New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Day Two
Midnite Disturbers, photo by Jeffrey Dupuis
After a slight delay due to email tragedy here is part two of the team’s look at Day Two of Jazz Fest…
Saturday morning, early. (Note: when you get in from the clubs at 5am, any hour not ending in pm is too early). From the official Jambands/Relix second floor headquarters, located just across from the New Orleans Fairgrounds, we can hear opening notes from at least two or three of the 10 stages as day two begins. Shannon McNally’s country blues from the Gentilly stage, Renard Poche, former Dr. John guitarist, plays his funk all the way at the other end at the Acura stage, and maybe a taste of Big Chief Walter Cook and the Creole Wild West Mardi Gras Indians. Certainly a sign to get up and find ticket, sunscreen, and food money and head to the music.
Forgoing Shannon, Renard, and Big Chief, our plan took the group straight to Congo Square for an eye opening set of New Orleans Bounce from two of the city’s best purveyors, Big Freedia (“Gin in My System” and “Azz Everywhere!”) and Sissy Nobby as well as a surprise appearance from Katey Red, all from New Orleans gay bounce scene. With DJ Poppa and several dancers who amply demonstrated the concept of hands to the floor, back end up, and bounce, (YouTube that sometime!), the fans quickly got the idea and crowd participation was invited as women climbed over the barriers for their own hands down, “azz in the air”, demos.
Looking to cleanse the soul and eyes from the sight of too many backsides, the only choice was to stop for a beer and move to the Gospel Tent for, one of New Orleans favorite choirs over the last 25 years, the Gospel Soul Children, 30 voices ringing out the praises of a higher power (choose your own) is often the best way to start a Fest day.
Now fully fortified, we split to cover the day’s music, which will include The Low Anthem, Hot 8 Brass band, soul queen Irma Thomas, Amos lee, Jason Mraz, John Boutte’ (he of the HBO show Treme’s theme song), Ricky Scaggs, Robert Cray, and Bon Jovi, who got a full 2 plus hour slot to end the day.
The Low Anthem, a Rhode Island quartet of multi-instrumentalists, just off their tour with iron and Wine and prior to heading out with Mumford and Son, sang many of their songs from their new album, The Smart Flesh, rocking much harder than recent shows I have seen. Jeff Prytowsky attacked the kit like a rocker, Jocie Adams and Mat Davidson amplified Ben Knox Miller on rockers like “Hey All You Hippies” and “Home I’ll Never Be,” no doubt answering the need to reach the large crowd gathered at Gentilly, a site they should get familiar with as their reputation grows after 5 years on the road.
The first big choice of the day- Midnite Disturbers at the small Jazz and Heritage stage – an all-star lineup of musicians from New Orleans (Kevin O’Day, Stanton Moore, Roger Lewis, Skerik, Ben Ellman, Shamarr Allen, Trombone Shorty, Big Sam, Corey Henry, Mark Mullins, Matt Perrine) who despite playing rarely together demonstrate the uniqueness of the New Orleans musical community, the knowledge of repertoire and I guess for that reason they can all play together and sound better rehearsed than most bands. Don’t know who the best horn player in the city is, but pretty sure he was on that stage. They all wore their personalized Disturber uniforms – a black tee shirt with red lettering that reads “listen to” followed by the name of someone who influenced them. The most touching was Mark Mullins’ which read, “listen to Brian O’Neill” his Bonerama bandmate who died way too soon. It was great music that mandated staying the full set.
Amos Lee was the next “must see.” Lee had the Gentilly stage grooving with his gentle vocals, full band with horns, and backup singers (including Mutlu, another Philadelphia based singer songwriter). It was well worth staying the full set. A quick stop in the Blues Tent, where for once the crowds weren’t spilling out the door, to see Alvin Youngblood Hart’s Muscle Theory, a dose of heavy blues. Had to miss John Boutte who packed the Jazz Tent as usual. Drew tears with many of his songs and closed with new New Orleans anthem “The Treme Song” which had everyone on their feet and dancing in the aisles.
Jon Bon Jovi presided over Acura, despite the loss of his guitarist Richie Sambora to a recent surprise check into rehab. Bon Jovi was joined on stage by Irma Thomas who had preceded him on the Acura Stage. Encores had John changed into a Saints shirt as the crowd sang along through “Dead or Alive” and “Livin’ on a Prayer.”
Usually the Saturdays of Fest are miserable affairs as throngs of folks turn out for just the big closer (in this case Bon Jovi) and muck up Fest for the rest of us, but the fairgrounds were surprisingly pleasant, lines manageable, getting amongst the spread-out 10 stages of music possible, and getting up front for all the shows including Bon Jovi and into the Blues and Jazz tents a reality. The weather was again spectacular and even granted a few moments of cloud cover.
There is always a raging debate over which is better – day time fest or the night shows. Fortunately, we are “and” people, not “or” people, so never have to make those kinds of decisions. However, the nighttimes scored some significant points with the semi-annual Morning Forty Federation reunion show at One-Eyed Jack’s. It was everything one expected – sloppy, boozy, sleazy rock with a mosh pit as a lagniappe that evokes the city from which it bubbled up. Elsewhere the 2 am show at Blue Nile was also stellar with Katdelic who played with Ivan Neville and Adam Deitch (who is making it harder and harder to state with confidence that Stanton Moore is the best funk drummer on the planet). They were later joined by Eric McFadden who added his driving guitar that worked great. The band was superb and tight, which is not always the case with these late night jams. The cohesion was made even more obvious as Ivan Neville was treated like just another organ player. Had to leave at 4:15, but parental duties called as our kids needed to be woken up and brought to the airport for a 6am flight. Definitely catch them next time.