It was certainly the coldest Jazz Fest I’ve ever attended and mud was still a factor on closing Sunday. Turns out that there was not one single pair of of rubber boots left in town. Hotels were calling everywhere but many unprepared out-of-towners were left bootless and muddy. Cold wind whipped at scant tank tops and short skirts. I always love the opportunity to work in the Fireman’s Beer Booth to collect tips for Raintree Children & Family Services and the foster children and families they service. One of the big reasons is that it’s under a tent and filled with bins of ice water. On a normally sweltering day, we love the shade and sticking our hands in the ice to hand over freezing beverages. This time, I wore 3 layers and wished for a scarf. We even wore rubber gloves and used a scoop to get the beverages.
Working in the beer booth has the advantage of getting you past the $60 price tag for a day at the Fest, but while you’re working, you only get to see the artists on the Acura Stage. My Sunday line up began with Brass-A-Holics “Gogo Brass Funk” Band. With a large local following, they fuse NOLA funky brass with Washington, D.C.’s Go-go. I used to play Chuck Brown when I was a D.J. in D.C. so the mix suits me just fine.
Next, The Meter Men took the stage featuring Zigaboo Modeliste, Leo Nocentelli, George Porter, Jr. with Page McConnell. Formed in 1965, The Meters are one of the most influential funk bands ever and defined New Orleans funk. I especially loved hearing my funky favorite, Fire on the Bayou. Then it was time for The Black Keys. The super-popular band played against an elaborate lighting backdrop. Since the breaks between bands are barely long enough for a proper setup and soundcheck, backdrops of any kind are rare.
But the highlight of the day was Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. For over 20 years, the Neville Brothers have closed the Acura Stage with Aaron’s haunting Amazing Grace. This year, the torch was passed to the next generation. Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue formed in 2004 and are in their mid-20’s but they have already hit Billboard magazine’s Contemporary Jazz Chart at #1 and hung out there for 9 weeks. Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews has even played the White House. But he says his dream has always been to close Jazz Fest.
For many out-of-towners in the crowd, the only familiar tunes were St. James Infirmary and For True, the Ashton Kutcher Nikon camera commercial song. But everyone felt compelled to dance to the band’s many accessible and pop-rock-funky originals.
Though I couldn’t see it from the beer booth (okay, honestly, I got lost in dance and serving beer and missed it on the Jumbotron), I heard that Andrews came down from the stage and walked deep into the crowd during his last song, the sexy and rousing Do to Me. Though I loved the romantic elegance of closing with Amazing Grace, it was a blast singing, “Ba ba da da da” while dancing myself silly. Even in the beer booth. we all “got low” when Andrews told us to then bounced like pogos with our arms in the air when he yelled, “Go crazy!” Someone in the front area took this fun video of the bouncing crowd going bananas. It’s a party town and Jazz Fest is one of our bigger parties so it felt right to end on such a celebratory note. Andrews lifted his trombone and his trumpet in the air (as he always does) and looked like a heavyweight lifting a victory belt.
But there was still another special music event waiting for us at the Howlin’ Wolf – the 25th Anniversary performance of Living Colour, almost to the day. Oddly, I had to wear 3 layers including a turtleneck on Cinco de Mayo in NOLA. The show didn’t start until nearly 1 am and we were exhausted so we went early to avoid falling asleep and caught Hot 8 Brass Band in The Den. There were only about 30 people when we walked in and 11 of them were the band, but the simple brick cube of a room filled quickly. Hot 8 plays lots of second lines so I usually find myself chasing them through the streets of the city. It was nice having them mere feet from me and resounding off the walls.
Finally, Living Colour arrived and played the entire double-platinum album Vivid. They seemed relieved to get their hit, Cult of Personality, out of the way early. Many in the crowd knew every word to every song and seemed transported to their teen years. I, myself, saw Living Colour open for the Rolling Stones in 1989. (Mick Jagger discovered and produced the band) The most obvious difference between most rock bands and Living Colour is their complexion but they are so much more than the first hit all-black rock band. What really distinguishes the group is that it’s comprised of 4 of of the most inarguably talented musicians drawing breath.
I’ve already expounded on their skills in my last post but it was remarkable watching how easy it is for each of them to do things very few can. Drummer Will Calhoun did a solo that included beating on the strings of a bass guitar. Doug Wimbish playing a bass solo on a cover of Jimi Hendrix proved that he has explored the sounds his instrument can make as thoroughly as Hendrix did with the guitar. Vocalist Corey Glover has a rare range, not only in notes, but in styles. His cover of Amazing Grace took us to church and it was clear that many in the room considered Open Letter (To A Landlord) to be a post-Katrina anthem. Glover twice thanked New Orleans for “saving” him. I’m not sure what he was referring to but he has been a perfect addition to local band Galactic.
Then there’s Vernon Reid, the founder of the group and considered to be one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Local guitarist Billy Iuso was in the crowd, thrilled to see the virtuoso play. Reid plays under the notes, then over, around and through them. It’s as if the task of playing is too easy for him and he has to fill the spaces between notes with entire micro-songs. When he’s not having fun with the crowd and his bandmates (Corey in particular), he goes into a trance-like state, eyes rolled back, and channels the entire history of jazz, rock, metal and funk. At times, it can be intellectual and insanely intricate then raw and powerful.
Several musicians joined the band onstage including Galactic’s Corey Henry, Big Chief Donald Harrison and Roosevelt Collier who designed the “cradle” his lap steel guitar sits on. They were all so very talented and we are so very spoiled for music here to see more amazing musicians in a day then most people will see live in a lifetime. We are also spoiled for food here so we finished off our Jazz Fest weeks with a great meal at Commander’s Palace the next day. Chef Tory McPhail won the James Beard Award that very day and we lucked out catching the first week of soft-shell crab season and the last week of Ponchatoula strawberries. What a meal, what a fest, what a city!