Sunday April 27
Sunday April 27
The hot sun beats down on the back of my neck, but it is a welcome change from the unseasonably cold spring weather back in Boston. It's close to ninety degrees, yet Dr. John is donning a thick black suit and perspiration is visibly noticeable on his grimacing face. The band is trudging along way behind the beat, laying a slow, deliberate groove while his weathered voice echoes off the surrounding neighborhoods . The crowd by far the largest at Jazz Fest this year is whooping and hollering a few bars into the Doc's piano solo in "Holdin' Pattern." I'm engulfed in the pit by a flock of sweaty photographers, jockeying for position like ravenous vultures, all in search of the perfect shot of the quintessential Jazz Fest moment. It seems that the time is now.
The Blues Tent is bursting at the seams, packed with gorgeous screaming girls. A smiling Keb' Mo' politely quips, "you all gotta stop doing that," referring to the Beatlemania-esque shrieking that drowns out his soulful voice and heartfelt fingerpicking during each song. The man is the poster child for eloquence and is as photogenic as they come. His powerful vocals cut through the humid Louisiana air and his twangy acoustic guitar lines dance effortlessly below. At the conclusion of his set, he receives a deafening standing ovation, complete with ear-piercing whistling and a barrage of flashing cameras reminiscent of a monster truck rally. On the back of the stage, Jazz Fest crew members applaud wildly, encouraging him to do a rare festival encore.
Dave calls me on my cell phone from the Jazz Tent with the news that press will only be allowed in the photo pit for the first song. I race over, past the arts & crafts and the endless line of food vendors, to find yet another crazed photo pit (this photography thing is new to me). The tent is packed to the gills, with mobs of people sitting and standing in the aisles. The emcee emerges to introduce Coleman, calling him one of the only true innovators in music: "He may sound like he's hitting some weird notes, but trust me, he knows exactly what he's doing." Ornette, wearing a baby blue suit and a black hat, slowly walks on stage with a weary smile. After a long pause, he dives headfirst into an upbeat number and proceeds to dazzle all in attendance. His dizzying melodies race around the rumbling bassline and whispering high hat. In contrast to the Blues Tent moments ago, if someone dropped a pin, you'd hear it.
North Mississippi Allstars
I return to Tips for the third time in four nights. It's a bit of a drive from the French Quarter, but the vibe of the club keeps drawing me back. It also has quality sound and lights as well as great site lines from the balcony. Derek Trucks is milling about on the street, seemingly unnoticed to most. A few heady kids engage him in conversation and Derek seems happy to speak with them, although his shyness is apparent. Moments later the building begins to vibrate as North Mississippi takes the stage. Their stage volume is ridiculously loud and the kick drum pounds my chest as I begin snapping photos. Trucks flashes a rare smile as he plugs in and begins playing just minutes into the first set. It is pure, unadulterated bad-ass rock and roll. The crunchy guitars clash amidst a wash of sustained feedback and aggressively funky bass. Derek and Luther Dickinson trade solo after wailing solo. While Trucks maintains his withdrawn stage presence, Dickinson personifies a 70s rock star, complete with the hair, the jeans and the boots. Dickey Betts takes it all in from the side of the stage.
To begin the second set, Betts walks on stage first, tipping his trademark cowboy hat to the crowd as the rest of the band emerges. Johnny Neel is seated behind a keyboard nearby and Betts grabs the arm of his blind friend to signal the beginning of the song. The slow intro to the ABB classic, "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," is immediately recognizable to the drunken masses. Betts takes over as bandleader for the set, showing a father figure sense of pride after every section is properly executed. During the drum break in "Liz Reed," he turns to Cody, motioning for him to pause, and then excitedly yells out "1-2-3-4!" as the group launches back into the head. Dickey's signature clean tone contrasts perfectly with the Allstars' dueling fuzz. The incendiary "One Way Out" that comes shortly thereafter is as good as any Allman Brothers version I've heard in the last decade.
Relix colleague Aaron Benor heads for the airport as I begin uploading photos of the night's events. Sports Center is on in the background, repeating every half-hour. By the time I'm done working, I've seen highlights of the Red Sox extra inning victory five times. They never get old.