Congo Square Stage
Shine may be the key word for Ivan "TR Shine" Burgess' music. The Belizean artist creates bright, beat-driven tracks meant to make a crowd move. Shine is a recent, repeat-winner of Belize's National Song Competition. Shine has excelled in the Carnival category, in which the National Institute of Culture and History explicitly looks for songs to use for "celebratory purposes." After winning in back-to-back years, he withdrew in 2015 to help promote younger artists.
Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys
Sheraton Fais Do-Do Stage
Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys took up the mantle of Cajun music more than 25 years ago, one of a handful of young bands inspired by revivalists such as Dewey Balfa. The group has released more than a dozen albums full of new accordion- and fiddle-led, French-sung tunes. It has toured extensively and have been highlighted on an NPR Tiny Desk concert. In 2015, the band released its first album in four years, Voyageurs. Fans at the Fais Do-Do Stage can expect to hear a mix of songs like the grandiose "Au Revoir Grand Mamou" and foot-stompers like "La Danse De Mardi Gras."
Fans may notice the schedule doesn't say "Grace Potter & the Nocturnals," and that isn't a mistake. Last summer, the singer-songwriter put out her first solo album after a decade of churning out rock and soul with the band. While some of the Nocturnals sat in for the sessions, a quick listen to Midnight shows this is something else entirely. Potter's big riffs and attitude still shine through, but she's comfortably putting her spin on power pop with the new material. There are electric sounds that would fit on an MGMT record and soaring choruses that wouldn't be out of place on Top 40 radio. Inevitably, there will be some big guitar solos during her set, but the new songs may mean a few sing-alongs could make for equally memorable moments.
Geri Allen: The Erroll Garner Jazz Project
Zatarain's/ WWOZ Jazz Tent
Pianist Geri Allen is an accomplished composer, but recently she has devoted herself to honoring jazz legend Erroll Garner, whose Concert By The Sea became one of the best selling jazz albums of all-time 60 years ago. Last fall, Allen coproduced a rerelease that included 11 previously unheard tracks. The restoration effort led to nominations for Grammy and NAACP Image awards, and Allen organized a Garner tribute concert to coincide with the 2015 Monterey Jazz Festival. Now she's bringing her Garner expertise to Jazz Fest.
People's Health Economy Hall Tent
Rising star trumpeter Bria Skonberg is on a roll. In 2013, the British Columbia native-turned-New Yorker co-founded her own event — the New York Hot Jazz Festival, celebrating 1920s-style jazz — and her performances drew a Jazz at Lincoln Center Swing! Award last year. Skonberg incorporates New Orleans' jazz influences into her work, telling interviewers that coming to the Crescent City as a young musician changed her career. Songs like "Go Tell It" (with its second line-inspired percussion) from Skonberg's latest release make the relationship clear. She talks about her music on the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage from 2:30 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.
Congo Square Stage
Ask five people about Janelle Monae, and you could get five different reference points. Her intense live shows have drawn comparisons to James Brown. Monae's ability to seamlessly tiptoe between genres and weave fantastical narratives into her lyrics also recalls the late David Bowie. Modern giants including Erykah Badu want to collaborate with her as much as legends Nile Rodgers and Duran Duran. She even performs with an orchestra on occasion.
Before Monae dives into acting this fall (look for her in Hidden Figures, a film about the unsung black women mathematicians who helped NASA launch the space program), she's playing a handful of summer concerts beginning with this Jazz Fest show. Even though 2013's The Electric Lady is her most recent full-length release, Monae has consistently churned out hit singles. The latest — last year's "Yoga" — was a stylistic departure into club music that showed her versatility. Monae is known to sneak in a crowd-pleasing cover (like her take on "Heroes," which resurfaced earlier this year), so everything is on the table for this set.
It's not clear how it happened, but Steely Dan suddenly has multigenerational appeal. While the soft rock legends remain a staple of classic rock radio, the band is equally likely to be on a Spotify playlist for a club or house party. Maybe being cited as Walter White's favorite band on Breaking Bad did the trick, or perhaps winning over a 2015 Coachella crowd did the trick. Whatever the case, young acts like White Denim are paying homage with covers and Steely Dan's festival crowds are only getting bigger.
Donald Fagen and Walter Becker's jazzy soft rock band put out a string of albums in the 1970s, featuring the hits "Reelin' in the Years" and "Rikki Don't Lose that Number." The band broke up and remained defunct through the 1980s before reuniting and has sporadically released new work. It has toured fairly regularly in the last five years, and audiences can expect its harmonies and light grooves to sound as good as they did on 1970s vinyl.
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
Nothing can stop Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, the quintessential modern big band for fans of soul music. Much has happened since the band's last appearance at Jazz Fest four years ago, the most public story being Jones' battle with cancer. After her 2013 diagnosis, she recovered and rejoined her bandmates to record and tour in support of their Grammy-nominated 2014 LP, Give the People What They Want. (The comeback sparked a documentary, Miss Sharon Jones!, and wide release is expected this year.)
Last fall, Jones told a Toronto Film Festival crowd that her cancer recurred, but the band wouldn't be stopped. It released a holiday album in 2015 and has toured throughout 2016. Its sound is tailor-made for Jazz Fest, with big brass lines, an emphasis on rhythm and Jones' commanding alto. Jones told Rolling Stone she'd keep fighting, and so far this year, Jones & The Dap-Kings sound as strong as ever.
• Colin Lake