TVD Live: New Orleans Jazz Fest, 5/2–5/5

More rain, some of the coldest days ever experienced at the Fairgrounds, an inexplicable late opening, and schedule adjustment couldn’t come close to dampening the spirits of hundreds of thousands of festers. Here’s a look back at the second weekend of the 2013 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

After a week of wet weather, everyone expected a slog through a swampy bog at the Jazz Fest, and they weren’t wrong. Lakes of water and rivers of mud filled most of the New Orleans Fairgrounds on Thursday morning when the gates opened.

I spent much of the day at the intimate Jazz and Heritage stage where I saw often compelling and occasionally transcendent sets from the Black Seminoles and the Spirit of the Fi Fi Yi Mardi Gras Indians as well as the Forgotten Souls Brass Band.

The Fi Yi Yi and their associates, the Mandingo Warriors, released their first album this past week and it is an unexpected treat because it features top-flight New Orleans musicians joining the Indians.

They reprised the recorded effort at the Jazz Fest when trumpeters Irvin Mayfield and Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown, saxophonist Calvin Johnson, bassist David Pulphus and trombonist Michael Watson joined in. It was a sublime musical moment when they played the prayer song, “Indian Red.”

Another sublime musical moment occurred when organists Kyle Roussel and Joe Ashlar played together at the Woodshed in the Jazz Tent along with drummer Gerald French, bassist Roland Guerin and guitarist Todd Duke.

The two organists faced off and played separately. It was fascinating to watch French and Duke, two players who are more likely to be heard backing trad bands and/ or singers, stretch out on funky modern jazz.

Up Front-Front (small)

Though I was otherwise occupied during the last two hours of Jazz Fest with my first ever appearance on a Jazz Fest stage and a book signing, I was able to catch the last half hour of Patti Smith. She tore the roof off the joint.

Friday was forecast to be one of the coldest days in early May in the history of New Orleans, and it sure felt like it as we waited nearly an hour for the gates to open. The schedule got flipped a bit, and Male Debalê, a drum troupe from Bahia, Brazil, had their set canceled. Luckily, they were also scheduled to parade and play the following day.

Papa Grows Funk performed for the last time for the foreseeable future at the Jazz Fest as the band is going on an extended hiatus. Guitarist June Yamagishi made it count with searing solos from the edge of the stage.

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Jimmy Cliff (pictured above) brought the warmth of the islands to the closing set on the Congo Square stage, while Willie Nelson took a little time to warm up over on the Gentilly stage. It took Marcia Ball (pictured below) no time at all to get the crowd going during her set preceding Nelson.

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Once the music ended, even the many tourists from climes much further north were taken aback by how cold it seemed as the wind howled through Mid City.

The grounds dried a little bit by Saturday morning, but it was still boot weather out there despite the fact that the cold front had completely passed, and the sky was clearer.

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I spent the day in anticipation of the parade and performance by Male Debalê (pictured above and below). The parade was great fun as hundreds ogled the costumes and percussion instruments of the fascinating troupe from Brazil. When they finally hit the stage, the crowd was deep into the dancing spirit.

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Though I didn’t make it over to the Acura stage for Fleetwood Mac, reports suggest that the second Saturday may have been one of the most crowded in the history of the fest. Friends told me that even the very back of the track was barely passable.

Sunday morning’s newspaper featured a long story about Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, and his new role taking the place of the Neville Brothers as the closing act on the Acura stage.

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But before he could hit the stage, there was a whole day of festing. The New Orleans Classic R&B Revue was a treat as Robert Parker (pictured above) and Clarence “Frogman” Henry (pictured below) and others played the timeless hits from yesteryear.

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By the time Andrews and his band Orleans Avenue hit the stage, the Meter Men (Leo Nocentelli and George Porter, Jr. pictured below), two-thirds of the original Meters, had funked up the stage with Page McConnell of Phish filling in for Art Neville on keys.

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A friend suggested that perhaps the Black Keys, who performed immediately before Trombone Shorty, had depleted the energy of much of the crowd during their rousing set because Troy and company initially had a hard time getting the crowd into the show.

It also looked like more people were keeping the Neville tradition alive by going to see Aaron Neville with his brother Charles (pictured below) providing tasteful accompaniment on sax. The area by the soundboard at the Acura stage was positively spacious.

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By my count there were less than ten flags or totems on poles swirling in the breeze up front for Shorty’s set. In most years past, there was a sea of banners for the Neville Brothers. Thought Shorty had a tough time engaging the crowd early on, the end of the set erased any doubts that he was up to the task of replacing the venerable family band.

Troy jumped the two barricades separating the stage from the VIP area and the VIP area from the masses, and turned the giant Acura field into a tiny crowded club. Fittingly for a 27-year-old playing for thousands of kids his own age, it took the images of him on the giant screen surrounded by fans to finally engage the people in the far reaches of the crowd.

Photos: “Baton Rouge” Bill Boelens except top image of Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews

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