The second weekend of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival started for Count Basin™ at the Jazz & Heritage Stage with the kind welcome, "We're the Paulin Brothers Brass Band. We play traditional New Orleans jazz, so just sit back and relax." And I did. But there was a full weekend of music to attend to, including the soaring horns of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Rebirth Brass Band together on stage, the looped vocals of Theresa Andersson mixing an a cappella song live, the stomp and slap of South Africa's Crocodile Gumboot Dancers, the nonstop groove of Chuck Brown, the sweet serenade of Esperanza Spalding, the master of the rock anthem Neil Young and the closing funk of the Neville Brothers. It was a fitting celebration of the festival's 40th anniversary. Below is a look back at some of the second weekend's memorable moments.
So this is how funk ages. In the middle of the Meters' set, Joseph "Zigaboo" Modeliste told the Acura Stage crowd that he and fellow original Meters George Porter Jr. and Leo Nocentelli were playing "senior funk." The guys were looking a little thicker and slower than when they played the first Jazz Fest, and versions of early hits "People Say," "Africa" and "Cissy Strut" seemed to have aged similarly. The Meter Men also played some of the phatter instrumentals that have been heavily sampled by rap artists.
Even singing while sitting down, the king of soul, Solomon Burke, looked regal wearing a glittery purple suit and a fur-rimmed red cape. Two of his grandchildren perform with his band. And if anyone's keeping count, he mentioned he has 21 kids, 90 grandkids and 20 great-grandkids. Solomon sang (what has to be his most frequent cover tune) "Happy Birthday" to granddaughter Candy Burke, and she sang "I Will Survive" for the crowd.
Theresa Andersson is on a tear. She was a one-woman band through much of her set and employed the same technology she used on Hummingbird, Go! to loop her own live samples while singing.
The Doc Is In
Doc Watson packed the Blues Tent for an intimate, Opry-esque set, accompanied by two guitarists, including his grandson. The 86-year-old flatpicking folkie worked through an extensive repertoire of Appalachian folk, storytelling and tunes from across the American musical landscape, including a moving rendition of "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess.
Sometimes quantity and quality have a lot in common. There were a couple of super-sized jam sessions well worth repeating at future festivals. The Glass House Reunion on the Congo Square Stage on Friday was largely a Dirty Dozen Brass Band show. For a couple of songs in the middle of the set, however, the Rebirth Brass Band and Trombone Shorty joined in. That's probably more musicians than could fit in the tiny Glass House bar, but it was an amazing set. On Saturday, while many fans chose between Bon Jovi and the Kings of Leon, there was an amazing set on the Jazz & Heritage Stage. The Midnight Disturbers are a conglomeration of members of Galactic, including Ben Ellman (sax) and Stanton Moore (drums), Big Sam Williams (trombone), Trombone Shorty (trumpet), Shamarr Allen (trumpet) and many others. They gave a big funky shout out to the 6th Ward with songs like "Buck it Like a Horse." Big jams like this make for great sets.
Bonnie Raitt is a familiar face at the Acura Stage. And it's customary for Jon Cleary, who toured with her band for years, to join her for a few songs, as he did Friday. But Bonnie called on more locals for assistance. On the blues tune "Woman, Be Wise" by Sippy Wallace, which Raitt covered on her first album, she was joined by clarinetist Evan Christopher, trumpeter James Andrews and Glen David Andrews on trombone. The song warns women not to brag about their men, and hence, advertise them to other women. But with the musicians Raitt had on stage, a little bragging is understandable.
Those Aren't Shrimp Boots
South Africa's Crocodile Gumboot Dancers offered an exotic change of pace to fans at the Fais Do-Do Stage. Gumboot dancing is a legacy of both the gold mines and apartheid. Before it evolved into a form of artistic expression, mine workers had developed a system of stomping and boot slapping to communicate in the dark, oppressive mines where they worked. On stage, the dancers were backed by two guitars and a violin, almost making the group sound like Cajun music mixed with an African drone sound. It was a fascinating performance that would have been better if someone had offered some explanation of the gumboot traditions.
Look out, world. Backed only by a trio of guitar, drums and piano, 24-year-old jazz empress Esperanza Spalding shredded the double bass and recalled the jazz of Dave Brubeck, Brazil and tropicalia. She also sang like a cross between Astrud Gilberto and Betty Carter while playing complex bass lines. When her voice rang clear on the falsetto notes at the end of "Body and Soul," the audience and the Jazz Tent itself reverberated as one.
Catch of the Fest
The best food item at the fest this year came from seasoned veteran Wayne Baquet. His trout Baquet, a grilled fillet liberally topped with lump crabmeat and lemon butter, was elegant enough to serve in any of the city's white-tablecloth restaurants, yet stood up to mass production and outdoor service at the Fair Grounds. At $8, it even qualified as a bargain.
Clarinetist/singer Doreen Ketchens is known for putting her stamp on New Orleans jazz standards, and especially for making already bawdy numbers a bit racier with her asides and allusions. She reached new highs, and lows, in the Economy Hall Tent when she wove together a story of alcohol-fueled seduction, lowdown dance floor abandon and unexpected moral fortitude in a prelude to Blu Lu Barker's classic "Don't You Feel My Leg."
Among the attractions at an after-fest block party near Liuzza's by the Track was an actual camel. The gentle, loping creature usually resides at Juneau's Safari Camp, a refuge for exotic animals in Avoyelles Parish. Previous exotic visitors have included a kangaroo, but the camel must have been the biggest head-turner for people coursing down North Lopez Street that evening.
Heal to Toe
When 12-year-old Gabby Snyder took the stage with the Tremé Brass Band in the Economy Hall Tent, her sassy vocals on "Bourbon Street Parade" brought the house down. While she stood a full 2 feet shorter than most of the band members, her voice was the biggest sound in the tent, rousing even a man wearing a cast from knee to toe. Donning a fez and grabbing an umbrella, he paraded behind the Second Line Jammers Social Aid and Pleasure Club.
Livin' on a Prayer
Many music fans enjoyed Bon Jovi's set as they jumped along with Jon, hands in the air, and shared air guitar solos with Richie Sambora. Outside the Fair Grounds gates a humble grotto of dedication sat on a Maurepas Street cottage porch. Balanced on a bar stool, the "International Special Sacred Shrine of Jon Bon Jovi" included a portrait of the singer wearing a crown of roses flanked by a novena candle and a can of Aqua Net. A note said the shrine "welcomes enthusiasts to celebrate the cultural phenomenon of the man who wrote what is arguably the best power ballad of all time, 'I'll Be There for You.'" (Bret Michaels, where is the love?)
Truth to Power
At the Congo Square stage, Truth Universal (with DJ EF Cuttin' supplying the beats) spit out politically conscious hip-hop laced with some of the most heated commentary heard at the Fair Grounds. Truth dropped buzz-killing bombs on a laundry list of city issues. On the positive side, he brought his daughter on stage for a sweet rap ("you're the best part of my existence"). Truth opened and closed with a moment of silence and teary-eyed spoken word for fallen New Orleans rapper Bionik Brown. Truth proved, to borrow a lyric from him, he's one of "New Orleans finest, minus the blue suits."
World on a String
More like a rock band's guitarist than a master of the "n'goni," a stringed gourd
instrument, modern-day West African griot Cheick Hamala Diabate beseeched the Jazz Fest audience "Our energy comes from you." On the Lagniappe stage, accompanied by lively dancers from Mali, Diabate's band created intricate repetitive layers with drums and traditional African stringed instruments. It was borderline psychedelic and rocked by any Western standard. During his set in the Blues Tent, he played a banjo to illustrate the American instrument doesn't fall far from the n'goni tree.
The Ensemble Fatien turned in an exciting show in the Jazz Tent. Percussionist Seguenon Kone of Ivory Coast was joined by Dr. Michael White (clarinet), Jason Marsalis (vibes), Bruce Barnes (accordion), Marc Stone (lap steel guitar) and others — and all wore brightly colored African prints, even the always sharply dressed White, who composed "Ancestral Reunion" for the event. There were also songs of Kone's in which the West African rhythm section took over and the jazz musicians seemed to tread in carefully. There were some brilliant moments, including Margie Perez's soulful singing on "St. James Infirmary." The set was in some ways an improvisational answer to the first weekend's Congo Square suite by Wynton Marsalis and Yacub Addy.
Bone Crunching Rock
Bonerama is the best trombone-driven hard rock band in the universe. If only the Corps of Engineers could have engineered something as solid as the wall of sound the band produced on Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks."
Robert Johnson may have sold his soul to the devil for his blues chops, but if ever there was a group that could recover it for him, it's the Johnson Extension (no relation). The three-generation ensemble's powerful singing, stomping and praising of Jesus in the Gospel Tent was a force to be reckoned with.
City by the Bayou
The ever dapper and charming Tony Bennett may have reeled in another generation of fans at the Gentilly Stage. He was at the top of his 82-year-old game singing some of his biggest hits and, of course, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." Late in a version of "The Good Life," he told the audience, "I want to dedicate this song to Britney Spears" before singing the lines, "Well, just wake up, and kiss the good life goodbye."
Music has a funny way of stirring memories. I was listing to the deep, honking baritone saxophone of Los Lobos' Steve Berlin when I suddenly remembered right where I was when I first heard the band's first national label release, "Will the Wolf Survive?" And right as I realized it was Berlin's sound (which owes a lot to New Orleans' great Alvin "Red" Tyler), he played the opening riff from the Meters' "Cissy Strut."
Mr. Brown Go-Gos to Washington
There's no such thing as out-of-pocket when Chuck Brown, the "Godfather of Go-Go," is pitching the groove. The Washington, D.C.-based original gives us faith there's always someone we can count on in the nation's capital. And please give that man a bridge.
A Sno-Ball's Chance
Sno-Balls seem to have issues with climate change. As Sunday afternoon changed quickly from stifling heat to a fierce downpour, one young man ecstatically greeted the rain until he realized it transformed one of Plum Street's finest into a cup of juice. His own transformation from bliss to panic was truly tragic.
Pouring It On
The torrential downpour may have contributed to Frankie Beverly and Maze taking the stage a half hour late, but the crowd didn't care. They waved umbrellas to the groove and then ditched the rain gear in favor of waving arms and index fingers during "We Are the One."
The Big Chief Grandstand constructed on the track for Acura Stage viewing may be the worst addition to Jazz Fest this year. Few big spenders seemed to enjoy its vantage point, while many had to trudge around the monstrosity.
Lee Dorsey, Jessie Hill and Ernie K-Doe couldn't make it to Jazz Fest — the generational R&B singers died in 1986, 1996 and 2001, respectively — but their hits rang out from the Acura Stage anyway, thanks to a superlative set on Sunday by the man behind the music, Allen Toussaint. Sitting at a Steinway center stage, "Mr. New Orleans" led a 10-man band (featuring guitarist Renard Poche and trombonist Big Sam Williams), segueing smoothly into a medley spanning the producer/arranger/performer's five-decade legacy: from '60s singles "Mother-in-Law," "Fortune Teller" and "Working in a Coal Mine" to recent work with Elvis Costello and much in between.
Once Neil Young took the Acura Stage Sunday afternoon, there was only one question left on the minds of the huddled masses: Would we get firewalker Neil or peacemaker Neil, Crazy Horse or Harvest? The answer was a bit of both, and sometimes in the same song. Wearing black shades and a shoulder-length grey shag, Young opened "Love and Only Love" with a scorching guitar solo that settled down into a peaceful chorus. He played a solo acoustic version of "The Needle and the Damage Done" and a raging distortion-heavy 16-minute version of "Down By the River." His closing cover of the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" may go down in Jazz Fest lore: the melodic, multipart ditty ceding to unforgiving feedback (as a menacing Young waved the guitar at amps), guitar strings scraped against microphones and, ultimately, the instrument was left with its strings a broken and frayed mess at center stage.