New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Day Three
Honey Island Swamp Band -photo by Jeffrey Dupuis
New Orleans Jazzfest, Sunday, day 3, 11am. Walking in for the last day of the first weekend, the strains of “Will This Circle Be Unbroken” were streaming from the gospel tent. A perfect start to any Jazz Fest day.
Ah, the beauty of Jazz Fest. Without a plan, within 45 minutes and only halfway into the fairgrounds we caught the stripped down busking blues of the Washboard Chaz Trio, then came New Orleans brass with the Free Agents Brass Band, then I had a quick dance at Acura Stage to the Latin beat of Fredy Omar Con Su Banda, all accompanied by a Jazz Fest first, the locally brewed Abita Amber, its first time on sale at the fest.
The plan for the day was set but there weren’t any “musts” early in the day until new local favorite, Honey Island Swamp Band at 2:00, so I actually took advantage of the in and out privileges that come with my Brass Pass (thank you WWOZ) and snuck out to the nearby festgoers hangout bar, Liuzza’s for a bloody mary. Back inside, I caught the Glen David Andrews interview in the Grandstand, one of the cooler things about Jazz Fest – the cool air conditioned interior of the building, where you can sit down and listen to musicians being interviewed, and always come away having learned something. Andrews demonstrated the New Orleans way of passing on the tradition by bringing up a NOCAA clarinetist and they played a few standards together. This was a theme right in line with his non-profit Trumpets Not Guns which provides instruments to local kids offering music as an alternative to violence.
He also spoke passionately about what New Orleans needs to be able to move beyond Katrina and stop the continual rehash and blame. He worries about the loss of the true New Orleans, remembering what is was like to hear strains of music as he walked out his door from multiple churches, bars, and funeral homes, their music all blending to create the music of his Treme neighborhood. It is clear that gentrification is close at hand but he declares “I don’t want to come out of my house and see it as quiet as Metarie” (a mostly white New Orleans suburb).
Being Sunday, the Gospel Tent had a strong lineup starting with Jo Cool Davis, a testament to faith and perseverance, singing from his wheel chair. Davis was joined by the legendary James “Sugarboy” Crawford, a graceful addition to the set.
Next I stopped by the soul-sucking blues tent to listen to Anders Osborne, John Fohl, and Johnny Sansone. The ushers immediately told us to find a seat though there were plenty of empty seats, they were apparently saved for some absent friend in the adjoining seat. After asking a few seat savers if we could occupy the saved seats until their people returned, our offer was finally accepted. I hate to rant on this, but the Karma in that tent is horrendous. I saw people cutting others off for any seat that became available – for those of you who have never been to Jazz Fest; such selfish actions are rare here. The Osborne/Fohl/Sansone trio was fine – even very good, but it couldn’t overcome the mean spirit pervading the audience, I found myself reminiscing about the good old days when the blues stage was outside and people danced unfettered to the blues in the sun.
I needed to rinse the residue of selfishness off, and what better way than with return to the Gospel tent and Betty Winn & One A-Chord. Her singing along with the rest of her group helped amplify the love in the gospel tent and after a few songs I was all happy again, ready to move on to the Jazz and Heritage stage for the Storyville Stompers Brass band. When I first started coming to New Orleans, I spent most of my time listening to Brass Bands like Rebirth (when Kermit Ruffins was with them) and the Dirty Dozen – it is a sound that is so uniquely New Orleans – it is like being hit by a wall of sound, funk and energy. This year, I find I’m seeking Brass Bands out again, and the Stompers didn’t disappoint.
Next I made a beeline for one of my new favorite bands – the Honey Island Swamp band. I have a hard time describing them, but try throwing southern rock, country, blues and funk into a bowl and add a dash of Zydeco and you might get an idea. I stayed for the whole set and was thrilled that the crowd was large, yet somehow I was able to get a spot up front and still make it back and forth to the beer vendor, where there were no lines either. I loved the whole set but “Josephine,” “Wishing Well,” and “Till The Money’s Gone” stood out for me.
That gave me just enough time to catch the Zion Harmonizers give tribute to their founder, recently passed Sherman Washington. A colored cut-out image of Washington now floats above the stage in tribute.