I only went to the 45th annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival for one day this year and I spent most of that time volunteering in a beer booth – but I still managed to see 11 bands. I didn’t even get to half of the grounds, yet I managed to see artwork by Terrance Osborne and Woodrow Nash, check out Mr. Okra’s truck, hit 2 food booths and visit the WWOZ Brass Pass Tent. I arrived about noon with only 2 hours to spare before work so I headed straight for the Acura Stage to catch some of Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes. They delivered their signature funky rock jazz sound along with guests like keyboardist John Gros debuting his French horn skills.
The finely feathered Mardi Gras Indian was just leaving the stage when we got to Big Chief Juan Pardo & Jockimo’s Groove on the Jazz & Heritage Stage. There’s something about the all-percussion sounds of the Indians music that just gets into your hips and wiggles it’s way down your knees and out your feet.
It’s nearly mandatory at the Fest to get a Cochon de Lait Poboy ($8) from Love at First Bite and best to wash it down with a Cafe Reconcile Strawberry Lemonade ($5). Though we just saw them at French Quarter Fest and Jazz in the Park at Armstrong Park, we couldn’t miss Glen David Andrews Band on the Congo Square Stage. As usual, he got the crowd singing, dancing and clapping with new songs and old favorites.
In the Caso Do Brasil Tent, we found the samba-mambo acrobatic drumming of the colorfully costumed Bloco Afro Os Negões. There were more acrobatics and even mock fighting from Ginga Mundo Capoeira of Bahia, Brazil on the Jazz & Heritage Stage. The Gospel Tent is always a terrific place to cool down with its shade and giant fans. Kim Che’re and her bevy of beauties filled the tent with their beautiful voices and joyful presence.
This is my 5th Jazz Fest and a lot has changed for me though the Fest “abides.” When I first went, it all seemed so huge and winding. I didn’t know most of the bands and I couldn’t sing along to a lot of the music. Now, I know many of the performers – some are even friends. But, there are still new things to discover. This year, I found a stage I’d never seen before hiding inside the majestic Grandstand. Nestled in highly manicured shrubbery down the path the horses travel to race was the Lagniappe Stage where The Deslondes entertained seated and shaded music lovers with their swamp-boogie country tunes.
Then I made my way to another spot I’d never visited – the coveted WWOZ Brass Pass Tent. In addition to shade and misting fans, the tent is famous for their incredible free fruit buffet and Mango Freezes. The Freezes hadn’t arrived when I was there, but the fruit was so sweet and ripe and the people inside were dedicated music lovers from all over. WWOZ was broadcasting live from the tent and I saw the coolest wheelchair ever – covered entirely in Mardi Gras beads (photo below). I even got 2 free second line kerchiefs from Second Line Handkerchiefs and Backyard Printing.
On my way to the Fireman’s booth to start work, I popped back by the more-crowded Gospel Tent to see the Zion Harmonizers in their sharp matching gold vests celebrating their 75th year as an ongoing group. Then I hit the Jazz & Heritage Stage one last time for the traditional Storyville Stompers Brass Band. Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk with special guest Art Neville was on the Acura Stage as I grabbed my money bag and started selling beer to earn tips for the foster children serviced by Raintree Children and Family Services.
The best thing about the Fireman’s booth is that it has a clear, though fairly distant, view of the Acura Stage and its Jumbotrons. Dumpstaphunk brought the funk and delighted the crowd with some Meters hits as well. Then it was time for Arcade Fire. The booth was busiest then so I missed a lot of the show but I was impressed by how many states were represented when I was carding people. About half of the music lovers had come from outside Louisiana from places like Oregon, California, Maryland and Georgia just to name a few.
The day and festival ended with Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue closing for the second of many years to come. I assumed (and it seemed) they would end as they had last year with Do To Me. After all, it brought the house down and cemented the band as successors to the Neville Brothers. One of the advantages of being further away from the stage is perspctive. It was truly a sight when the entire audience waved their arms right and left swiftly and in unison. It was like a 50,000 person flash mob. Amazing.
But with time still on the clock, Trombone Shorty came back for one last song. Even from the backest-of-back-rows, I couldn’t help myself – I shouted, “Hurricane Season!” He must’ve heard me. It’s been my favorite of their songs since I first saw them perform it in 2010 and I was pleasantly surprised by their confidence in not settling into what had already worked too quickly. I can’t wait to see them again next year!