Sunday was my first trip to Jazz Fest 2011. It was a beautiful, breezy day and more out-of-town friends (Marilyn and Bob from L.A.) joined me for the festivities. Wanting to go with the flow and knowing I can see most of these bands other times, I let my friends pick the bands and ended up hopping through 9 bands in 7 hours. We also saw a short Mardi Gras Indian parade and some artwork as well as eating lots of goodies and running into a few friends.
First up was the Free Agents Brass Band, founded after Katrina to bring together dispossessed musicians and keep the music alive. I love a great brass band so it was an energetic start to the day.
Next up was Zachary Richard (ree-shard), a local folk artist and activist/environmentalist. A mellower musician, he had us swaying like weeping willows in the wind.
Then it was time for some Indians. The Golden Star Hunters Mardi Gras Indians led by Chief Larry Bannock are primarily a marching group so their instruments were all percussion and the music was more like chanting. There are those who argue that the Indians shouldn’t be taken seriously as musical groups at all, but I loved being able to share their beautiful costumes and historic beats with friends who weren’t lucky enough to witness Super Sunday.
The day was beautiful but it was nice to take a break from the sun in the shady Blues Tent filled with fans and spritzers. Anders Osborne, one of my favorite local rockers, played guitar with John Fohl and Johnny Sansone. Guitarist Fohl usually plays with Dr. John and Jersey native, Johnny Sansone, has been playing harmonica in New Orleans since 1975. Though none of the band members were born anywhere near the Big Easy (John Fohl is from Montana and Osborne is from Sweden), they are all longtime residents with a sound born of this region that reflects the love they have not only for New Orleans music, but for the city itself.
Lunch was a Cochon de Lait Poboy from Love at First Bite, a combo platter of Crawfish Beignet, Crawfish Sack and Oyster Patty from Patton’s Catering, Shrimp & Grits from Fireman Mike’s Kitchen and Sweet Potato Pone from Ten Talents Catering as well as the irresistible Crawfish Bread (stuffed with melted cheese and other gooey yumminess) from Panaroma Foods.
Then, it was off to the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Born over 30 years ago of a Social Aid and Pleasure Club by the same name, they’ve been featured on albums by David Bowie, Elvis Costello, the Black Crowes and Dr. John For those not in the know, Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs, dating back to shortly after the Civil War, are community organizations that provide health insurance and funeral benefits, among other things, to African descendants who cannot afford traditional insurance. Brass bands and funerals go hand in hand here and the Dirty Dozen helped to revitalize both traditions – the SA&P clubs and brass bands.
As if I weren’t spoiled enough seeing Trombone Shorty 3 times in the last month, he joined Dirty Dozen for a few songs! And trumpeter Leroy Jones wowed the crowd with his signature move of playing 2 horns at once. It was a heck of a show.
Then came Dr. John & the Lower 911 with special guest Dave Bartholomew. Does Dr. John need an introduction? Probably not, but some seemed not to know Rock and Roll Hall of Famer (also Songwriters Hall of Fame and Louisiana Music Hall of Fame) Bartholomew. Fats Domino’s former partner (and arranger for Blueberry Hill), he’s been recording since 1947. In his time with Domino, Bartholomew cowrote Ain’t That a Shame, I’m Walkin’ and Blue Monday. He also wrote Gayle Storm’s I Hear you Knocking and Elvis Presley’s Witchcraft and One Night among many, many more. Now 91 years old, he was wheeled out to the stage to a roar of applause and played a mean trumpet with toilet plunger before making my arm hair stand up with his soulful voice.
Next was Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and the Golden Eagle Mardi Gras Indians. I’d seen Boudreaux sing with Anders Osborne as well as Billy Iuso. Unlike some of the other Indian groups, Boudreaux’s Indians play with a full band. Though I was dancing pretty far back, I thought I spotted Iuso on guitar so perhaps the other players were his Restless Natives.
Next, we made our way through the packed crowd for John Legend and The Roots. 9 time Grammy winner, Legend has played with everyone from Alicia Keys and Lauryn Hill to Jay-Z and Kanye West. The Roots can be seen nightly as the house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. With 3 gorgeous back up singers and a stage full of musicians, they got the crowd moving and cheering.
But we weren’t done yet. Next was the Decemberists where I spotted a trumpet carrying tuxedoed “angel” in feathers and tulle. An unusual folk band from Portland, Oregon, it was multi-instrumnetist and back-up singer Jenny Conlee’s voice that stood out most.
We finished the day with gelato from La Divina and sno-balls from Plum Street, where I ran into Margie Perez between her many gigs this week. I’d also bumped into Cornell Landry who was there to sign copies of his children’s book Happy Jazz Fest and Colman DeKay, cowriter of the music version of 9 Lives, based on the Dan Baum book.
Hard to believe that with all that running around, we missed anything, but if I’d had a time machine, I would’ve gone back to avoid narrowly missing Glen David Andrews among so many others. And a word on prepping for next weekend – bring sunscreen. I ended up giving it out a few times to crispy visitors and was glad I had it. And BYOTP. Toilet paper runs out early and often.