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New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Weekend Two – 5/2-5/5

Dave Schools, Widespread Panic – photo by Jeffrey Dupuis

Thursday, May 2

The second weekend of the 44th annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was a diverse array of funk, blues, jazz, zydeco, and country against a muddy and unseasonably chilly backdrop. Fans trudged through the mud, barefoot or in rain boots, amidst the smells of crawfish and kaleidoscopic sounds traveling through the brisk air.

The weekend kicked off Thursday under gray skies. Kirk Joseph of Dirty Dozen Brass Band fame and his band Backyard Groove opened the Acura Stage, followed by guitarist and singer/songwriter Mia Borders. Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes moved the afternoon crowd to dance with a spirited set. A classically trained local band, they blended rock and funk with klezmer-inspired strings, an electric cello, and was that a hint of disco? Though difficult to categorize, JSDN are a New Orleans favorite because of their unique sound and high energy.

Two icons in their own genres finished off the Acura Stage. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band brought the house down before Widespread Panic played the longest set of the festival. Fans got soaked as Panic’s set opened to a downpour, but it didn’t seem to deter them from frantically dancing in the mud as the band played for over two and a half hours. Opening with “Climb to Safety”, the set included gems like “Hope in a Hopeless World”, “Walkin’ (For Your Love)”, and a stellar version of “Stop Breakin’ Down Blues” in which New Orleans Suspects’ keyboardist CR Gruver was invited on stage.

On the other side of the Fair Grounds, the Gentilly stage offered Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns, an amazing set by Henry Butler and Friends, Theresa Andersson, and Patti Smith drawing a large crowd.

The powerful sounds of the Hot 8 Brass Band emanated from the Congo Square Stage, which also featured Shamarr Allen and the Underdawgs and Kem.

Smaller stages granted music fans just as many inspiring moments with much easier crowds. Gravy funked it up in the afternoon at the Lagniappe Stage, zydeco stand-outs Geno Delafose and French Rockin’ Boogie had their own party at Fais-Do-Do. The Jazz Tent, always dry with impeccable sound, was a shrine to jazz masters all week; on Thursday Delfeayo Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra and Roy Ayers performed. A highlight over at the Blues tent included trombonist Glen David Andrews with his soulful voice, inspiring lyrics and incredibly tight band.

Friday, May 3

Friday morning’s heavy rains caused the Festival to be delayed a bit and the gates didn’t open until noon. That meant an abbreviated set by openers like Royal Teeth, but fans seemed well prepared with ponchos, umbrellas and attitudes of acceptance.

Large crowds turned out at the Acura Stage for Marc Broussard, followed by Maroon 5, who played hits like “Harder to Breathe” and “One More Night” as a gaggle of excited females voiced their appreciation for Adam Levine’s dance moves. The Mavericks played a long-overdue, rollicking set at Gentilly, followed by Marcia Ball. Willie Nelson closed out Gentilly to an adoring audience and, at 80 years old, still delighted fans with that unmistakable twang and songs like “Crazy” and “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to Be Cowboys”. Corey Henry’s Tremé Funktet and Papa Grows Funk wowed the rain-drenched crowd at the Congo Stage, which closed with reggae legend Jimmy Cliff, who mixed standards “The Harder They Come” and “You Can Get It If You Really Want” with new material from his 2012 release Rebirth.

Famed steel guitar player Jerry Douglass played the Fais-Do-Do stage with a blend of jazz, country, progressive, and old world sounds. Blues guitarist Tab Benoit performed in the Blues Tent in the late afternoon – a set that people were talking about throughout the day and into the next. Astral Project’s gravity-defying jazz and Nicholas Payton, with his band XXX, made it worth it to leave the muddy throngs and set up camp in the Jazz Tent.

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