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New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Weekend One – 4/26-28

George Porter Jr.- photo by Jeffrey Dupuis

New Orleans exploded with color, drumbeats and heat on April 26th as the 44th annual Jazz and Heritage Festival kicked off at the Fair Grounds Race Course. The first weekend of the Fest oscillated between sunshine and thunderstorms, zydeco and funk, salsa dancing and second line parades…but no matter what stage you found yourself at, it must be counted as a wild (and muddy) success.

Day 1:

Opening the festivities with local funk outfit Flow Tribe was a stellar choice. The Gentilly Stage started with a small, sleepy crowd but charismatic front man K.C. O’Rorke was suited up in canary yellow and ready to groove. Since Jazz Fest itself is such a glorious medley of musical greats, the New Orleans Suspects were a fitting opener for the Acura Stage. With its members coming together from legendary bands The Radiators, The Neville Brothers and Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the Suspects represent what makes this Festival what it is – a fusion of talents that creates unique, unrepeatable moments, experienced live.

You can’t call it Jazz Fest without brass. Soul Rebels put in an early afternoon showing and sounded tighter than ever. The crowd particularly loved their deliciously dirty rendition of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”, which has also been a big hit at their late night shows. With early showings by Original Dixie Land Brass Band, Brice Miller and Mahogany Brass Band and others, there were more horns then you could count, which is how Jazz Festers like it. Zydeco stand-outs Wayne Toups and Zydecajun blended rock into the usual accordion-laden fare for a fresh sound.

George Benson brought effortless, dreamy jazz to the Congo Square Stage. Couples slow-danced to his sexy rhythms and more than one woman could be heard verifying that Mr. Benson does indeed, “still got it”. Dr. John put in a performance on the Acura Stage that garnered mixed reviews, possibly because he played with his new band, the Nite Trippers, and his jazz trombonist, Sarah Morrow, seemed to take center stage throughout the set.

New Orleans heroes continued to dominate the day anyway, with a ridiculously funky set from George Porter, Jr. and Runnin’ Pardners and Anders Osborne, who killed it with his soulful voice and gut-wrenching licks on the slide guitar. Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi All-Stars joined Osborne onstage for an unforgettable collaboration that people talked about throughout the day.

Headliners Band of Horses played a joyous set with standards like “The Funeral” and “No One’s Gonna Love You” along with some new material. John Mayer redeemed himself for missing last year’s scheduled performance by doing less talking and more guitar- playing, sounding polished and well-rested. But one of Friday’s most memorable moments had to be Austin blues guitarist Gary Clark, Jr. Due to heavy touring and the 2012 release of his incredible “Blak and Blu” album, Clark Jr. has become a critic’s favorite and was notably moved from last year’s Blues Tent to this year’s Gentilly Stage. With his cool demeanor and eerie stillness, he lets his guitar do all the talking, and it was stunning.

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