to clear.
James Andrews and the Crescent City All-Stars
Trumpeter James Andrews and the Crescent City All-Stars brought their Treme street party to the Blues Tent with a raucous and crowd-pleasing set. Andrews repeatedly exhorted the crowd to "get up and second line," which only led to gridlock in the aisles. The already overworked tent ushers were not amused.
Robert "One-String" Gibson played two sets on the first Sunday. On the Lagniappe Stage, he opened with his single-string interpretation of the "Star Spangled Banner." To the crowd's delight, he finished the song with a two-handed "tapping" technique on the neck of his guitar a la Eddie Van Halen. No joke: 10 fingers on one string.
Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Revue
Cartwheelers mixed with two-steppers on the dance floor when Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Revue brought their old-school twang to the Kids' Tent. Holiday patiently told the curious toddlers how drums and electric guitars work before launching into Johnny Cash's "Get Rhythm." Later, bandmember Steve Spitz revealed that his pedal steel can make "underwater sounds — you know, like in SpongeBob SquarePants," Holiday said.
Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars
The Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars may be the best band in the world. The group can play anything from rock to blues to funk to Mardi Gras Indian music. Especially poignant given the oily news from the Gulf was Johnny Sansone's song "Poor Man's Paradise," a beautiful and sad account of life after the flood. Lyrics include "My mother's out in Houston/ My daddy used to be in a grave/ My brother's still missing/ and the governor wants you all to be brave" and "If this were New York, Chicago, or L.A./ Do you think they'd leave you broken/ Or come and fix it right away". It ranks with Spencer Bohren's "Thin Black Line" as one of the best songs written about that disaster.
Indie-pop songstress Theresa Andersson briefed her massive crowd to her deal: Her feet do all the work, and her toes control loop pedals and other effects to record every element of her solo performance. She didn't mention her voice, which skyrocketed from the Fais-Do-Do stage, including a breathtaking performance of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's "Find the Cost of Freedom" featuring only her voice standing in for all four.
My Morning Jacket
My Morning Jacket fans getting their first taste of the Louisville, Ky., band's reputation-preceding live show were not disappointed — though they might have been a little vexed by the onstage antics of capricious frontman Jim James. (See: toy-gun holsters, vampire cape, Spanish Tourette syndrome, "Highly Suspicious.") The Gentilly Stage audience got a gratifying mix of material, spanning the soon-to-be-classic country rock of 2003's It Still Moves to the more eclectic electronic cuts off 2008's Evil Urges. The set closed with three successive climaxes, as tourmates the Preservation Hall Jazz Band joined James' gang for covers of the Ernie K-Doe hit "Mother-in-Law," Al "Carnival Time" Johnson's namesake (with a spry Johnson himself) and Curtis Mayfield's "Move On Up."
Preservation Hall Jazz Band
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band performed songs off its February release Preservation. The benefit album includes many guest appearances, and the set featured Amy LaVere singing her version of "Baby Won't You Please Come Home?" and My Morning Jacket's Jim James doing his rendition of "Louisiana Fairytale" through a cheerleader megaphone. James was later joined by Terence Blanchard on trumpet for "St. James Infirmary."
Marva Wright Tribute
The late beloved blues belter Marva Wright was honored with a second-line parade led by the Single Men and Nine Times Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs on Saturday, April 24, and her likeness has been added to the cluster of Jazz Fest "ancestors" in the infield.
Ann Savoy and the Savoy Center's Cajun Jam
During the Savoy Center of Eunice Saturday Cajun Jam, Acadian guitarist and Cajun heritage authority Ann Savoy extolled the virtues of the Eunice, La., shop's weekly hootenanny, which welcomes anyone musically inclined, not just professional musicians. The ensemble on stage at the Fais Do-Do Stage included at least seven violins, four accordions, five guitars, one lap-steel guitar and a triangle.
Texting at the Jazz Fest
In a moment highlighting the technology gap between some die-hard Jazz Fest veterans and tech-savvy youths, an older woman made a special request after a distracted teen bumped into her: "They ought to have a texters walking lane. It's worse than driving."
It's not a new bit, but Bonerama finished its Gentilly Stage set with an extended version of Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks." The trombone-fronted band has shown it can wail on classic rock and psychedelic Hendrix jams, but maybe it's time for some truly heavy brass metal. Metallica's "Enter Sandman" next year, guys?
The Midnight Disturbers
The Midnight Disturbers include Big Sam Williams, Galactic members Stanton Moore and Ben Ellman, saxman Skerik, Matt Perrine, Rebirth Brass Band members Corey Henry and Derek Shezbie. Henry led the group through some 6th Ward favorites, including "Buck It Like a Horse," from Henry's former Lil Rascals Brass Band, and some Rebirth favorites.
Singer/songwriter Shawn Colvin's mellow solo guitar strumming may not have been the best choice for the Fais Do-Do Stage's normally lively tone. While her voice is beautiful, her subdued set was characterized by a moment when she forgot one of her own songs halfway through and scrapped it.
With a career like great American drummer Levon Helm's, formerly of pioneering folk outfit The Band, one is sure to aquire a lot of friends and admirers. Helm's already huge band first brought out Dr. John for "Such a Night," then Stanton Moore and Ivan Neville, who sat in for the remainder of the set on organ. Allen Toussaint joined for "A Certain Girl," and rather than thank the crowd for the salute, he bowed to Helm: "An American treasure," he said. The crowd erupted in a sing-along for the finale, a heavyweight-filled performance of "The Weight."
New Orleans Social Club
The New Orleans Social Club is yet another great ensemble partially derived from the Meters. In the Blues Tent, George Porter Jr., Leo Nocentelli and Ivan Neville were joined by keyboardist Henry Butler and Raymond Weber. They worked through Meters tunes (changing "Africa" to "New Orleans"), some Professor Longhair songs and "Indian Red."
Trumpeter Shamarr Allen performed a powerful blend of rock and jazz, leaning more toward the rock for the later part of his set. He covered "Smells Like Teen Spirit," mimicking Cobain's vocals with the horn. In a show of faith, the trumpeter dived into a thicket of raised hands during a horn-heavy rendition of Coldplay's "Viva la Vida." Rapper Dee-1 joined him on stage to close with their New Orleans Saints anthem "Bring 'Em to the Dome."
The indie pop outfit MyNameIsJohnMichael offered a tongue-in-cheek opener at the Gentilly Stage — the first song was "Althea and the Company Store," a moody number that resolves with the hero slitting the throat of the title character's foul-mouthed father. The band is now a well-oiled machine, more focused with tighter hooks than ever, bringing teenaged girls in the crowd to tears and ecstatic sing-alongs. Though the band is shooting more for a Costello-meets-Springsteen or Arcade Fire intensity, it could make a killing as New Orleans' Jonas Brothers.
Clarence "Frogman" Henry
Backed by his band of 35 years and the assistance of a walker, Clarence "Frogman" Henry smiled ear to ear as he reminisced about his career (and many wives) and made fun of the security detail at the stage. Henry performed a joyous celebration including pop standard "Ain't She Sweet" and his hits like "Ain't Got No Home," proving he's still able to sing like a girl — and a frog. Henry closed with "At Last" then snuck in a second line with Free Agents Brass Band grand marshal Jennifer Jones.
Mannie Fresh, Juvenile and SoleFresh
Mannie Fresh brought guest Gregory D for an old-school, project name-dropping brass-based anthem "Buck Jump Time," hinting that this set would be filled with a back catalog of New Orleans hip-hop and a veritable evolution of the genre within the hourlong set. He and Juvenile performed snippets of hits including "Solja Rag," Slow Motion," "Everybody Get Your Roll On" and closer "Back That Ass Up." The only sour note came from guests SoleFresh, a white rap duo from Metairie and apparent Mannie Fresh proteges, though Mannie called them "New Orleans originals." And Juve, well, he smirked, saying they reminded him of the Beastie Boys, which would be a huge compliment.
Dirty Dozen Brass Band
The 30-year-old brass funk institution the Dirty Dozen Brass Band ripped through the classic "Fire on the Bayou" on the Acura Stage, ad libbing "There's oirl in the water" to the titular chant — calling attention to the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Band of Horses
Under a foreboding gray skyline at the Gentilly Stage, Pearl Jam tour mates' and fellow Pacific Northwesterners' Band of Horses played a sleepy alt-folk set that the weather only made grayer. The band peaked with its single from 2007's Cease to Begin, "Is There a Ghost?", a dramatic ballad backed by big guitars and singer Ben Bridwell's soaring vocals, repeating "I could sleep when I lived alone, is there a ghost in my house?" to a nap-ready crowd.
Pete Fountain and John Goodman
In the Economy Hall Tent, Pete Fountain brought up special guest John Goodman to sing "Bourbon Street Parade." Goodman did as well as Jackie Gleason ever did, but his execution of the song was overwhelmed by his contagious enthusiasm, especially when he sang the line "dance all night" like he was well acquainted with the concept.
Anders Osborne, sporting a long gray/blond beard and the wrinkled brow of an aging Nordic sea captain, opened his set with a blistering blues rock jam. Several songs later, he brought out metal rocker Pepper Keenan of Down and quipped that the two have a ZZ Top cover band as a side project.
Wearing a Mr. Bill Show T-shirt under flannel, singer Eddie Vedder, between energetic monsters like "Alive" and "Even Flow," reminisced about his time in the clink in New Orleans and asked the crowd if anyone had been locked up in Orleans Parish Prison. A surprising, resounding "yes" followed. The band sounded massive, from opener "Rock 'N' Roll Star," originally by The Byrds, to a closing cover of MC5's "Kick Out the Jams," but Vedder said (addressing the people at the back of the crowd), "I can't get closer, but we can play louder." Mike McCready's searing solos and his dynamic with guitarist Stone Goddard and Vedder's guitar, found a similar groove to Neil Young's set on the same stage last year.
Pearl Jam in Iraq
The Pearl Jam set was broadcast to a Louisiana National Guard unit in Iraq and some troops in Afghanistan. A friend of Eddie Vedder's, Marine Lt. Col. John McDonough, was reached via satellite for a brief exchange. The exchange was broadcast on the jumbo screens adjoining the stage, and Vedder dedicated several songs to the servicemen.
Eddie Vedder's BP Address
Eddie Vedder also had some choice words for BP, operator of the oil rig spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. He raised a bottle of wine and said that he was sure the well-paid executives and board members of BP enjoyed fine spirits. Then he invited them to send their children to the Gulf Coast: "Send your sons and daughters to clean up your f–king mess."
Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews and Orleans Avenue
Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews and Orleans Avenue received a heroes' welcome at the Gentilly Stage. Early in the set, guitarist Peter Murano's amplifier blew out. Some frantic gesticulating from Murano finally got the stagehands' attention, and Shorty told the crowd about the band's whirlwind weekend ("We finished our set at Tipitina's about six hours ago," he said) while a new amp was wheeled out.
Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews and Orleans Avenue, Part II
Troy Andrews exuded a commanding stage presence far exceeding his 24 years. Seamlessly navigating between the trombone, trumpet and vocals, the musical prodigy led Orleans Avenue in a medley of contemporary jazz, funk and hip-hop, including soulful horn-heavy remixes of the Black Eyed Peas' "Let's Get it Started" and hip hop duo Big Tymers' "Stay Fly." Rapper Mystikal joined the group for a closing number.
Revelers shimmied in their ponchos and two-stepped in their shrimp boots and galoshes to the contemporary zydeco sounds of Keith Frank and his family band at the Fais Do-Do Stage. The group's fusion of traditional Cajun, R&B and synthesizer melodies made the crowd get funky, literally. Throngs of people danced the funky chicken as the band played "They Stole My Chicken."
As foretold rains finally came on the fest's closing Sunday, it was, appropriately, during a thrash-about set by Dead Weather. Dubbed "Baby Ruthless" by drummer Jack White, singer Alison Mosshart (of the Kills) dominated the Gentilly Stage, her wet hair flying around like a whip as her black fingernails pounced on a sodden keyboard. Even still, this group, like White's other dalliance the Raconteurs, feels more like a loud tease than a worthy successor to the White Stripes. Having one of the world's best guitarists keep time behind a kit is like putting Dale Earnhardt on a pit crew, and the all-bark, no-bite previews of "Die By the Drop" and "Hustle and Cuss" — from new album Sea of Cowards (Third Man) — didn't show improvement on the band's 2009 debut. Only on the last song, a mic-sharing duet with Mosshart for bluesy slow-burner "Will There Be Enough Water?", did White lift his ax and unleash a wicked solo. And in answer, the sky started crying.
Ellis Marsalis' interpretation of "My Favorite Things" elicited applause from an aisle-sitting-room-only WWOZ Jazz Tent. The audience and the show were genteel, but not stultifyingly so — a drumstick went flying during a rousing solo.
TBC Brass Band
Unfazed by drizzle that threatened to become a downpour as it took the stage, the TBC Brass Band proclaimed, "We gon' make it thunder!" before launching into an energetic, funky set. Hastily deployed umbrellas did more second-line bobbing than water-repelling as the crowd boogied down, grinding packed wet earth into bona fide mud. The band offered a psychedelic second-line take on the Beatles' "Come Together" at the end of the set.
Blues royalty has only one king, and the standing-room crowd on Sunday had an opportunity to see him close out the Blues Tent. Like any regal figure, B.B. King's entry was prefaced by pomp and circumstance before he took the stage. After two introductory numbers and five minutes of introductions, he eased into his set with a "Who dat?" and launched into some hard-hitting, big-band numbers that featured calls and responses with the drummer and horn players. The only time the 84-year-old King ever slowed was when he dedicated "Rock Me Baby" to "the fellas," during which he provided the audience with a few tips, including how to pair music with vodka-laced Mogen David (aka Mad Dog) wine.
Big Chief Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias
One of the most moving performances at the festival came from Big Chief Bo Dollis, who wasn't on stage for most of the Wild Magnolias closing set on the Jazz & Heritage Stage. He sat for some of the two songs he did. And he walked off the stage with some assistance, having suffered health problems in recent years. He was even out of breath while addressing the audience, but when it was time to sing, he let loose with his signature sharp snarling, unmistakable vocals, mustering the energy and breath to sound as fierce as ever, repeating the chorus over and over that he's ready "one more time." It was as stunning a display of will as it was inspiring.