Friday marked the start of the 15th annual Satchmo Fest celebrating jazz and the life of New Orleans native, Louis Armstrong, with 2 stages of live music, seminars and local food. There were some changes made this year. The most obvious is that the festival is no longer free to the public. I’m sure there are people for whom the $5/day charge might prove too much. I’m thinking especially of large families. That said, you certainly get your money’s worth and if the money went for the new giant tents making it possible to be in the shade all day, it was money well spent.
Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong was the grandson of slaves. Abandoned by his father, Armstrong’s mother became a prostitute to help them survive. The legend is that Armstrong was handed a trumpet at the age of 3 – which he then played like a pro. He went on to become one of the most influential and beloved people in jazz history.
When we arrived, Pres Hall Brass was on the main stage playing upbeat traditional jazz to an energized crowd. We scoped out the food booths and stopped by the Wink’s Bakery counter to say hi to Dwight Henry of 12 Years a Slave and Beasts of the Southern Wild. We resisted his Buttermilk Drops and beignets and started with Vegetarian Red Beans and Rice and Mustard Greens ($6) from Praline Connection and Chicken and Andouille Jambalaya ($6) from new fest vendor Tujague’s. We finished our meal with a Nectar Creme Plum Street Snoball ($4).
Many of the artists who play Satchmo Fest are legends. Certainly Ellis Marsalis (father of Branford and Wynton Marsalis) qualifies. At 80, he plays with weathered assurance and the crowd was in rapt attention. On the other stage, Leah Chase (daughter of restauranteur Leah Chase and bandleader Dookie Chase) sang songs, told stories and introduced us to a talented young singer/trumpeter, John Michael Bradford.
Round 2 of eating started with a savory and sumptuous Prime Rib Debris Po-Boy ($7) from the Omni’s Rib Room – another new vendor at the fest. Welcome! We also enjoyed the Louisiana Blue Crab Cake with Homemade Remoulade ($8) from Lakeview Harbor. Then we hit the 2nd Plum Street Snoball stand for a Chocolate Creme snoball. For adults, the 2 stands offer shots of Chambord, Bacardi and such for an additional charge, but they make true on their promise to “card everyone.” The senior citizen woman ahead of us laughed when they carded her and said, “My mother telegraphed earlier and said it was okay.”
This was Deacon John & the Ivories first performance at Satchmo Fest. A local favorite since the 50’s, he’s played with Allen Toussaint and Ernie K-Doe among others but prides himself on having lured away many of their band members to form the Ivories. He’s a consummate performer and started his set with very traditional jazz. A couple of amazing women joined the band to belt out beautifully.
At the same time, James Andrews was playing funky takes on local standards on the other side of The Mint. They were even handing out free Zapp’s Potato Chips – Voo Doo flavor! It was hard to know when to be where. I don’t know what we missed when we left the darker, more laid back tent to return to the bright lights and raucous crowd for Deacon John. What I do know is we arrived in time to see Deacon John pull out a beautifully embroidered second line umbrella and dance around the stage blowing a whistle. It was pretty flat-out awesome.
Things went up to a whole new level when he strapped on his guitar and hit us with funky, meaty blues riffs. By the time he was duck walking, the crowd was going bananas. Some spontaneously pulled out kerchiefs.
Last up on the main stage was 2012 Grammy Award winners, Rebirth Brass Band. I’m to the point now that I go through withdrawal if I go too long without seeing them. There’s something about dancing in the grass, covered in sweat, singing to their songs that fills me with the certainty that all is right with the world, if only for that moment.
After The Storm, snare drummer Derrick Tabb founded The Roots of Music, a program that provides at-risk youths 9 to 14 year olds with instruction in music history, music theory and an instrument as well as ensemble performance preparation. Additionally, they provide academic tutoring, homework assistance, mentoring, round-trip transportation and a hot meal 5 days a week, 12 months a year. During the show, the band was joined by Utopia, a 14 year old who’s recently graduated the program. Even in a city full of standouts, she was outstanding.
Rebirth finished the night with their city anthem, Do Watcha Wanna. It was the perfect end to a wonderful day. I’m guessing Satchmo would’ve been honored – sweaty, but honored.
Unfortunately, my links function is not working so this is the only link I will be providing. http://fqfi.org/satchmosummerfest