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Published: 2013/04/29
by Lilli Friedman

The Nevilles, Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer and More Perform at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

Photos by Dino Perrucci

The music, food and cultural celebration that is the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival kicked off its 44th year on Friday, April 26. JazzFest continues through Sunday, May 5, and the first weekend of music on the Fairgrounds brought tons of highlights as more than 60 bands packed the event’s 12 tents and stages.

The opening day performers included Louisiana mainstays like The Soul Rebels, George Porter Jr. & Runnin’ Pardners, Sonny Landreth and Dr. John. An early set from The New Orleans Suspects proved to be an instant Friday highlight, as the five-piece delivered 50 minutes of top-shelf funk and soul. New Orleans-based musician Anders Osborne was joined by North Mississippi All-Star member Luther Dickinson during his performance, and the pair traded licks on an extended three-song jam (with both on slide guitar at times) of “Three Amigos,” “Easy Money” and the Grateful Dead’s “Franklin’s Tower.”

Gary Clark Jr. also delivered his trademark blues guitar shred-fest of a performance, and his combination of Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun” and his own “If You Love Me Like You Say” was the undisputed audience favorite. Clark’s set seemed to steal some of the headliner energy away from the group that followed him, Band of Horses. The Seattle-based band still delivered a mostly high-spirited show that featured songs from all four of their studio efforts.

John Mayer continued his comeback following an extended absence from the live stage due to health issues with a headlining slot on Friday night. Mayer was supposed to play JazzFest last year before he was sidelined due to throat granulomas. The singer/guitarist has had to alter the register of his songs post-surgery but is proving that he can still deliver a tremendous live show. Mayer’s set was primarily filled with songs from last year’s Born and Raised album, but he nodded to New Orleans with the Muddy Waters blues standard, “Got My Mojo Working,” which has the lyric, “I’m going down to Louisiana to get me a mojo hand.” Mayer also performed two other covers, Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” and the Grateful Dead’s “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad,” which was also reprised to close the set.

On Saturday, New Orleans legends Deacon John Moore and Allen Toussaint divided the crowd during their simultaneously occurring sets. Toussaint played a set filled with R&B that was highlighted by his ‘60s hit “Get Out of My Life Woman,” while Moore led his big band through blues numbers as well as jazz and R&B standards, like Ray Charles’ “This Little Girl of Mine.”

Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite brought their collaborative effort to JazzFest during a headlining set that took place at the same time as Billy Joel’s performance, but the pair still managed to attract a large crowd. Those gathered were not disappointed by the heavy blues performance (that drew much of its material from the duo’s new album, Get Up!) that saw Harper spending much of his time on slide guitar and Musselwhite showcasing his Mississippi Delta blues talents.

As previously reported, Billy Joel brought day two to a close with a show that was only his second full-length performance in three years. Joel kept the tens of thousands gathered happy with hit after hit, including “New York State of Mind,” “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” and “Only the Good Die Young.” Joel paid tribute to the city by incorporating Johnny Horton’s “The Ballad of New Orleans” into “Big Man on Mulberry Street,” and working “Iko Iko” into “The River of Dreams.” His biggest compliment to New Orleans, however, came in the form of a sit-in by Preservation Hall Jazz Band who came out after Joel sang the line, “Drop a dime in the box, play a song about New Orleans,” during “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.”

The other must-see performance on Saturday was provided by Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars, a staple of the past few Jazz Fests’ that features a super group lineup of Tab Benoit, Anders Osborne, Cyril Neville and George Porter, among others. The collective play together to raise awareness about the loss of wetlands in Southwest Louisiana, and the group played songs such as “Louisiana Sunshine,” “There Ain’t No Funk Like Louisiana Funk” and “Don’t Let the Water Wash Us Away.”

On Sunday, The Nevilles (Art, Charles and Cyril) took the stage without brother Aaron, who will be playing a solo set next weekend at JazzFest. Aaron’s son Ivan and Art’s son Ian joined the group for a tight, funky set with familiar show staples like “When You Go to New Orleans” and “Big Chief.” funk Meters guitarist Brian Stoltz also performed with the band—his gigs with The Nevilles this year are his first with the band since 1990.
The Treme Brass Band performed a set in tribute to late member “Uncle” Lionel Batiste, with a number of standards including “I Got a Big Fat Woman,” “I Hear You Knockin’” and “Down in the Treme.”

Before the three headliners took their respective stages, a heavy downpour began on the Fair Grounds. Earth, Wind & Fire battled the elements during a set filled with hits that topped the charts in the band’s ‘70s heyday as well as lesser-known cuts that diehard fans watching in the rain were elated to hear. B.B. King was briefly joined by Allen Toussaint during his headlining slot, and the 87-year-old blues master rocked the crowd with standards like “Every Day I Have the Blues,” “The Thrill Is Gone,” and two New Orleans favorites: “You Are My Sunshine” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Although Dave Matthews Band were forced to cut their planned two-hour show short when thunder and lightning began, their audience was left happy as the fan favorites sang a selection of newer hits and familiar classics through the heavy rainfall that started moments before they took the stage.

The music continues on the Fair Grounds on Thursday, May 2. For an expanded JazzFest photo gallery, please click here.

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