New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Day Six (Week Two)
Walter “Wolfman” Washington – photo by Jeffrey Dupuis
New Orleans Jazz Fest, Day 6, Saturday
Another blue sky day. From the Jambands official headquarters just across from the festival entrance, I see intrepid (foolish?) festgoers already determinedly lining up at the gate at 7am, lawn chairs, coolers, blankets, umbrellas in tow, waiting to claim a spot, Oklahoma land rush style, at their favorite stage when the gates open around 11am. I’ve never understood the logic of sitting at one stage all day when there are 9 others constantly offering the possibility of something new, something more interesting, something never heard before. And I understand even less those who choose to encamp at some spot between stages, where only an indecipherable gumbo of sound bleeding from various stages can be heard, but no one distinctly. One factor could be the proximity to the beer vendors.
Unlike many mornings when we allow the first clarion sounds of an accordion or trumpet or fuzz-tone guitar from across the way to motivate us through the gates, this morning we’re on a mission to see the first act at the #2 stage. R Scully’s Rough 7. Ryan Sully’s band morphed from the ashes of one of New Orleans’ most interesting rock and party bands, the Morning 40 Federation, the latter band’s name referring to the preferred am beverage, a 40 ounce malt liquor. Their shows were often equal blends of performance art and music, as the band members and their rabid followers celebrated the bacchanalian side of rock. It was not uncommon for a given band member to pass out onstage, sometimes cushioned in their own vomit. It was all great art until they actually learned to play their instruments; at that point the vital element of spontaneity was lost and the band broke up. (For fun check out the official Morning 40 YouTube video.)
From there Ryan Scully formed his Rough 7 from an assortment of Bywater neighborhood scenesters, bringing a lot of the unpredictable garage feel of the 40’s with him, this time however adding competent musicianship in a blend of what he calls “garage gospel.” Despite being more than unaccustomed to starting a set at 11am in direct sunlight instead of the glow of 11 pm Budweiser neon, the Rough 7 gave us what we came for, Scully’s raw, raspy voice and intelligent lyrics, and Rob Cambre’s inventive guitar work, often bordering into experimental realm of Robert Wyatt or Pere Ubu. Meschiya Lake and Erika Lewis vocal harmonies stand out in contrast to Scully’s rasp, and when Lake did a turn on the Etta James classic “I’d Rather Go Blind” she made the show her own.
From there the next venture was way on the other end at the #1 stage for a set by Marcia Ball. Elegant as always, sitting sideways at the piano with legs crossed, turned out her always reliable set of barrelhouse boogie that exists somewhere along the Texas Louisiana border. She carries the spirit of Clifton Chenier and Gatemouth Brown, offering a different sort of party music for a slightly more civilized crowd than the Rough 7.
The middle part of the day was spent criss-crossing around the racetrack for sets by Shammar Allen and his Underdawgs. He gave a tight mix of funk, rap, a little freeform jazz trumpet and a good showing of his Calvin Kleins peeking up over his low cut jeans.
Then it was on to the highly energized and polished performance from Trombone Shorty leading into the triumphant return of New Orleans rapper Mystikal, fresh out of a 6 year prison visit, (seemingly a rapper’s essential rite of passage). He came out with a live band that included a horn section, a DJ, drum kit, keyboards and bass, offering up many of his hits like “Shake Ya Ass,” “Here I Go” and the Mannie Fresh produced “Uh Oh.” As if to emphasize the notion of offering it up live, band members wore t-shirts with “Mystikal: If it ain’t live, it ain’t me” on the front.