Our Jazz Fest Picks for the Second Weekend, 5/6–5/7

Saturday is the day that a few of the acts that got rained out last year at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival get another shot at it. At the end of the day, Snoop Dogg and Stevie Wonder will be playing at the same time. Will a record be set for the most crowded day ever? Check back next week for the recap. Here are our picks for the weekend. The full Saturday schedule is here.

Big Chief Victor Harris (pictured at top) of the Fi Yi Yi and the Mandingo Warriors has been making his unique African-inspired black Indian suits for 50 years. At the downtown Indian parade some weeks back, he told me his intricate work starts with a single stone and he builds out from the center with no written designs or pattern in mind. Check him out and have your mind blown first thing Saturday morning.

On the busiest days at the Fairgrounds, I recommend keeping it intimate. So stick around after the Indians for the Panorama Jazz Band. Led by clarinetist Ben Schenk, these guys play indigenous folk music from all around the world and work the crowd into a dancing frenzy.

Cuba bubbles over with musical styles. Son is one of the most recognized due to the success of the documentary The Buena Vista Social Club. One of the best contemporary son bands, Septeto Santiaguero, plays on the Fais Do Do Stage at 1:30 PM and then closes out the Cuba pavilion. They also play twice on Sunday.

Your daily dose of jazz takes place at 2:45 PM when a super group of sorts, the New Orleans Groovemasters, take over the Jazz Tent. The band is led by three of the best contemporary drummers on the scene—Shannon Powell, Herlin Riley, and Jason Marsalis. No word currently on who else will be appearing on stage, but suffice it to say, this is going to be one amazing set of music.

Los Van Van is one of the most important bands to emerge from Cuba in the 20th century. Inspired by American music like soul, disco, and D.C.’s go-go sounds, but Cuban to the core, they play high energy dance music that will have clouds of dirt swirling around the Congo Square stage before they are replaced by clouds of smoke once Snoop Dogg takes over.

When Stevie Wonder got rained out last year, I was one of the many thousands of people who had intended to check out his set. I have seen him several times in the past, but no appearance was more powerful than the one a couple of years after the flooding following Hurricane Katrina nearly did in the city and the Jazz Fest.

At that Jazz Fest show, he brought out our own Irma Thomas, the legendary singer who lost her home and business to the floodwaters. When she sang “It’s Raining” with Stevie on harmonica, emotions peaked on the infield grass.

Sunday, May 7 is the final day of the 2017 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Here are my picks. The full schedule is here.

Two of the best young-ish brass bands in the city are performing on Sunday. The Stooges Brass Band kick things off on the main Acura stage giving a big boost to a band that truly deserves it. Later in the day, check out the TBC Brass Band on the much more intimate Jazz and Heritage stage.

One of the great jazz talents to matriculate through the graduate school program in Jazz Studies at the University of New Orleans is drummer and vocalist Jamison Ross. A native of Florida, he is a double-barreled threat since his singing is as strong has his drumming. That’s saying a lot since he won the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition for drums in 2012.

Two great local trumpeters are playing at the same time, but their programs couldn’t be more different. Kermit Ruffins will present a Tribute to Louis Armstrong in the Economy Hall Tent while Nicholas Payton will present his Afro-Caribbean Mixtape in the Jazz Tent. Kermit’s work is steeped the style of Armstrong. Payton’s latest release sports the same name as this project. It’s adventurous music leaning on the connections between New Orleans and the African diaspora.

The final act of the day on the last day of Jazz Fest is always a tough call. You go where you feel it. As I am writing this nearly two weeks early, my head says go check out the great Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes. But the Meters are also playing, as is the new regular closer, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue.

If you’re torn, I would also suggest checking out the 25th anniversary celebration of the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars. This band will have a trifecta of musicality, emotions, and audience participation (in the form of the world’s largest hora dance) going for it along with lots of special guests including “Mean” Willie Green, Frank London of the Klezmatics, and Skerik.

Next week: the recap.

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