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Friday, May 5, 2017

Widespread Panic, The Chilluns and others at Jazz Fest on Thursday

Posted By on Fri, May 5, 2017 at 5:10 PM

click to enlarge The Iguanas perform at Jazz Fest. - FRANK EHERINGE
  • FRANK EHERINGE
  • The Iguanas perform at Jazz Fest.

Blustery winds filled “locals day” at Jazz Fest, which proved delightful for swirling bubbles and metallic confetti adrift over the Acura Stage audience, but it was also hard on sound at some stages.

A heavy vibe surrounded headliner Widespread Panic as its fans and family followed the surreal circumstances of the death Monday night of Col. Bruce Hampton — “our daddy,” as frontman John Bell often called him — on stage with members of Panic at a concert celebrating his 70th birthday at the Fox in Atlanta. The mystic Hampton shifted into ether on stage during an encore of “Lovelight” — which George Porter Jr. covered to close his set at Acura earlier in the day.

If there was a tribute to Hampton, it was too cryptic for these ears to decipher. Panic soldiered through its 150 minutes on stage — Quint Davis said afterward that the band’s Thursday slot “was a tradition and is now an institution” — but never quite delivered the over-the-top moment, that unexpected moment of bliss, that is the hallmark of the Georgia jam titans.

Nevertheless, the clouds parted for the sun to shine as the band took the stage at 4:40 p.m. The sextet opened with the workingman’s urgency of “Pleas” before segueing into a cover of James Taylor’s “Knocking Around the Zoo,” a rollicking tune about a Thursday afternoon in an insane asylum. Bell showed his genius for lyrical improvisation in “Making Sense,” subbing “love” for “gun” in the verse about talking to a homeless drunk person about religion. “Gimme,” a slow and graceful song along the themes of reverse application of Newton’s Third Law (by helping others, you help yourself), provided another highlight, as well as the big muddy breakdown in the midst of “Proving Ground.” Closing out the nonstop, no-words-from-the-band set, Panic played “Heroes” and its thoughts of “old friends, heroes and lifetimes” before closing with a cover of J.J. Cale’s “Travellin’ Light.”

At the Gentilly Stage, fathers and their offspring teamed up for a Fest-special performance of the Chilluns. Sailing through the feel-good Radiators staple “I Don’t Speak Love,” Rads frontman Dave Malone took to shredding his guitar to build the wizardly pedal-steel wails coming from Cranston Clements. “Give it up for the dads,” the second-generation said after that, with Malone joking afterward, “C’mon, y’all can do better than that!”

Thanking Jazz Fest for granting the special family show, vocalist Darcy Malone then stole the spotlight with both power and tender emotion as she led the band through a medley of “Ruler of My Heart” and “It’s Raining” by Irma Thomas before the Rolling Stones’ “Time Is on My Side.” She then ushered the group into a raucous cover of “Burning Down the House,” with the Talking Heads warning “we’re in for nasty weather” perfect for the moment.

Wiping his sweat-drenched brow with a towel (despite the chilly conditions), Cedric Burnside, of legendary north Mississippi lineage (RL Burnside’s grandson), said, “This is hill-country blues, y’all” before relentlessly pounding on his drum kit. He played the region’s classic anthems, such as “Sitting on Top of the World” and “Poor Black Mattie.” These electrified stomp-and-hollers proved perfect for this duo by allowing Trenton Ayers to show off his the slide-guitar prowess.

Other standout moments included Donald Harrison Jr. flexing his intricate modern-jazz aesthetics at Congo Square with his slow sexy saxophone instrumental “Mr. Cool Breeze.” The Iguanas proved to be in fine form as they opened their Fais Do-Do set with a high-energy “Para Donde Vas,” with Joe Cabral simply crushing it on his sax. Late in the Voice of the Wetlands All Stars set, Anders Osborne took the mic to sing his “Louisiana Rain,” with shout-outs to debauched late-nights at d.ba. and the Maple Leaf Bar. Osborne improvised his lyrics with “I can’t wait to see my Jazz Fest friends / I love you as much as I love the rain.”

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