TVD Live: New Orleans Jazz Fest, 4/26–4/28

The first weekend of the 2013 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival featured one of the most crowded days ever when Billy Joel graced the Acura stage, two gorgeous, low humidity days, and a torrentially rainy day that created a swampy bog that was barely dried up a week later. Here’s a look back.

Friday began with a scorching set from the New Orleans Suspects and ended with the fascinating musical hybrid that is the Mardi Gras Indian Orchestra. The group features a who’s who of musicians and backing vocalists, Big Chief David Montana and Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes.

What makes the group even more special is the addition of alternative stringed instruments, namely the cello of Helen Gillet and the fiddle of Harry Hardin (pictured above). The two classically trained musicians dug deep into their respective instruments, and gave the music an added depth. In the back, guitarists Sam Hotchkiss and Camile Baudoin were stellar as were bassist Reggie Scanlan and drummer Kevin O’Day.

Dr. John (pictured below) debuted his new band that is led by trombonist Sarah Morrow. I don’t know what is behind his thinking with this new ensemble, but they never really gelled on stage.

But, a highlight of the set was the legendary musician’s turn on the electric guitar. He played some tasty leads that were right out of the trickbag of Earl King. Fittingly, the song he was playing was King’s classic, “Come On.”

Of all the acts I was looking forward to seeing, I was most impressed by Magary Lord of Bahia, Brazil (pictured at top). I saw him perform a few months back in Brazil and was blown away. However, I was a little worried that his unique blend of African-inspired sounds might not translate in New Orleans. No worries—that musical language is universal. He tore it up on Saturday.

Alex McMurray was also quite impressive opening the Gentilly stage on Saturday. He featured a horn section with arrangements by the band’s bassist Matt Perrine. Brad Zimmer remarked in the crowd that the horn part on one of McMurray’s songs from his old band Royal Fingerbowl would not be out of place on a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack.

Sunday the wet weather that would plague New Orleans all week began in earnest about an hour after the gates opened. After about a sixty minute downpour, the sky stopped crying for most of the day. However, the rain began again in the late afternoon, and continued until the fest’s organizers pulled the plug about 15 minutes prior to the official closing time because of lightening.

Jazz Fest is a family affair for many of the musicians performing. For the father-daughter musical duo Charles and Charmaine Neville (pictured) it was also a reunion on Sunday. Charles has lived in Massachusetts for decades, so whenever he returns home it’s a special occasion.

Native American culture was a special focus at the fest this year, and Martha Redbone (pictured below), who is a regular performer at the Jazz Fest, got into the spirit with an energetic set. I also really enjoyed the Stoney Creek Singers and the hoop dancer that accompanied them.

Armed with over a dozen smallish hoops, he created incredible shapes including a turtle and a snake as he stepped through the hoops and wove them around his thin frame all while dancing to the infectious beat of a dozen drummers. They sat in a circle, pounding one giant drum, and chanted ancient songs.

Tomorrow—the second weekend.
Photos: “Baton Rouge” Bill Boelens

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