New Orleans Jazzfest: (50 Years Of Music History)
If you have read any of my recent reviews within the past year, then you will know of my love for New Orleans, the origin and birthplace of American Music. Having traveled south three times this year, I couldn’t miss the 50th Jazz Fest in my favorite place on earth, the Crescent City. Crossing Lake Pontchartrain and casting my first gaze on the city, always brings up memories of music, jazz, and blues slowly drifting out of bars and down cobbled streets; fragrances of Creole food and the feeling of mischievous voodoo. There is something about this place that resides within me, resides within my soul that feels connected to this place, connected to the culture, the community, the lifestyle and most importantly, the music.
There is truly nothing like New Orleans during Jazzfest and the days between. The entire city is filled with the best musicians from all over the country and the world. The music begins the first week of Jazzfest and never ceases until the final days. Two weeks of a full-on, musical heaven. If you are a true music fan, you must make it down to NOLA and try as you might, to see the most music humanly possible. Many nights, I would get home around 6 or 7 AM after seeing 4 to 6 bands per night. I was only in New Orleans for five days and was able to jam pack those hours with great music. With stacked lineups at every venue, I had to pick and choose wisely between some of the greatest musicians I have ever seen play. Many of the musicians played multiple shows per day and there were even smaller festivals during the week like, Crawfish Fest.
While I would love to delve deep into all the music I saw during Jazzfest and in the days between, I have to pick and choose from some of the best I witnessed and an all-around review of Jazzfest: 50 Years of New Orleans Culture and Music. What an iconic festival. We will start with Frenchman Street and the late night antics of Ghost-Note featuring members of Snarky Puppy and a slew of musical guest performers.
My head was swimming as I arrived to my favorite street in the world, Frenchmen Street. Frenchmen is the opposite of Bourbon Street where people go to get boozed up and stumble upon the puke infested asphalt. On Frenchman, people come to see live music. Hordes of music fans go from venue to venue, consuming music like rhythmic vampires. I easily found myself entranced into the Blue Nile, one of my favorite small clubs on Frenchmen. I honestly had no idea who was playing at the time until I looked at the handbill and saw that it was a Ghost-Note. I then knew, I was in the right place. The intense sound from the 10+ musicians onstage was heart palpitating. The energy in the club reminded me of some roaring 20s vibe, everyone screaming and dancing. The band would play a mix of Prince songs with bassist, Mono Neon leading the way in almost every song. Corey Henry and Justin Stanton from Snarky Puppy did come out for a few songs but with so much going on, it was hard to differentiate from who or what was playing. I stayed until well after, 3 AM and headed to some of the other clubs until I couldn’t hold my eyes open any longer. The city lights and people disjointed me and I had to find my bearings. The music was loud raw and loud. Just the way I like it.
One of my favorite venues in New Orleans is Tipitina‘s. The history associated and surrounding Tipitina‘s is what draws bands from around the country to this iconic venue. I have never seen a bad show at Tipitina‘s. I am immediately jumped on the chance to see Turkuaz late night. The show didn’t start until 2 AM so I was able to catch some more live music before hand. Using www.jazzfestgrids.com I tried to plan out my days in New Orleans and see as much music as humanly possible. Of course, most of the plans were tentative and I hated leaving BB Kings House Of Blues, which boasted players like, Marcus king, TAZ and even Sweet Dick, Andy Frasco. Turkuaz did not let me down. Coming on full force with their futuristic, robotic funk, Turkuaz can be truly psychedelic and when they find a groove they stick to it. While their sound can be jammy it could also be Pop and I wonder why Turkuaz has not moved beyond the jam scene. I believe many more people would find this band as fun, as I do, if only given the opportunity to listen to them or see them live. Turkuaz has been on heavy rotation since Jam Cruise this past January. Getting to see the chaos of Tipitina‘s at 4 AM was priceless. Tchapitoulas never looked so beautiful as I drove home still buzzing from the show and getting to experience and share it with my younger brother, Alexander. I had planned to go to Jazzfest Friday and Saturday but after the wild night at Tipitina’s and that all around overwhelming amount of music, we decided to just see some more music on Frenchmen. We decided to see some Jazz and a number of local blues artists and even stepping out on a few street corners to see buskers round the New Orleans staples. It’s not always about the destination but the journey.
Sunday was the day for Jazzfest and I was excited to rough the heat and the crowds for the stacked lineup of Jazz Fest 50. People crowded the neighborhood surrounding the fairgrounds, where I would learn was used for Horse Racing. So, minus the horses and add the horseshit smell. It was something that I was immediately taken aback by and it never seemed to subside. I did not even want to sit down on the ground because then I would be closer to the smell. Back to the story, I easily find a cheap ticket outside the crowded neighborhood for well under face. There were cops present but they were extremely friendly and I even saw festival patrons giving them hugs and taking pictures with them. Finally entering the festival, I realized the convoluted confused situation that Jazzfest 50 had put me in. With over five stages they really expected me to choose between Buddy Guy, John Fogerty, The Neville Brothers and Herbie Hancock?
Two weekends and I still have to choose from these amazing artist? This might have been the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my entire musical life. I, of course without hesitation added Little Feat as one of my highlighted shows. I couldn’t get as close as I wanted as I didn’t have VIP access for this one and I didn’t get a great view of any of the shows. One of the members in my party collapsed from heat exhaustion. The Jazzfest medical crew didn’t respond nor helped with the incident at all, in fact, they only made matters worse by making my friend walk over 2 miles around the venue for cab/Uber service. This incident has now made me change my review process and at the end of every festival review, I will be giving a star rating. Jazzfest is not off to a great start. The heat combined with the crowds, the smell and the overlapping lineups all add up. Anyway, back to Little Feat, who came out strong with Billy Paine’s organ turned up full blast. They started with “Spanish Moon” going into possibly the slowest “Fat Man In The Bathtub” I’ve ever heard. Still great but with no gusto, the speakers in the back couldn’t hang and the sound was warped back-and-forth throughout the crowd. John “Papa” Gross would join the band which did add quite the level of excitement, the band even getting a broad smile out of “Papa” during “Dixie Chicken.”
After walking for what felt like miles, I tried to watch Chaka Khan but couldn’t find a good spot. The crowd of onlookers surged the stage like hungry hyenas after lions had just ravaged a gazelle’s carcass. The feast was not worth the price for me and I retreated back into the blues tent where some zydeco was playing. The heat was so exhausting, I had to sit down in the shade for a rest before zombie walking to the furthest stage imaginable to see, I can’t believe I’m saying this, Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer. I’ll be honest, as I try to be with every review, the show was good and revitalized some of the energy, which the sun had taken away for me. I remember hearing about Jimmy Buffett getting in trouble for mushrooms and ecstasy not too many years ago but he looked in pretty good shape and his band had a full sound. I can’t say I could take more than 30 minutes of this reggae, island type of cookie cutter sound but it was cool to check out one time.
The real treat of the day was Trombone Shorty featuring the Neville Brothers. Trombone Shorty is the new royalty of New Orleans. While, the Nevilles are the last generation. Having these two musical icons come together was genius and almost redeems Jazzfest for musical collaborations alone. This is what New Orleans is all about, Jazz, Rock and Funk together. Trombone Shorty is strong and poised. He commands the stage and his band knows what to do. They are hard-core funk, almost Punk Rock. There is nothing like them in the music scene and only New Orleans breeds this kind of brilliant raw music. Shorty and his band would cover a powerful Meters classic “Aint No Use. The Neville’s would join Shorty and his band, Aaron Neville‘s voice shining through for “Fire On The Bayou”, “Yellow Moon” and the piece de resistance, an acappella version of “Amazing Grace.” Aaron Neville sounding like a young boy, holding his tattooed cheek, somehow channeling angels or some heavenly power. This performance made it all worthwhile.
Jazzfest Star Rating 3.5 Stars
I tried to get some rest before heading to The Maison for Andy Frasco and the UN. The show didn’t start until 10:30 and went on way later than I could hang out without an IV of Café du Monde straight into my arm. I was at least able to catch Mike Dillon nosedive off the stage with no one there to catch up. This was one of the wildest shows I’ve seen from Frasco with many more guest performances. If you haven’t checked out and the Frasco Artist Spotlight on my website do it now.
Some other notable bands that I am not able to review here: Voodoo Dead, Marcus King Band, Brandon “Taz”Neiderer, Spafford, and The Claypool Delirium. All of these shows were top notch and every musician, while seemingly exhausted; we’re all on there A game.
Jazzfest in New Orleans during this time is filled with the most music imaginable. Half the battle is trying to see the music the other half is finding the energy. Jassfest is more of an experience than it is a festival. For 50 years, this experience has become more of a cultural phenomenon, culturally significant and quite iconic. I’ve been to countless festivals, show an even six days on Jam Cruise but nothing could properly prepare me for the sheer volume of music available in New Orleans during Jazzfest. I don’t think I could ever miss another one even if, I didn’t see any other music all year, give me two weeks in NOLA and I could get my fill. See you next year!
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Editor: Robert (R.A.) Fadley
Freelance Writer, Musicologist, Music Journalist, Music Critic, Music Writer, Author, Musician, Singer-songwriter, Composer, Guitarist.