Friday April 25
Friday April 25
The soothing sounds of the St. James A.M.E. Combined Choir wash over me like a sea of endorphins as I settle into the photo pit of the Gospel Tent. Shivers run down my spine and tears temporarily blur my vision as the powerful music hits my soul. The entire audience is on its feet, swaying back and forth and clapping, while shouting "praise the lord!" at the prompting of the band leader. For the set’s finale, the backing band kicks into double-time, the thumping bassist and pulsing drummer driving the 50-plus singers to dance even harder than before. Dozens of sopranos, altos and tenors engage in a harmonic shouting match, trading sustained screams of "ohhhh" and "yeahhhh" as the crowd erupts. I feel almost sacrilegious standing between the choir and the congregation snapping photos of their spirituality.
After scarfing down a catfish po’boy, and catching part of Lady B.J. Crosby’s set in the Jazz Tent, I find my way to Congo Square for the world beat rhythms of Marce et Toumpake of Martinique. The ensemble is highlighted by a pair of brilliant percussionists, who trade poly-rhythmic ideas faster than one can follow. Unfortunately I only catch their last couple songs, which are quite fulfilling and leave me wanting more. The bright Louisiana sun is beginning to settle at the bottom of the sky, blinding me and reminding me to call it a day at the fairgrounds.
Morris F.X. Jeff Auditorium
John Hiatt & the Goners
The infamous Rob Turner and I find our seats just minutes before the lights go down and John Hiatt takes the stage. His band, The Goners, is rocking especially guitarist Sonny Landreth but the sound is very harsh and I can feel my eardrums vibrating (luckily, I’ve brought a pair of ear plugs, although many around me are not so lucky and seem to be in pain). There are simply too many reflective surfaces in the auditorium and the high end of the mix is piercing. The sound improves slightly by the middle of the set and Turner is playing air guitar while Landreth rips a slide guitar solo (look for Landreth to jam with another well known slide guitarist deeper in the week). Hiatt is a bit of a ham and babbles – albeit eloquently – in between tunes. Nonetheless, the man is a hell of a musician and the second half of the set is very impressive, capped by "Thing Called Love" (his original that Bonnie Raitt popularized).
Morris F.X. Jeff Auditorium
Crosby, Stills & Nash
David Crosby and Graham Nash have aged extremely well and both still nail their harmonies nine times out of ten. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Stephen Stills. Often times, he strains to find the right pitch, but is mostly flat and the "Carry On" opener is no different. However, his guitar solo is spirited and punchy as he steps to the front of the stage and the crowd rises to its feet in approval. Sure, it’s a big rock and roll moment, but the quieter Crosby songs are the real treats for me. I’ve always preferred his darker material to Stills and Nash’s sing-alongs. Early in the set, Crosby straps on a D-45 Martin acoustic and addresses the audience on this very topic: "You see, we all play very different roles in this band. Stills writes the big rock and roll songs. Nash writes the songs that everyone in the world knows, like Teach Your Children’ and I just write the weird shit." Amen David, bring it on. He begins plucking the first haunting notes to "D vu" as the lights turn red and the crowd gasps. The harmonies are dead on tonight and the lyrics evoke vivid childhood memories of seeing CSN with my parents every year ("and I feel like I’ve been here before").
Later in the set, Nash proclaims that "This will not be a greatest hits show" and the band pulls out old nugs such as "Cathedral," "In My Dreams" and Booker T’s "Old Man Trouble," which Stills belts out while playing keys. I’m also treated to two more of my favorite Crosby classics, the symbolic "Almost Cut My Hair," which is punctuated by a thrashing Stills guitar solo, and "Guinnevere," a song that seems to get better with every performance, showcasing Crosby and Nash’s amazing ability to harmonize in a hand-in-glove fashion. (Nash jokingly calls the latter "another one of Crosby’s weird pieces of shit.")
The biggest surprise of the night is the encore. The band had played "Military Madness" earlier in the evening and is now clarifying the message. Although they have always been strong advocates for the anti-war movement, the musicians stress their support for the U.S. troops and their pride in being Americans. The late Michael Hedges is then introduced and his instrumental version of "My Country Tis of Thee" is played over the P.A. as the band sings along in perfect three-part harmony. Stephen Stills salutes the audience like a soldier as he walks off stage. Did he really just do that?
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe
As Dave, Lee Ann, the infamous Rob Turner and I arrive, Tipitina’s has not yet opened its doors for the late show and hundreds of drunken fans are partying in the streets. It’s a madhouse. The show kicks off about an hour later, to the delight of the capacity crowd. Karl’s sunrise shows have become synonymous with Jazz Fest in recent years and tonight the energy is through the roof. Brian Jordan’s screaming guitar solos ignite the band early and Denson is his biggest fan, grinning wildly as he dances alongside. There seems to be more vocal tunes in the group’s repertoire tonight, with an emphasis on up-tempo R & B as well as porno funk fusion. An early standout is a cover of "Manic Depression," punctuated by Karl’s saxophone lines and Jordan’s meaty tone. Keyboardist Johnny Neel (formerly of the Allman Brothers) sits in later for a raucous version of "Look Out." We head for the door around 5 a.m. passing by long lines at the bar, as rounds of drinks continue to circulate through swarms of inebriated patrons. Time is irrelevant.
Global Funk Council
I’m ready for bed, but my old pal Tom Arey is playing his first gig in New Orleans with Global Funk Council and I promised I’d be there for his debut. Thomas and I go way back to my managerial days with Uncle Sammy (he’s currently on "hiatus" from U.S., touring with Global Funk). When Turner and I stroll into the Howlin’ Wolf, Ozomatli is finishing its late night set, parading through the crowd amidst a slew of bells and whistles. The band is engulfed by the masses as it launches into its last song, a brass version of the Sesame Street theme "Sunny Days," an appropriate choice as daybreak is now upon us. Hundreds of exhausted fans wander out into the morning air, prompting the house engineer to grab the mic and remind everyone that there’s still more music to come.
The club is all but empty by the time Global Funk takes the stage for its "breakfast show." There is a group of about 30 diehard fans and another handful of spun out hippies that quite literally dance the night away as the band finally begins playing. Turner and I last about five songs before sneaking out. My brain is numb to music at this point and my bed is calling my name loudly.
It’d be silly not to take advantage of the free breakfast buffet at the hotel, so we head for the upscale restaurant. For the first time in years, I decline coffee at breakfast. I’m asleep by 7.