Jazz Fest 2016: Our picks for the first weekend, 4/23–4/24

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell hits it stride when the calendar turns to the weekend. Rockers Pearl Jam have a giant slot on the Acura stage at the end of the day on Saturday and the Red Hot Chili Peppers close out on Sunday with a slightly shorter set. Here are our picks for everything going on in between. The full schedule for Saturday is here.

Nigel Hall has had an incredible year. After bowing out of the funk band, the Nth Power, the longtime sideman released his first solo album to great acclaim and went off on his first solo tour. This year, he has a prime slot opening the Acura stage at 11:30 AM.

Trumpeter Brice Miller has led the Mahogany Brass Band for decades and they are always on my pick list due to the powerfully emotive performances by Miller and his bandmates. This year I send out extra props because Miller recently completely his Ph.D. and is now billed as Dr. Brice Miller.” Congrats!

Jazz Fest producer/director Quint Davis is justifiably proud of the way he programs the individual stages to highlight connections between various acts. The Acura stage today is a case in point. Bookending Hall’s opening set and Pearl Jam’s marathon closing set are Meters’ guitarist Leo Nocentelli (now living back home in New Orleans after 30 years away), Swedish expatriate guitarist and singer/songwriter Anders Osborne, and veteran New Orleans funk act Galactic.

Speaking of Galactic, Rob Mercurio, their ever-funky bassist, is part of a supergroup called the Magnificent 7, which also features Dave Malone of the Radiators, Tommy Malone, of the subdudes, keyboardist John Gros late of Papa Grows Funk, ace drummer Raymond Weber, Bonerama trombonist Mark Mullins, and uber percussionist Michael Skinkus. They are playing a rare show on Saturday, April 23 after the fest at the Rock ‘n’ Bowl with support from the Honey Island Swamp Band.

I would be remiss if I made it through a whole day’s Jazz Fest picks without mentioning an act in the Jazz Tent. At 4:05 PM, legendary drummer Jack DeJohnette (pictured at top) appears with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and bassist Matt Garrison. They have a new album out on ECM Records and have been touring to rave reviews.

For the last act of the day on the first Saturday I am torn between two blue-eyed soul legends—Van Morrison (pictured above) and Boz Scaggs. I saw Morrison at one of the last Jazz Fest night shows at the Municipal Auditorium back in the 1990s. He put on a very uneven set. I have never seen Scaggs as a headliner, although I have seen him sit in a few times with various acts. Like many choices at Jazz Fest, it’s too soon to tell.

The Revealers are a local reggae band who were fan favorites during a long stretch in the late 20th century. They are now back on the scene and are my first pick for Sunday, April 24. The full Sunday schedule is here.

Reviewing my picks over the first two days, I realized I have yet to suggest a Mardi Gras Indian tribe—my bad! Go check out some Indians every day is my motto. So today I recommend Big Chief KeKe and the Comanche Hunters. Known across the Indian nation for their elaborate uptown style beadwork and powerful vocals, they perform on the intimate Jazz and Heritage stage at 12:40 PM.

Nearby on the nearly as intimate Lagniappe stage, cellist and singer Leyla McCalla plays at 12:55 PM. She was a member of the African-American string band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, before relocating to New Orleans and starting her solo career. The first time I saw her play her Creole-inflected tunes, I was mesmerized.

Don’t linger however, because my pick of the fest starts at 2 PM on the Congo Square stage—the exact time McCalla is scheduled to end. DéDé Saint Prix is a legend in Martinique. During a period in the late 1980s, his version of zouk, a highly danceable, modern Caribbean genre, was the biggest thing going in the Francophone world. They loved him in Paris and you will love him in New Orleans. Don’t miss it!

Rhiannon Giddens, a singer, fiddler, banjo player, and a founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops also has a solo career. She appears in the Blues Tent at 3:50 PM. I highly recommend her act based on her solo albums and the chance that McCalla will head over after her set for a reunion between the two former bandmates. After all, it’s those impromptu jams that make Jazz Fest so great!

I have seen the Red Hot Chili Peppers twice before in separate decades in the 20th century, so I am curious what the rocking funksters sound like as they get up in years. Part of their set is on my list, but I will most likely end the day in the Jazz Tent for trumpeter Terence Blanchard and the E-Collective. Last year, they were one of the best acts I saw all fest long.

Monday night, April 25, the Tipitina’s Foundation hosts the annual Instrument’s A Comin’ benefit featuring a who’s who of great musicians. The goal of the event is to increase youth access to music by placing instruments in school band programs. Tickets to this very worthwhile event are here.

Next, I will have picks for the final four days of the 2016 Jazz Fest. Keep on festing and reading TVD!

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