Friday May 2
Friday May 2
New Orleans is overrun with tourists. It’s insanity. People are everywhere and simply walking down the street or hailing a cab is challenging. Think New York City the day after Thanksgiving. Luckily, Cafu Monde is enormous and the turnover rate is fast, given the limited menu. Our choices are coffee, orange juice or beignets, although they’re not listed on an actual menu, but on the side of each napkin dispenser. "I’ll take one of everything," I say to the waitress, somewhat disappointed at the lack of variety. The iced coffee is perfect not too sweet, but rich and wholesome. The beignets are covered with mounds of powdered sugar. I’m not impressed, but I never liked fried dough anyway. The ambiance is classic Crescent City: an old man strums a beat up guitar and sings a jazz rendition of "Wonderful World" as a longhaired artist paints the moment. A warm breeze wafts through the covered patio, gently caressing the leaves of the surrounding trees.
Last weekend I took the weather for granted. Temperatures hovered around the 75-degree mark and the humidity was low. Right now, I feel faint. It’s about twenty degrees warmer and although I’ve only been here ten minutes, I’m already drenched in sweat. Everywhere you look, people are taking refuge from the sun. Many carry umbrellas, while the locals wear baseball hats with white towels covering their necks. On the Heritage Stage, Los Lobos is midway through "Bertha" and the crowd is loving it. Flags protrude from the audience all the way to the horizon as shirtless hippies dance in the distance. The group’s gritty guitars commingle with the rapid-fire percussion assault and the bumping low end.
Amammereso Agofomma of Ghana
In the blues tent, people are losing their minds. A troupe of African dancers is putting on a clinic literally and the American novices are eating it up. Dressed in colorful headgear and sweating profusely, the dozen or so dancers are beaming with happiness. On the back of the stage, a group of grinning percussionists is wailing away, each accenting a different microbeat, creating an intricate rhythmic tapestry. As complex as the patterns are, it still grooves. I rest the base of my camera on the front of the stage for stabilization and feel the intense vibrations from the dancers’ stomping feet. The entire structure is shaking, almost to the point that it feels like it could collapse, although I know it can’t. The dancers race past us, kicking and spinning in perfect colorful unison. Zack Smith, a real photographer, is next to me shaking his head and laughing. ‘I don’t own enough film,’ he jokes with squinted eyes. ‘I could shoot these guys all day.’
State Palace Theater
Jack’s mellow surfer bum demeanor is a stark contrast to the glittery, well-dressed crowd packed into the venue for Galactic. Everyone loves him though, especially the predominantly female group of fans pressed up to the front of the stage. His vocals are subdued, as if he’s still a bit embarrassed to be singing in public. His acoustic guitar playing seems to have improved over the last year, with more fills and precise finger picking interludes separating each verse. When I venture into the crowd to take some photos, I’m assaulted by young girls who see my photo laminate as their chance to meet Jack.
The Orpheum Theater
It’s somewhat ironic that out of all the amazing music I’ve seen this week, the one band that’s left a lasting impression is Umphrey’s. The group’s tenacious improvisation is a step above most in the jam world. There’s no endless noodling or psychedelic wandering, only powerful communicative statements. The set tonight is blistering and the light show is equally impressive.
Because our hotel is directly across the street from the Orpheum, I decide it’s time for a nap. It’s not every day you can sleep during set break. So, for fifteen glorious minutes, I lay sprawled out across the bed, ears ringing and mind racing. Not exactly REM sleep, but it helps.
The Orpheum Theater
Exactly a year ago today on the very same stage, moe. handed their instruments over to Gov’t Mule mid-jam and suddenly an entirely different band was performing. Tonight, moe. passes the torch to Umphrey’s. One by one, the members of McGee replace moe. during a jam out of "The Faker" and then segue into their own, "Glory" and the free form "Jimmy Stewart" exercise. The Umphrey’s cats seem much more playful and relaxed now then during their own set, each smiling at one another, and holding their own with moe.‘s audience. The remainder of moe’s set is simply transcendent at times. The sound is big and full, with guitarists Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey trading licks that are both driving and exploratory. Rob Derhak’s thumping bass lines are felt everywhere in the building, including the basement bathrooms.
moe. encores with the Violent Femmes’ "Blister in the Sun," an appropriate choice given the plethora of sun-burnt fans in attendance. It’s also quite the rocker, accented by Schnier’s satirical vocals and Vinnie Amico’s explosive drum fills. The band announces that they’ll be playing at a bar just around the corner "later tonight."
Schwartz and I head back to the hotel room to regroup before our next destination. Both cell phones ring off the hook as friends and colleagues check in to see where we’re headed. Schwartz humorously remarks that "it’s perfectly normal to be calling people at 3:30 in the morning down here."
We enter the packed little venue to a rollicking cover of Men Without Hats’ "Safety Dance." Cecil "Peanut" Daniels is sitting in, wailing. Willie Waldman, who we had just seen on stage with moe., is flailing his arms wildly on the back of the stage, pumping up the drunken crowd. My cell phone vibrates in my pocket, alerting me of a text message from George Kurtyka. Amidst my dancing, I squint to make out the words: "kdtu just covered Frankenstein." Ah, the wonders of technology.
The Willie Waldman Project is on stage, improvising. Rob Wasserman and moe. percussionist Jim Loughlin are riffing on "Cissy Strut," while Waldman shreds drunken jazz melodies over the top. The crowd keeps growing as an endless stream of people emerge from the dingy stairway below. The rest of moe. is expected to perform any minute now. Stay tuned…