As the 2013 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival wound down, I debated where I would spend the final hour and a half. There used to be no debate—I closed out the Jazz Fest with the Radiators for years. There were a few exceptions, notably Hugh Masekela in the early 2000s.
Last year, I decided to check out the Neville Brothers since the Rads were out of the picture due to their retirement. I was sorely disappointed. I could go into the details, but suffice it to say that they just didn’t have what it takes to translate onto a big stage anymore. Maybe they were just not in the game anymore.
So, it makes sense that the band, which is now minus lead vocalist Aaron Neville, no longer closes the day. Rumors flew rampantly all year—who would take over the prestigious spot.
When it was announced that Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue were closing the Acura stage, it was generally regarded as a “changing of the guard” moment. I privately wondered how it would play out.
That question fueled my decision to find a spot at the main stage. That was not a problem. Though it was packed from the front of the stage back 100 yards or so, there was plenty of dancing space in front of the soundboard. Space was abundant in the far reaches
Back when Troy was coming up as a pre-teen sensation in New Orleans, his repertoire consistent of crowd-pleasing favorites. Now that he is an adult sensation, a singer with a powerful voice and a musician equally adept on trombone and trumpet, he mostly plays original music.
That was a problem early in his set at the Fairgrounds because it was obvious that many in the crowd didn’t know his songs. When he played a cover of the New Orleans chestnut, “St. James Infirmary Blues,” the crowd reacted indifferently. Perhaps he should have gone with “American Woman,” a song that he added to his set list after touring with Lenny Kravitz.
There were several other moments in his set when he appeared to be reaching out; trying to engage a crowd that was clearly depleted after a monster set by the Black Keys. He finally got to them all the way to the back by the track by literally reaching out.
He jumped both of the barricades and waded, microphone in hand, into the crowd. The jubilant crowd surrounded him and did as he commanded—“get low, get low, get up, get up!”
He effectively turned the giant Acura stage into a small club. Older folks bemoaned the addition of the giant screens at Jazz Fest, but for Shorty’s age demographic watching screens is part of their lives. And watch they did. Thousands saw the small group surrounding the singer and finally joined in the communal experience that is what Jazz Fest is supposed to be all about.
By the end of his set, he had the whole crowd in the palm of his hand.
I expect the same tonight—but I doubt it will require as much effort.