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Monday, April 27, 2009

Jazz Fest, 1st Sunday

Posted By on Mon, Apr 27, 2009 at 3:50 AM

click to enlarge Sharon Jones

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: The very worst photo of the day of the very best act...

What a day for Jazz Fest. Even when the sun came out and threatened to broil, it would scuttle behind the clouds again in a minute or so and a cool breeze would come across the Fair Grounds. Some random notes in a notebook stained by spearmint snowball...

• RTA had it together! Nice air-conditioned #48 bus right to Esplanade and City Park, and plenty of streetcars awaiting those who were leaving the festival. Transportation cost: $1.25 each way.

• Managed to catch almost a dozen performances, including Craig Adams and the Higher Dimensions of Praise in the Gospel Tent (terrific) and the Pfister Sisters (crowded, and ended up drifting out when they started "Louisiana 1927" -- great vocals, but enough with that song, please).

• The Pine Leaf Boys (my favorite Cajun group) were great as always, even without the estimable Cedric Watson, who has left to lead his own band. Missed his fun instrument-swapping with Wilson Savoy; the two would often switch up accordion and guitar between songs. But without Cedric the PLBs were stretching in some new directions, interspersing zydeco and Cajun waltzes with even a bit of rockabilly. (Still...I miss Cedric.)

• Bathroom tip for next weekend (guys only): When the lines at the Port-a-lets are 20 deep, slip into the grandstand, make a left into the cooking-demonstration hall and ... bathroom! No waiting!

• Foods consumed: Cajun duck po-boy, Vaucresson hot sausage po-boy, spinach-artichoke dip, sweet potato pone, Prejean's pheasant and quail gumbo with swamp-dark roux (worth a drive to Lafayette just for a bowl), and both spearmint and pink-lemonade snowballs.

• Miss Joyce Montana (widow of Big Chief Tootie Montana) was sporty as hell walking across the grounds in a gold lamé hat, toting a Boomtown Casino folding chair. Unfortunately my photo didn't turn out. Also walking around: District 97 candidate Jared Brossett, stumping for votes in next weekend's runoff election....

Etta James closing out the Gentilly Stage ... this was one of those performances I really wanted to like, and the woman is a legend whose voice is still strong. (And some of her improvised hand movements had the camera crews scrambling not to broadcast them on the video screens for the family audience.) Unfortunately, the first five songs were all slow-tempo blues and she didn't seem like she was going to be inclined to switch it up, so I wandered over to the Blues Tent to see if I could get a glimpse of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, figuring it would be packed....

• ...and found the best show of this and any other Jazz Fest I've ever attended. Sharon Jones is an incredible belter and the Dap-Kings as tight a band as can be, but what was going on at the Blues Tent was a show that would've rocked the New Orleans Arena. It's hard not to compare her to some of the all-time greats -- she's got the showmanship of James Brown, the chops of 1960s Aretha, the audience rapport of Patti LaBelle and the stamina of Tina Turner. For more than 90 minutes, she did not stop moving or singing. She interspersed all her songs with a few surprises, including a brief scat on "When the Saints Come Marching In" and her distinctive soul cover of "This Land is Your Land." By the time she got to "100 Days, 100 Nights," the audience was screaming and jumping in the aisles. I've seen standing Os at Jazz Fest before, but never a performance that left people standing on their chairs. Glad I saw it in the tent, because the next time Sharon Jones comes back to Jazz Fest, she'll be on the Acura or Gentilly stage and playing for tens of thousands. The woman is an arena act waiting to happen.

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