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A Look Back at Jazz Fest 2014 

Count Basin (and friends) review the highlights — and a few lowlights — of the Jazz & Heritage Festival

click to enlarge Bruce Springsteen and the horn section of the E Street Band paid homage to New Orleans with an extended version of "When the Saints Go Marching In."

Photo by Scott Saltzman

Bruce Springsteen and the horn section of the E Street Band paid homage to New Orleans with an extended version of "When the Saints Go Marching In."

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is designed to showcase the latest fruits and branches extending from Louisiana music, including jazz, blues, gospel, R&B, Cajun, zydeco and more. The fest featured plenty of big rock acts, jazz giants and a lot more than blues in the blues tent, from Aaron Neville's singing to Niger's wildly rhythmic Bombino to the jazz and swing of New York's Steve Bernstein, Henry Butler and the Hot 9. Mardi Gras Indians and Brazilian parading groups added to the Carnival spirit at the Fair Grounds. Here's Count Basin's look back at two big weekends at Jazz Fest.

Keep on not trucking

  Six albums into a successful solo career since leaving the Drive-By Truckers in 2006, singer-songwriter and world-class guitarist Jason Isbell hit the Samsung Galaxy Stage with a set that drew heavily from last year's intimate Southeastern. Isbell transformed his Truckers-era classic "Decoration Day" into a blistering slide guitar marathon and delivered a high-energy finale that included another song from that era, "Ain't Never Gonna Change." Toward the end of Jason Isbell's on-point (tearjerker) set, a man dropped to one knee and proposed to his girlfriend, who quickly accepted. "Did you just propose?" Isbell asked from the stage. "I hope that song ('Cover Me Up') works out as well for y'all as it has for me."

Square roots

  At the Congo Square Stage, Public Enemy's Chuck D called the actual Congo Square the "home of all music" before the group launched into a mix of hits and obscurities that seemed like an alternate history of hip-hop — one not about conspicuous consumption and glorification of various beefs. At several points during the festival, the stage seemed to be a time-travel wormhole back to the 1980s and early 1990s, whether it was Public Enemy's DJ working up Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or the Soul Rebels' medley of Eurythmics "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" and The Romantics "Talking In Your Sleep." Appearances by Chocolate Milk, Charlie Wilson and Chaka Khan also harkened back to the days of the bus stop and the electric slide.

Got the blues

  With a black top hat offset by a white Stratocaster, Chris Thomas King peeled off extended, lightly distorted guitar solos throughout his set in the Blues Tent. King reached peak intensity with a version of Buddy Guy's "Damn Right I've Got the Blues" before switching to piano for covers of Leon Russell's "A Song For You" and Ray Charles' "I've Got a Woman." King dedicated his performance to his father, Baton Rouge blues legend Tabby Thomas, who passed away Jan. 1 of this year.

Also cocky but good

  New Orleans blues and R&B singer Tommy Singleton's Blues Tent set included a three-song tribute to Ernie K-Doe. It probably didn't hurt that K-Doe's biographer Ben Sandmel was playing drums, alongside former K-Doe collaborator Ernie Vincent on guitar. The band broke into "T'aint It the Truth," "A Certain Girl" and "Mother-in-Law" and Singleton told the crowd, "If K-Doe was here today, he'd say, "I'm cocky but I'm good!'"

Neckbone deep

  Carlos Santana — son of Mexican immigrants, counterculture icon and 2013 Kennedy Center Honors inductee — showed why he's a national treasure during an Acura Stage set. Weaving delicate, psychedelic guitar work throughout, Santana dug deep into his catalogue for "Fried Neckbones" (his 1986 Live at the Fillmore album features an incredible version) and welcomed Matchbox Twenty's Rob Thomas on stage to recapture their 1999 hit "Smooth."

Carnival strings

  Making its first U.S. appearance, Baiana System played several sets across the first weekend of Jazz Fest. The band's potent mix of reggae, hip-hop and African sounds centered on the tiny, five-string electric Bahaian guitar, which was developed in the 1950s to be used during Carnival celebrations. Bandleader Robertinho Barreto made the most of the Bahaian guitar's high, piercing voice, running it through various effects to create sounds that recalled modern guitarists ranging from U2's The Edge to Malian great Ali Farka Toure.

Hootenanny

  The rowdy frat-party-meets-tent-revival vibe of The Avett Brothers was in full effect, with the band leaning heavily on songs from 2009's Rick Ruben-produced I and Love and You. While the Avetts' cover of "Amazing Grace" left something to be desired, a toe-tapping, arm-flailing version of John Denver's "Thank God I'm a County Boy" provoked a singalong from the first note to the last "yee-haw!"

On the lido deck

  Boz Scaggs thrilled fans with "Lido Shuffle" and the extended blues jam "Somebody Loan Me a Dime." He also shared the spotlight, as backup singer Ms. Monet took center stage for a soulful rendition of Sly and the Family Stone's "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" that segued into Sam & Dave's "I Thank You." Scaggs also brought out Allen Toussaint to play "Hercules," a funky Toussaint-penned number originally recorded with Aaron Neville.

Free Zachary Richard!

  Zachary Richard said one of the perks of being a Louisiana songwriter is using the state's colorful characters to provide inspiration, including Jean Saint Malo, leader of an 18th-century slave revolt. Before launching into the French-language "La Ballade de Jean Saint Melo," Richard told the audience, "This is not about a black-and-white thing, this is a freedom thing." He urged the crowd to shout along with the song's refrain, "Liberte! Liberte!"

Ya-ya Brotherhood

  The rock-and-funk group Royal Southern Brotherhood, featuring guitarist Devon Allman and Cyril Neville, played many songs from its self-titled 2012 release. "Fired Up" featured a Latin-inspired rhythm, which gave Allman a chance to show off his formidable skills, and saxophonist Karl Denson joined the group for a couple of songs, including "Running Water" from Neville's 2013 album Magic Honey. Neville dedicated the performance to the song's co-writer, blues guitarist Walter Trout, who is battling liver disease.

Over twerked

  At the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage, WYES' Peggy Scott Laborde interviewed bounce artist Big Freedia and quickly raised the issue of "twerking." Freedia's stock response to questions about Miley Cyrus tweaking at the MTV Video Music Awards is that he's tired of talking about Cyrus ("I'm over twerking"). But he noted that the two met when Cyrus performed recently in New Orleans. And they got their respective dancers together to share moves, but Freedia says it was a lopsided exchange. "We didn't get anything from them."

Azz everywhere

  "Turn your ass to the front, we don't wanna see no faces," Big Freedia instructed eager volunteers who came on to the Congo Square Stage to perform during "Azz Everywhere." The crowd thrilled to the show as amateur dancers showed off their bounce skills, including a bounce off to 10th Ward Buck's "Where Is D Boyz." Afterwards Freedia commended the dancer's efforts: "I appreciate each and every ass that was up here."

Space Shifters and time warps

  Robert Plant led the Sensational Space Shifters through an often psychedelic-tinged flurry of Led Zeppelin tunes, and he reminisced about visits to the Crescent City in the 1970s, when Zeppelin had Clarence Gatemouth Brown and Snooks Eaglin play at parties for them. Plant also talked about other experiences in the Delta, including a trip to Clarksdale, Mississippi, where members tried to connect with some of the bluesmen who influenced them as well as a wave of British musicians. That was a segue way for the Space Shifters to play "Fixing to Die" by Booker White (aka Bukka White) and "Whole Lotta Love," which originally attracted controversy over similarities to a Muddy Waters song. More straightforward connections to roots music was the prominent play of Gambian musician Juldeh Camara, who led the band on a ritti, essentially a one-string fiddle, in some extended jams.

Phish phood

  Many people wondered if legions of self-described "phans" of Phish would resemble the crowd the band attracted to its 1996 Jazz Fest engagement — a semi-nomadic following of dedicated jam-band fans who had latched onto Phish after the death of the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia. One could eavesdrop on fleeting earfuls of casual looniness at Acura Stage. One man boasted that while under the influence of psilocybin mushrooms the night before, he had perfectly predicted the upcoming set list. That's not an easy task given the band's penchant for idiosyncratic set lists. Phish chose a collection of spaced-out phavorites, including concert standards "Birds of a Feather" and "Streets of Cairo" inside one big performance of "Twist." Bandleader Trey Anastasio teased the crowd with a snippet of "Down with Disease," eliciting groans when the band pulled back, but phans were soon grooving again as the band played on.

Going rogue

  Tex-Mex rockers The Mavericks are celebrating 25 years together and a second year at Jazz Fest. Singer Raul Malo told the Samsung Galaxy Stage crowd, "We love this city for all the obvious reasons and then some." Then he went off-script with a pitch-perfect rendition of Roy Orbison's "Blue Bayou," telling the audience, "This one isn't on the set list, but it just kinda feels right."

Ecstatic grooves

  Niger guitarist Bombino's high energy, rock-heavy Blues Tent set featured propulsive cycles of thickly wrought electric blues. The lyrics of his shimmering vocal melodies were not in English, but the band created driving rhythmic structures that seemed to transcend not just language but time and space. Bombino's trilled and sometimes eerie vocals intimated the sense of longing and struggle that traditional Tuareg music shares with Western blues.

  The Blues Tent crowd roared when Bombino launched himself into overdrive, jumping up and down and spinning around as if his blistering, pick-free jams needed any more emphasis. But the bassist kept the set rooted in deep lines of grit executed on a uniquely shaped bass with neon pink strings. No wonder the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach only played bass on one of the tracks he produced for Bombino's album, Nomad.

Hiatt expectations

  After a rousing version of "Thing Called Love," John Hiatt playfully reminded "youngsters" in the audience that it was he, not Bonnie Raitt, who wrote the hit song. The set included some new material, like the blues tinged "Long Time Coming," but it also featured crowd-pleasers such as "Drive South" from his 1988 Slow Turning album, which was recorded with Sonny Landreth and a band he assembled for Hiatt, The Goners.

Anemic Weekend

  While the performance was fine, Vampire Weekend's set was short on surprises. Bassist Chris Baio leapt and danced his way around the stage, but the rest of the group was far less enthusiastic than doe-eyed fans in the front row. The group diligently moved through the highs and lows of its critically acclaimed recent album, starting the set with the chaotic "Diane Young." Singer Ezra Koenig's cool approach on songs like "Step" wasn't inappropriate for the material, but he seemed to fizzle as the set progressed.

Homecoming

  Country singer/songwriter Jim McCormick teased his audience, "We're gonna do one more sad song and then move right into the religious material," but the set favored more hopeful and upbeat tunes such as "Take Me Home With You." A rugged version of Tim McGraw's McCormick-penned hit "Louisiana" included a beautiful three-part harmony with Hanks and singer Susan Cowsill.

Jazz fritter

  In conjunction with the Brazilian Cultural Exchange Pavilion, local restaurant Carmo prepared Brazilian food near the Casa do Brasil tent. Pao de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread) is a South American take on French gougeres, with oozing balls of cheese encased by chewy dough. The acaraje — black-eyed pea fritters with vatapa (cashew, peanut and coconut paste) and vegetables (available with shrimp) — were cooked to order and crunchy and surprisingly light.

Heavy as a feather

  Flanked by a line of familial Indians festooned in hot pink feathers, plus a pair of Skull and Bone Gang skeletons, Monk Boudreaux's Jazz and Heritage Stage appearance was visually stunning. The singer delivered Indian standards like "(Somebody Got) Soul Soul Soul" as well as a few reggae-infused melodies. Among the standout moments were Boudreaux's lush, stormy and extended incantation at the beginning of "Shallow Water" and pint-sized drummer-turned dancer, N'quan Boudreaux, who threw down some fancy footwork and moved center stage to strut in front of his big chief.

Creeping veganism

  The only new edible option in the regular festival lineup was the spicy grilled tofu and vegetables with peanut sauce from Gambian Foods. While it didn't pack promised spicy heat, the dish's bright, festive appearance and generous portions proved to be a healthy and satisfying choice.

Son and Mooney
click to enlarge Brazilian parading percussion group Os Negoes leads a giant, 165-foot long Amazonian snake through the Fair Grounds. - PHOTO BY SCOTT SALTZMAN
  • Photo by Scott Saltzman
  • Brazilian parading percussion group Os Negoes leads a giant, 165-foot long Amazonian snake through the Fair Grounds.

  Guitarist John Mooney fuses Mississippi Delta blues with New Orleans funk but for his set in the Blues Tent, the band placed a three-conga rig front and center and it paid off in a display of percussive flair. The group tore through a set with cuts from its newest release Son & Moon, and Mooney moved smoothly from full-throated ragers to downtempo ballads. The set also included a heartfelt tribute to blues icon Son House, who was an early mentor to Mooney and inspiration for his latest album.

Not fade away

  Stanton Moore's virtuosic drum solo-turned-duo with guest vibes player Mike Dillon galvanized Galactic's set. But the force of Maggie Koerner's vocal performance was the real star of a set that featured chestnuts from Galactic's early days and recent tunes like the bounce-centric new single "Dolla Diva." Koerner's belting reached a new height when, in the final moments of "Gimme Shelter," she delivered the line, "I'm gonna fade away" with so much dynamism it looked like her jaw might pop off its hinges.

Uptown second line

  While second line parades are common in the Economy Hall Tent, and dancing isn't totally absent from the contemporary jazz tent, Delfeayo Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra brought the Jazz Tent crowd to its feet when they paraded off the stage and through the aisles to a smoking rendition of "Li'l Liza Jane."

Sugar and spice

  What exactly did Sixto Rodriguez say to his New Orleans-based fill-in band during long, awkward pauses between virtually every song in his performance at the Blues Tent? That's a question guitarist Alex McMurray, who seemed to be the focus of Rodriguez's attention during those breaks, will probably be asked often in coming weeks.

  The breaks gave the set an off-kilter flow and Rodriguez seemed frail, but he was at his best performing music with a vulnerable vibe. His guitar work was graceful and his voice strong on the moody "Sugar Man" (which references Searching for Sugar Man, a documentary that reignited his career). The lovely but sad "Streetboy" elicited almost as much love from the crowd, while tunes like "Lucille" seemed to require a confidence Rodriguez might not have had in him.

Not the cream of the crop

  Eric Clapton's set was full of low-key, acoustic guitar work, including a sedate version of "Layla," and that seemed to leave many disappointed. They were not consoled by the few highlights of the Cream-free set, which were covers "Crossroads" (Robert Johnson), "Cocaine" (J.J. Cale) and Jimmy Cox's "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out."

Business, man

  During a four-song stretch, local singer/songwriter Andrew Duhon mentioned that his latest album, The Moorings, was available at the back of the Fais Do-Do stage area following each tune. The best plug? "That last song is on the CD too, just saying. It was nominated for a Grammy, but we lost to Daft Punk." But the best song? Duhon brought out Maggie Koener to perform Ray LaMontagne's "Three More Days" because she introduced him to it in college. The duo added their own twist, turning it into a medley with parts of "Son of a Preacher Man."

El polka

  The master of the bajo sexto and a member of the Texas Tornadoes (with the late Doug Sahm and Freddy Fender with Flaco Jimenez and Augie Meyers) for 30 years, Max Baca displayed Hendrix-like virtuosity on the low-pitched, 12-string Mexican instrument with his band Los Texmaniacs. With help from his gifted 22-year-old nephew Josh Baca on accordion, he demonstrated how polkas brought by German settlers to central Texas played a central role in the creation of the music now known as Tex-Mex or conjunto. The bajo sexto replaced the sounds produced by the accordion players' left hand, Boca explained, freeing up the accordion as a lead voice in the new style of music.

Party time

  The Hot 8 Brass Band is known for a party-friendly blend of hip-hop and traditional brass band music, and the group offered two special celebratory selections during its set. An extended version of "New Orleans After The City" with shout outs to everything from the New Orleans Saints to gumbo to the area code. The band pointed out that Jazz Fest is one of the few festivals Outkast isn't playing this year, and it filled the gap with a jam on "So Fresh, So Clean."

Hooked on classics

  Classic rock reared its head across festival stages. Violin virtuoso Amanda Shaw unleashed a version of The Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go" that would be at home on a Dave Matthews record. Alejandro Escovedo tapped into his early punk roots and channeled Joe Strummer, performing "Straight to Hell," and Christina Aguilera got the Led out with Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love." But the most virtuoso take came from Mark Braud's New Orleans Jazz Giants during a rendition of "St. James Infirmary" when Braud's trumpet solo featured a nod to the Rolling Stones as he adapted a riff from "It's Only Rock 'n Roll (But I Like It)."

Old school oracle

  The Wave had people moving with nods to both coasts (his set featured both B.I.G. and Tupac covers) and placing playful lyrics (referencing subjects as disparate as software gurus Bill Gates and Larry Ellison) over Earth, Wind, and Fire samples. But the biggest applause came after The Wave introduced a new song, "Dolla' Bill." The Wave explained he likes to pick his daughter up from school whenever he's home in New Orleans, and this track is built around a little vocal riff she would sing on the way home: "Dollar bill, dollar bill, dollar bill ..."

Something good

  Chaka Khan's set went back to the start of her career with Rufus, incorporating songs like "Tell Me Something Good" and "Pack'd My Bags." With "I Feel For You" and "I'm A Woman (I'm A Backbone)" to start and mega-hits "I'm Every Woman" later on, the legendary diva kept fans moving. The audience joined in a mass sing-along to virtually every chorus, but Khan still boasts that piercing high register to cut above the crowd.

Houston, you have a problem

  Austin, Texas-based Alejandro Escovedo introduced "Bottom of the World" by explaining it's about regional rival Houston. "Austin is turning into Houston," he lamented, noting that the days of songwriters Townes Van Zandt, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson being central figures to the city are long gone. The lyrics make it clear that's not a good thing: "As I watch the cities of the world reduced to ashes, from where I sit at the bottom of the world." "If you're from Houston, I apologize greatly about my point of view," he concluded before he dedicated the song to an audience member who mistook him for Rodriguez.

Pedal power
click to enlarge Guitarist Bombino and his base player propelled a rhythmic fury in the Blues Tent. - PHOTO BY SCOTT SALTZMAN
  • Photo by Scott Saltzman
  • Guitarist Bombino and his base player propelled a rhythmic fury in the Blues Tent.

  With just her cello and an effects pedal, Helen Gillet built complex songs by layering and looping pizzicato plucking, percussive tapping and a wash of vocal incantations. Her eclectic set included French chansons, gypsy jazz and a selection from a Hungarian rock opera, but the highlight was a heart-wrenching rendition of "Julien," from her self-titled solo album about a child who "flew too soon." Gillet dedicated the song to her cousin Julien Gillet, and the lush arrangement, she said, "is the reason I started performing with a loop pedal in the first place."

Take it to the streets

  "How many people seen that band by Foot Locker?" asked a horn player from the TBC Brass Band, referring to the corner of Canal and Bourbon streets where the band busks. "We're that band." TBC offered up an infectious three-song medley and had the audience singing along to the Fat Albert theme song and the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" before easing into Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody."

Winter is coming

  Legendary Texas guitarist Johnny Winter came out playing loud and loose and his band ripped through classic blues numbers. The aging Winter was as nimble as ever in a string of familiar songs, including "Johnny B. Goode," "Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl" and "I Got My Mojo Working," all performed at a breakneck pace. Winter closed with a 10-minute version of Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited."

Playing for three

  Johnnyswim, the folk and soul pop and husband-and-wife duo of Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano, was riding high following the April 29 Diamonds and exposure on NPR's Tiny Desk and The Late Show with David Letterman. Between furious strumming by Ramirez and soulful crooning by Sudano on songs like the title track "Diamonds" and "Home," the couple spoke about their marriage and the new album, which they referred to as their "baby." Sudano quipped that it has deprived them of sleep, but is well worth the effort.

Glory days

  Notably missing from Bruce Springsteen's 2012 Jazz Fest set was "Thunder Road," the Born to Run album opener and a fan favorite live. But after leading a massive, New Orleans jazz-inspired horn explosion — on "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "Pay Me My Money Down" — Springsteen and keyboardist Roy Bittan hit the familiar notes on their respective harmonica and piano. The spectacular finale was a close mirror to 2012, which harkened back to 2006, when Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions band headlined the first Fest after the federal floods, a performance Springsteen called one of the most memorable of his career.

  With Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello substituted for longtime sideman Steven Van Zandt, the E Street Band sounded more familiar in song choices than in its 2012 set's sonic force. On "The Ghost of Tom Joad," Morello delivered an extended searing guitar solo, and on opener "High Hopes," Morello's piercing harmonics rang out over Max Weinberg's thunderous toms. From there, Morello largely played background to Springsteen's excellent lead. Other special guests, included singer/songwriter Rickie Lee Jones, who sat in with Patti Scialfa on backing vocals, and Creedence Clearwater Revival's John Fogerty, who joined the band for killer takes on "Green River" and "Proud Mary." The nearly three-hour set secured Springsteen's place among the hardest-working, sweat-soaked performers at the Fest and beyond. Not bad for 64.

Lost my head

  Seattle folk-pop band The Head and the Heart played recent single "Shake" early in its set at the Fais Do-Do Stage, but it was 2010 breakout song "Lost In My Mind" that got the biggest reaction from the young crowd. Singer Jonathan Russell said the band was still reeling from seeing Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires and some other fest activities the day before. "We spilled out on the street, we drank some two-dollar beers, and, yes, we did some Jell-O shots."

Rhythm session

  The rhythmic sensibilities at work among Stanton Moore, James Singleton and David Torkanowsky yielded more than a few innovations in time and space as they interpreted works by James Black and Herbie Hancock and added their own compositions. Moore favored lushness over hard edges in his solos, demonstrating the softer side of a complex groove. The group imbued his funk-soaked "Tchefunkta" with pliant, rolling drum figures that added dynamics to the tune's signature bass motif. He later made a point of giving props to drummers Herlin Riley, Shannon Powell, Johnny Vidacovich and other mentors before wrapping things up with a blistering version of Black's "Magnolia Triangle."

New York Times disses Native Americans

  In his wrap-up of Jazz Fest's first weekend, New York Times critic Ben Sisario said there was no electronic dance music at Jazz Fest. He was wrong. Canadian producers and DJ trio A Tribe Called Red keeps their beats and samples rooted in what they call "electric pow-wow music," but the combination of ecstatic, high-ranged Native American vocals and uptempo, dance-inducing pace had a decisively electronic feel.

  Tempos raced through stop-starts and clusters of drum-and-bass-paced beats for most of the set before the trio let one sample linger: Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy." The crowd filled in the lyrics — until the guys turned the beat around, throwing the sing-songy finish through an effect that transformed it into a pummeling series of sharp-edged synethesized lines.

Glori days

  Local supergroup The Glorioskis — featuring cellist Helen Gillet, ukulele player Debbie Davis and guitarist Myshkin — lit up the Lagniappe Stage with a wide-ranging repertoire that never failed to surprise. Gillet sang lead on Patsy Cline's "She's Got You" with delicate two-part harmonies from Myshkin and Davis, leading to a cello solo by Gillet that made the crowd erupt in spontaneous applause. The trio finished with a spirited cover of the Beatles' "Drive My Car" with the chorus sung in French and Gillet looping instrumental parts to build a virtual symphony of cellos.

Choked up

  Introduced as "Lyle Lovett and his acoustic band," the always off-kilter Texas Troubadour launched into a rousing version of "Choke My Chicken," a sentiment that initially seemed at odds with his dignified and nattily dressed ensemble. Featuring legendary country sidemen like fiddle player Luke Bulla and guitarist Mike Sewell, the band moved gracefully from Texas swing to rootsy blues to new sounds that defied categorization. Set highlights included "She's No Lady (She's My Wife)" and Lovett's classic, hyper-verbal come-on "Here I Am." The song's philosophical musings about the nature of physical attraction end with the famous line, "Please, if it's not too late, make it a ... cheeseburger." Lovett immediately apologized with, "It's hard to work 'shrimp po-boy' into a song."

By the numbers

  One-of-a-kind New Orleans musician Phil deGruy demonstrated his guitarp — a fusion of guitar and harp — as part of an interview with Grant Morris on the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage. Tracing his early musical influences in the 1970s, deGruy said, "Chet Atkins was the fuse and Lenny Breau was the bomb." When asked to explain the essence of his singular style and technique, deGruy resorted to the best musician joke in ages: "There are three types of guitarists in New Orleans," he said. "Those who are good with numbers and those who are not."

Show us a sign

  Sign language interpreters are not only lively aids for people who need assistance; they're also an entertaining offstage visual accompaniment to the main act. As emcee Wild Wayne warmed up the crowd for the New Orleans hip-hop showcase at the Congo Square Stage, DJ Mike Swift played DJ Jubilee's "Get It Ready, Ready" — sending the crowd into the familiar dance moves. One signer not only signed the lyrics, she also danced — she talked that stuff and rolled with it, and walked, served, bounced and twerked, if only briefly. At the end of the set, two interpreters partnered along with a Partners-N-Crime duet, signing and swaggering as if the song were their own.

Also signed

  3D Na'Tee performed at last year's Jazz Fest, but this year, she made her Jazz Fest debut on a record label. She signed the deal with Def Jam subsidiary All Def Digital at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation's Sync Up conference April 25 and at the Congo Square Stage, she introduced herself: "I stand before you a major recording artist." Na'Tee had time for only a few songs at the New Orleans hip-hop showcase, including the deeply personal "Wake Me Up," with the final line, "I can't let anyone come and kill the shit I dream of."

Tell it like it is
click to enlarge Trumpeter Derrick Shezbie and sousaphonist Phil Frazier lead the Rebirth Brass Band, which performed songs of its new album Move Your Body. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber
  • Trumpeter Derrick Shezbie and sousaphonist Phil Frazier lead the Rebirth Brass Band, which performed songs of its new album Move Your Body.

  Aaron Neville's Blues Tent set got off to a slow start, but by the time he started his classic "Hercules" with son Jason Neville singing and brother Charles riffing on saxophone, it was on. He concluded with the tried and true sequence of "Louisiana 1927," "Tell It Like It Is," "Amazing Grace" and "One Love," with brother Cyril Neville accompanying him.

Early New York jazz

  Steve Bernstein, Henry Butler and the Hot 9, a band mainly comprised of downtown New Yorkers, played the music of Jelly Roll Morton and 1920s jazz with plenty of life. The horn section blew with precision and emotion, and also had fun with it. Longtime New Orleanian Henry Butler put on an excellent show, and no less than Allen Toussaint came into the Blues Tent after his Acura Stage performance to catch it.

Arcade Fiyo on the bayou

  Arcade Fire showed some love to New Orleans. The band came on stage to "Iko Iko" and ended its set by second-lining its hit "Wake Up" with the Pinettes Brass Band. In between, Win Butler praised the city every chance he got. He introduced an ode to mundane life ("The Suburbs") with, "[New Orleans] is one of the last places in America that its own place; for the rest of us there's this." After the group put away its instruments, Butler could be found taking pictures with fans and taking a selfie of his own with a Mardi Gras Indian chief.

Song rider

  The Deslondes unleashed its modern take on soul-tinged country and snuck in a cover of Joe Tex's "Yum, Yum, Yum": "Ham hock, pork chops, collard greens and Polly pops, Candied yams, cornbread, cabbage on the side, yeah, that's what my New Jersey baby gonna fix for me when I get home." Bandleader Sam Doores also lamented his own festival-provided spread. "Egg salad sandwiches for breakfast, but I'm looking forward to some soft-shell crab."

Oh sunny day

  The Gospel Tent typically features traditional tunes and styles, but in addition to a Whitney Houston song, Kim Che're accented her set with a blessed remix of Pharrell's "Happy" combined with the Isley Brothers' "Shout."

Perspective is everything

  Texas singer/songwriter Robert Earl Keen took the Fais Do Do stage wearing a three-piece seersucker suit and a shiny green necktie and played "Corpus Christi Bay" and "The Road Goes On Forever," as well as Townes Van Zandt's "Flyin' Shoes." He also told the crowd that when he visited New Orleans at 10 years old, "Bourbon Street was the scariest place in the world." When he visited at 19: "Bourbon Street was the greatest place in the world."

A Neville family affair

  Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk set drew heavily from 2013 release Dirty Word, but the highlight of the show was a family affair as Ivan brought out Art Neville and Cyril Neville to perform The Meters' classics "Fire on the Bayou" and "Hey Pocky Way." Cyril took the lead on a knock-out performance of "No More Okey Doke" and it was a notable Neville reunion at the Acura Stage on the final day of the festival.

Womac attack

  Instead of pulling from his latest album, The Bravest Man in the Universe, which features trippy, experimental beats, Bobby Womack delivered a set of polished classics. After opening with "Across 110th Street," he sang "Harry Hippie" as a duet with backup vocalist Altrinna Grayson, a soulful singer who took the role of "Harry's lady." One fan waved an umbrella that bore the catch phrase of local injury attorney Edward J. Womac, "Put The Womac On 'Em!"

The old man down the road

  John Fogerty, the powerhouse songwriter behind Creedence Clearwater Revival, proved the group's swampy rock 'n' roll timeless during a festival-closing set at the Samsung Galaxy Stage. (He also made guest appearances during Bruce Springsteen's Saturday set and the Dr. John tribute at the Saenger Theatre). Fogerty led a high-powered, volume-cranked set with a rhythm section including his son Shane and furious drumming from serial session man Kenny Aronoff. From the tell-tale tremolo-laced opening lick of "Born on the Bayou" to frenzied solos all over "Ramble Tamble" and a closing duo of "Bad Moon Rising" and "Fortunate Son," Fogerty and his crew revived the Creedence catalog. A notable exception was "Lodi" — a down-and-out performer's gutter-stuck travels — which became a bouncy, uplifting rocker removed from its country-influenced storytelling.

  A version of "Proud Mary" appears on Fogerty's 2013 album Wrote a Song for Everyone, on which he revisits the CCR classic with Allen Toussaint, Jennifer Hudson and Rebirth Brass Band. Fogerty seemed to aim for an all-inclusive almost-finale when he brought out Allen Toussaint, Rockin' Dopsie Jr., TBC Brass Band, Joel Savoy and the McCrary Sisters, but the mashup of R&B piano, zydeco accordion, Cajun fiddle, New Orleans brass and gospel was its own Louisiana tribute.

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