I used to do these lists every year when I worked for the Louisiana Weekly. It was always tough to pick a mere ten shows. I never bother to count how many live performances I see each year, but my notes for 2011 cover 45 pages. Here’s a look back at my favorites in chronological order.
1. The chitlin circuit legend Bobby Rush played for a friend’s wedding reception on February 12.
Despite the fact that the opulent backyard setting in Gretna could not have been further from a Mississippi juke joint, he just killed the set when he could have phoned it in. The band was on fire and we were right up front catching all the action.
2. On March 3, a Thursday night, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and his band Orleans Ave. returned home from their never-ending tour supporting his first album on Verve Records to play at the Contemporary Arts Center for the krewe of Muses Ball.
With a thousand costumed, intoxicated women to entertain, he really kicked it hard and the band sounded great. All of their shows the road have allowed this group to mature into a serious group with serious chops despite their youth.
3. Fishheads were counting down the last remaining local shows when the Radiators performed on Wednesday, March 30 at Lafayette Square.
This was one of their last outdoor shows before retiring after over 30 years together and they seemed to know it. The band ripped two killer sets before an adoring crowd of locals.
4. When the French Quarter Festival was released, I was super psyched to see Iris May Tango (pictured from back in the day) on the schedule.
They were one of my favorite bands from the 1990s—a hard-to-describe musical amalgamation of players from different genres. When they hit the riverfront stage on April 7 I was beside myself with anticipation. It could have been a let down because of my high expectations, but instead it was a flashback to dancing on the rails at the Dragon’s Den.
5. I could easily pick the top ten from Jazz Fest shows. In the interest of balance I have selected four. On April 29, the Anat Cohen Quartet played in the Jazz Tent.
She had been on radar because of effusive coverage in the New York Times. She did not disappoint. Her work on the clarinet and saxophone was flat out amazing. Plus, she was very animated on stage, dancing while her wonderful bandmates took solos and mugging for the cameras.
6. A day later, Hurray for the Riff Raff made their Jazz Fest debut on the Lagniappe stage.
Alynda Lee, the group’s singer and songwriter, is without a doubt a serious talent. I know because I got goose bumps during their last song—a bittersweet ballad about when she road the rails in her younger days called “Ramblin’ Gal.” Over the years, my goose bumps have never led me a stray even with a band I have never seen before.
7. On May 1, I was wandering around the Fairgrounds at the end of the day looking for something to sustain me until the gates closed and I rendezvoused with my friends.
I was hoping for one of my famous Jazz Fest “stumbles.” You know, when you discovered a band you have never even heard of before and they blow your mind. It’s a rare occurrence especially when you are hoping for it.
When I approached the tiny Jazz and Heritage stage, I heard horns and drums. I checked the schedule—who the heck is Red Baraat? It turned out to be one of the most interesting, high-energy bands I have ever seen. They were like a brass band from India and they were awesome.
8. Haiti was the country that the Jazz Fest focused on this year and all the bands from that most musical of islands were incredible. But RAM of Haiti, who performed May 7, took the cake.
They are a huge, highly danceable ensemble with five percussionists, four rara horns, a soukous-style guitarist and two keyboardists. At the end of their set, the percussionists and the horns players jumped off the stage, over the barricades and paraded out onto the track. Despite the mass of people in chairs, we had a decent spot up front and a woman actually asked us not to leave before the parade; fearing more people would pour in front of her chairs.
9. The Bayou Boogaloo has emerged as one of the best fests of the long, hot summer. On May 21, I saw Debauche for the first time.
They are billed as a “Russian mafia band.” But I thought this was just publicity hype. However, the leader really is from the Ukraine and they really do play Russian songs. They generated so much energy from the crowd that the pit broke out into a slam dancing frenzy even though they play “very sad songs” on acoustic instruments.
10. On November 11, Raw Oyster Cult made its debut at Tipitina’s.
The band features three members of the Radiators—Dave Malone, Camile Baudoin and Frank Bua. After nearly six months since the Radiators’ retirement, the fishhead community was really up for a Rads show and we got one. During the second set, the keyboardist CR Gruver and the guitarist Jake Eckert joined the fellows for a musical free-for-all. All the regulars were up front and the band played long and late. Just like we like it!