Where to begin… I was only supposed to go down to New Orleans for 4 days, and it turned into an 11 day trip. I didn’t even bring my computer with me seeing as it was only supposed to be a long weekend, hence the belated nature of this post, which I must apologize for. That city gets its claws in you and there’s no turning back. The music, the food, the people, the general spirit and pride — both at the actual festival and on your average street corner. So, let’s begin with the highlights of Weekend One.
Weekend One, Day One:
Gary Clark Jr. at the Gentilly Stage – I decided to skip New Orleans legend Dr. John, who I’ve seen more times than I can count, to go to this show. Gary Clark Jr. has been taking the the music world of fans, critics and fellow musicians alike by storm with his debut album Blak and Blu and his live performances. He’s one of the most versatile musicians I have ever seen, with sounds ranging from heavy and incredibly loud Rock and Roll to slow and steady R&B. I saw him for the first time at the Crossroads Festival at Madison Square Garden on April 13th where he almost deafened the crowd with a mesmerizing and ridiculously loud performance. He took it a little easier at Jazz Fest in terms of volume, but still showed off his Jimi-Hendrix-esque guitar skills and left just about everyone I spoke to in awe with one of the best performances of both weekends. Actually all I could think of during his always well-done cover of Jimmy Reed’s 1961 blues hit “Bright Lights, Big City” was how much he reminded me of Hendrix, and I know I am not alone on this. I stayed for the entire show.
John Mayer at the Acura Stage- Oh Johnny… Your good looks and smooth moves will only get you so far with this gal… I expected so much more from you. You’ve finally been accepted by your guitar playing peers, yet you totally didn’t bring your snazzy guitar skills to Jazz Fest – a place where your abilities are key. Instead you pandered to your lady fans with your smooth love songs, which only left me and likely every straight man at your show ready for a nap. So, I left and went to Band of Horses.
Band of Horses at the Gentilly Stage – They pretty much always put on a good show with their angelic voices and sweeping melodic tunes. This was one of their better shows though, and I’m glad I went. I would, however, really like to see them get more adventurous. Their shows often feel the same to me.
George Benson at the Congo Stage – I needed to pick up the pace a little and catching part of George Benson’s set was the perfect way to do that. He’s a master of both Jazz guitar and smooth R&B (which some fans feel he sold out for), and he combined the two flawlessly while playing some danceable tunes like “Breezin'” and “On Broadway”.
Weekend One, Day Two:
Allen Toussaint at the Acura Stage – At age 75, Allen Toussaint, composer, producer, arranger and performer, is a New Orleans fixture. His influences on Soul, Funk and Jazz are not to be forgotten. He’s the guy who wrote “Lady Marmalade”, “Working in the Coalmine” and “Southern Nights”. Always in a suit, Toussaint is a classy Southern gentleman and a marvelous musician. And that’s all you need to know. Now go listen to his latest album Bright Mississippi.
Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk at the Gentilly Stage – I saw Dumpstaphunk three times during this trip. They are everywhere. Ivan, Aaron Neville’s son and nephew to members of the Neville Brothers, is a singer, guitarist, pianist, composer, record producer and New Orleans staple. He created the band in 2003 with funk masters Ian Neville, Tony Hall, Nick Daniels III and Raymond Webeber, who was replaced in 2011 by badass female drummer Nikki Glaspie (who, by the way, was Beyonce’s drummer for 5 years – something we discussed outside of Tipitina’s one night). It’s always a party.
Billy Joel at the Acura Stage – First of all, apparently Billy Joel plays guitar. Maybe I should have known this, but I didn’t. Second of all, I had grand plans to go see Jill Scott and Andrew Bird, who were unfortunately playing sets at the same time, and I couldn’t tear myself away. I was having way too much fun, and so was everyone around me. Billy Joel brought the most energy out of anyone I had seen thus far. And he played everything — “Allentown”, “Piano Man”, and “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”. He brought it down home to New Orleans by inserting a little “Iko Iko” into “The River of Dreams”, bringing the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on stage for “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant”, and going into “Big Man on Mulberry Street” with “The Battle of New Orleans”. Chemistry within a band is generally apparent to the audience, and it was very clear that they were having a blast together, which always creates a good vibe. He may be mainstream and it may not be “cool” to like him as much as I do, but this was a seriously amazing show.
Weekend One, Day Three:
Rain. It rained all day long. Spirits were dampened, there were less smiling faces and there was a general sleepiness to the day, but there was still an impressive number of people at the festival considering the conditions.
The Gipsy Kings at the Gentilly Stage – The band is comprised of families – the Baliardos and the Reyes (sons of Flamenco singer Jose Reyes). Hailing from Southern France and singing in Spanish, it’s hard to not put the “World Music” genre label on their music, but it’s more than that. Their Rumba Flamenca style is generally pleasant to the ear and fun to dance to even if you aren’t quite sure what they are saying, and it was clear that plenty of people weren’t. Despite the rain and the fact that I forgot my rain boots back at the house, it was awesome to see them “Djobi Djoba” and “Bamboleo”. And apparently I missed the giant mud mosh pit / slip-and-slide, which began once they hit the stage either because I was up front and didn’t know it was happening or because it had died down by the time I got there. If you want to check out a video of said hooligans, click here.
Earth, Wind and Fire at the Congo Stage – The Gipsy Kings were great, but also a little sleepy, and a little energy from Earth, Wind and Fire was very much in order. Led by founding members and Funk-Soul-Jazz-R&B pioneers Philip Bailey, Ralph Johnson and Verdine White, the band brought smiles to the audience’s faces with performances of classics “Shooting Star”, “Boogie Wonderland” and “Sing a Song”.
Dave Matthews Band at the Acura Stage – By the time I got to DMB, I was honestly just over it. I wanted to care. I really did. But I was soaking wet and freezing and I could only muster up the energy to stand in 10 inches of mud for a couple songs. And from what I heard, it only got way worse. People weren’t happy in the moment, but it would be impossible to let some rain ruin that post-festival spiritual high you get after seeing three days of incredible music.