Jazz Fest | 04.24-04.26 | New Orleans, LA
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival :: 04.24.09 - 04.26.09 :: Fair Grounds Race Course :: New Orleans, LA
Jazz Fest 2009 by McCullough
From the moment you set foot inside the main gate at the Fair Grounds Race Course, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is like a music and food lover's Choose Your Own Adventure" novel, with nearly every option inciting pure sonic and culinary bliss. A morning beignet in the Gospel Tent with Arthur Clayton & Purposely Anointed? A lazy afternoon perked up by some Crawfish Monica and the Drive-By Truckers joined by Booker T? How about a stroll to the Gentilly Stage for the sounds of Spoon and the Dirty Dozen horns, stopping for a quick bowl of gumbo along the way? Etta James and a Soft Shell Crab Po-Boy, anyone? All signs point to yes.
Musical and gastronomic possibilities abound, not to mention the cooking and craftsman demonstrations, displays from an array of artists from around the country, insightful interviews in the grandstand, and a level of people watching rivaled only by the train wrecks stumbling down Bourbon Street in the wee hours of the night. The likes of Coachella, Outside Lands and Lollapalooza certainly boast bigger names and budgets, but in an era where almost every major market has a blockbuster music festival to call its own, none can match Jazz Fest's authenticity, vitality and deep ties to the history of its setting.
Now in its 40th year, the 2009 edition of Jazz Fest continues to ramp up post-Hurricane Katrina, expanding to its full complement of 12 stages, up from nine last year, and seven days, up from six in recent years. The event's first of two weekends boasted music from nearly 200 acts, including the likes of Dave Matthews Band, Crescent City native Wynton Marsalis and his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Joe Cocker, Erykah Badu, James Taylor, Earth Wind and Fire, Pete Seeger, Hugh Masekela, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Etta James and many more.
Friday | 04.24.09
You could hear the percussion from well outside the Fair Grounds. A full-fledged Brazilian Carnival parade was sauntering down the walkway leading onto the race course, and the mass of people surrounding it made it difficult to tell who - or, more to the point, how many - were making such fantastic noise. It was Casa Samba, a New Orleans-based samba school that was showcasing its diverse troupe of drummers and dancers and delivering a swift wake-up call to the just-arrived attendees that it was game time.
Jazz Fest 2009 by McCullough
Further along the walkway in front of a huge crowd at the Acura Stage, Bayou native son Marc Broussard was diving into a cover of Bill Withers' classic Lovely Day," which proved about as euphoric a summation as any artist would provide on the day. After the soulful pop ballad Hard Knocks," Broussard dove into the gritty, Delta blue-inflected Home," which featured a bombastic segue into Led Zeppelin's Whola Lotta Love." In doing so, and by closing out his set with a brief take on AC/DC's Back in Black," Broussard and his band began a theme that would continue throughout the weekend of younger acts serving up their own takes on classic tracks.
Just a few hundred feet away, Northern California slide guitar master Roy Rogers was setting the Blues Tent on fire with scorching assaults on his own originals and covers of blues standards like Willie Dixon's Built for Comfort" and Robert Johnson's Terraplane Blues." Joined by longtime bassist Steve Ehrmann and drummer Billy Lee Lewis, the 58-year-old Rogers put on a virtual clinic on the slide guitar. Later in the set, with Louisiana legend Marcia Ball sitting in on piano, Rogers' playing was feathery on tracks like River of Tears" and ferocious on Walkin' the Levee," both of which are on his latest album, Split Decision. His set was easily one of the highlights of the weekend.
The pairing of the Drive-By Truckers and Booker T. on the Acura Stage was an intriguing one. Just as they did for veteran soul singer Bettye LaVette in 2007, the stalwart Southern rockers served as Booker T.'s backing band on his recent Potato Hole, his first solo album in 20 years. The group's 70-minute set featured music from both acts, with the Truckers' tracks proving most compelling and Booker's brief medley inciting the crowd to its feet. Truckers' co-founder Patterson Hood showed off his lyrical muscle on Goode's Field Road," a timely and heart-wrenching tale of a guy contemplating blowing his brains out in the hopes that the insurance money will help his family get out from under a mountain of debt. Honey, take care of the children, pay the house off when the salvage yard gets sold/ And you don't know nothing when the insurance man asks questions/ Bout what went down at the Goode's Field Road," he sang. Later in the set, Booker T. grabbed the spotlight for a run through several tracks off Potato Hole, as well as a funky take on the instrumental cut Time Is Tight." Backed by the Truckers' vaunted three guitars, Booker's B3 organ built to a boiling crescendo and that had the Truckers sounding a whole lot more like the MG's.
Jazz Fest 2009 by Grayson
Perhaps more than any other first weekend performer, Jazz Fest was a coming out party for Troy Trombone Shorty Andrews. The 23-year-old native of New Orleans' Treme neighborhood, who attended his first Jazz Fest in 1990 at the age of four, is featured on this year's Congo Square festival poster. Shorty famously played his trombone years before his arms were even long enough to reach all the positions of the slide, including one famous Jazz Fest photo in which he's doing so in front of Bo Diddley in 1990. In his afternoon set at the Gentilly Stage, Shorty was accompanied by his Orleans Avenue band, a six-piece outfit anchored by a tight rhythm section that gave his brassy sound plenty of funk. The Andrews family is chock full of musicians that have played in dozens of bands throughout New Orleans, but Trombone Shorty has shown himself to be a frontman. On (You Got the) Same Thang On," Andrews sang, blew, and playfully nudged the crowd to sing along, and just minutes later picked up the trumpet and led his group through a soulful instrumental cover of Al Green's classic Let's Stay Together." Shorty has come up.
If there was one performance that sonically captured the historical magnitude of New Orleans in American music culture, it was the late afternoon set by Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Ghanian percussionist Yacub Addy and his nine-piece ensemble Odadaa! The massive group played Congo Square, an epic 2006 composition that saw Marsalis and Addy attempt to bridge the rhythms of West Africa and the roots of jazz. The piece is based on the square in what is now called Louis Armstrong Park, where slaves gathered on Sunday afternoon in the 1800s, a place that Marsalis has called one little desperate outpost of soul." Not surprising with such a massive undertaking, the music had its peaks and valleys in a live, open air setting. At times, the two groups seemed overly cautious of getting in each other's way. But when they found the pocket, with Odadaa! in full flight and the Lincoln brass surging in accompaniment, it was Basie meets Olatunji, a perfect marriage of big band jazz and West African percussion.
Nearby on the Gentilly Stage, Spoon was adding an entirely different flavor to the sonic stew. Built around sharp rhythms and frontman Britt Daniels' angular delivery, Spoon churns out concise blasts of compelling rock. A trio of horn players from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band joined in for a few tunes, adding even more rhythmic density to a band driven by it. You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" was downright funky, while The Ghost of You Lingers" had a cinematic vibe. The band also unveiled several new tracks that didn't deviate from what this band does well. While Spoon rocked, Joe Cocker showed that he'll go into retirement kicking and screaming. The 64-year-old British rock-soul singer shrieked, grunted and growled his way through a set dominated by cover songs he turned into hits. On the biggest of them all, With a Little Help From My Friends," the flush-faced Cocker wailed his way through the verses, leaning heavily on his outstanding backup vocalists. But when it came time for the chorus, he had thousands of friends to help him get along.
Continue reading for coverage of Saturday at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival...
Saturday | 04.25.09
Day Two featured three of the most disparately exhilarating sets you could ever hope to hear in a single day at single music festival. It began at the Acura Stage with the Imagination Movers, a group that had thousands of kids, parents, and plenty of others dancing and chanting along to giddy songs about mac-n-cheese and healthy snacks. The Movers, a New Orleans group with a television show on the Playhouse Disney channel, tweaked popular rock songs into kid-friendly numbers, with plenty of banter thrown in between. On My Favorite Snack," they turned the famous Kiss chorus on its head: I want to rock 'n' roll all day, and sleep well every night!"
An hour later, the Young Tuxedo Brass Band was giving a packed house at the Peoples Health Economy Hall Tent a lesson in the vivacity and importance of the brass band. Founded in 1938, the group is one of the oldest active brass bands in New Orleans, and is made up of mostly musicians that have passed the half-century mark. Led by trumpeter Greg Stafford, the 11-piece group tore through jazz funeral and brass band standards like Over in the Gloryland," as the Lady Jetsetters Marching Club twirled their parasols and swayed through the aisles, picking up prospective marchers along the way. This was one of those moments that stamped a luminescent sheen on the rest of the day.
That sheen never faded, but if it had by the time Ile Aiye took the Jazz & Heritage Stage, it would have been rejuvenated in spades. The Afro-Brazilian percussion group hails from the city of Salvador in Bahia, Brazil and it plays with an unquenchable fire. The songs, rooted in the Candomble religion, feature call-and-response chants in Portuguese and Yoruba over blistering arrays of percussion. The 12-piece band didn't take its foot off the gas once, and was enough to rouse any skeptic. As Pharoahe Monch once said, If you're holdin' up the wall, then you're missing the point."
There were a number of other sets scattered throughout the day, with varying degrees of success. Erykah Badu's incredible 2008 album New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War was strange, psychedelic and terribly soulful. In her set at the Congo Square My Louisiana" Stage, Badu reminded fans that bold eccentricity brings both rewards and consequences. Starting almost 15 minutes late, Badu let her band play a mellow, monotonous 10-minute instrumental intro before she took the stage and eased into a nearly sedate Green Eyes." The set was jazzy, nuanced and spare, but it was not the way to get the crowd amped at the end of a long day of music, food, drink and sunshine. The set picked up a bit, particularly on the strange brew of The Healer," but with so many other acts to choose from, many headed elsewhere.
Over at the Gentilly Stage, Wilco's set to close out the day was solid, particularly Nels Cline's lap steel playing on the opener, the country blues-tinged Walken" and Handshake Drugs." The Rebirth Brass Band was joined by co-founder Kermit Ruffins for a few tracks of its bombastic set, and on the heels of Young Tuxedo's set, Rebirth showed just how much the brass band sound has changed over the years, with a much heavier emphasis on grooves and hip-hop-style shout-outs to the crowd. Emerging trumpeter Shamarr Allen and Rebirth trombonist Corey Henry sat in with Galactic for a set that was an absolute master class in musicianship, while Jamaican reggae group Third World used its popular tune Reggae Ambassador" to dig into a medley that included Damian Marley's Welcome to Jamrock" and Peter Tosh's Legalize It."
And if the Young Tuxedos weren't proof enough that age is just a number, 90-year-old folk icon Pete Seeger, joined by his grandson Tao Rodriguez Seeger, performed a set of protest songs, many of which sadly seemed as relevant today as when he wrote them. Joined by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band's Ben Jaffe on sousaphone, the group played I Don't Want Your Millions, Mister," which saw the packed field sing along in unison to the timely line, Give me back my job again." Rodriguez Seeger said, That one goes out to Wall Street."
Continue reading for coverage of Sunday at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival...
Sunday | 04.26.09
Sunday morning was best spent in search of cloning technology, as organizers created an unfortunate scheduling conundrum: how to see a quintet of heavyweight acts all around the same time. Dave Matthews Band, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Hugh Masekela, Earth, Wind & Fire and Etta James & Roots Band were all set to perform headlining sets on stages scattered throughout the fairgrounds. It was enough to incite longtime festivalgoer Andrew Levy to make a t-shirt telling the jackass" responsible to go funk yourself."
But great music festivals often present a scheduling challenge to attendees, and the loaded back-end of the first weekend was a sign that Jazz Fest had returned to its pre-Katrina strength. Sunday's earlier sets were loaded as well, as Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indians served up a potent afternoon cocktail of deep, dubby funk, and Mexico City-based electro-rock outfit Kinky got people shaking their tailfeathers at the Acura Stage. Drummer Herlin Riley, born and raised in the Lower Ninth Ward, had played Jazz Fest numerous times over the years. But his mid-afternoon set was his first Jazz Fest show as a bandleader performing his material. It sure feels good," he said, dedicating the set to guitarist and New Orleans musical legend Danny Barker, who would have been 100 this year.
The Avett Brothers drew the biggest crowd the Fais Do Do Stage saw all weekend. The quartet (guitar, banjo, upright bass and cello) made up for some early technical difficulties with loads of feeling. But they also showed themselves to be much more than just the country with punk energy" tag they've been branded with in recent years. The songwriting on several tracks was outstanding, particularly The Laundry Room," where Scott Avett sang loaded lines like, Teach me how to use/ the love that people say you make." The band has been serving as the opening act on the Dave Matthews Band's spring tour, and deserves more ears.
Mavis Staples could take you to church just by singing the ingredients off a box of laundry detergent. At the Gospel Tent, where one day earlier she ripped it up with Irma Thomas and Pamela Landrum in a tribute to Mahalia Jackson, Staples dove into spirituals like Wade in the Water" and an achingly soulful cover of The Band's The Weight." In introducing the song Why Am I Treated So Bad," she told the tale of her father Pops Staples' decision to write and record Freedom Highway, saying he got the idea after taking his daughters to hear Dr. Martin Luther King preach at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in 1963. If he can preach it, we can sing it," she recalled her father saying.
While Staples channeled the spirit, Etta James' performance at the Gentilly Stage posed a question: how is it possible for a 71-year-old woman to be overtly sexual and for it not to seem comically awkward? In her cover of You Can Leave Your Hat On," her hips swiveled and she had a two-handed grip on her breasts as she added the line, You can leave your bra on." Later, she covered Janis Joplin's Piece of My Heart," an ironic twist that put James' colossal career into perspective. Another septuagenarian, South African legend, Hugh Masekela, led his group through tight instrumentals like Grazin' in the Grass" and fist-raising protest anthems like his 1987 hit Bring Him Back Home," a call to free Nelson Mandela.
Fellow South African Dave Matthews led his troupe through an entertaining set that proved why they have remained one of the biggest touring acts around for nearly two decades. At the Acura Stage, Matthews told the crowd about the band's decision to record their forthcoming new album, Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King, in New Orleans. The album is a tribute to longtime saxophonist LeRoi Moore, who died in August 2008 from complications from an ATV accident. In addition to hits like Ants Marching," the band played several cuts from the new record, including the bluesy Why I Am" and Funny The Way It Is."
Although its set too often veered into smooth jazz territory, Earth Wind and Fire rolled out its own litany of hits in its set at the Congo Square Stage. Shining Star" was a gem, with the entire crowd chanting the chorus. Given the number of big-name closing sets, it was surprising that every one of them was packed, a great sign for festival organizers. The clash of titans also made for some telling moments. If you stood in the right spot on the racecourse, you could hear EWF singer Philip Bailey singing the chorus to After the Love Has Gone," while DMB performed Stay," on which Matthews playfully invites a lover to stay a bit longer. If only...