Our French Quarter Fest weekend picks, 4/14–4/15

PHOTO: MOLLY MALDOVAN | The French Quarter Festival expands to twenty-three stages for Saturday and Sunday. There’s more music happening than any one person can even digest, never mind attempt to hear. But your faithful correspondent has spent hours perusing the schedule to find the hidden gems. Here are our picks. The full schedule is here.

The House of Blues Voodoo Garden stage is one of the secret spots at the French Quarter Fest. Shaded and complete with a small dance floor and tables in the back, it’s the perfect spot to beat the heat and the crowds.

End your day there with Sexy Dex and the Fresh. Dexter Gilmore is one of the city’s rising stars; he plays guitar and presents like a future rock god. With a backing vocalist who sings perfect harmony, this band is one to watch.

Of course, if you want to be right in the middle of things, Otra closes out the Tropical Isle stage in Woldenberg Park. Bassist Sam Price leads this top-notch Cuban jazz dance band. They will get the crowd up and moving whether they want to or not.

Since I have highlighted bands that don’t play around all that much on the previous days’ picks, I would be remiss to fail to mention Egg Yolk Jubilee. This band of rocking, brass musicians plays music influenced by the New Orleans canon, but with their own twisted twist.

Cellist Helen Gillet plays everywhere with everyone. But it’s less common to hear her perform with her Wazozo Orchestra. This string-based band features some of the best musicians in town and plays music you won’t hear anywhere else.

For something a little different from the typical brass band offerings which are presented every day on the Popeye’s Brass Band stage, check out the Soul Brass Band. Led by drummer Derrick Freeman of Kermit Ruffins and the BBQ Swingers fame, the group features some of the best horn players in the city, many of whom are rarely heard in the brass band setting including trumpeter Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown, saxophonist James Martin, and trombonist Michael Watson.

Finally, consider starting your day on Saturday with Don Vappie and the Creole Jazz Serenaders. Vappie is a banjo player and expert on the Creole traditions of New Orleans. He has a wry sense of humor and his songs with make you smile and get your day heading in the right direction.

Sunday tends to be the most crowded day at the French Quarter Fest and the one with the greatest variety of talent. Here are our picks. The full schedule is here.

Start your day with Evan Christopher’s Clarinet Road. Though not a native of the city, the clarinetist (pictured at top) has absorbed the traditional jazz idiom thoroughly to become one of the best players of his generation.

Two guitar players that are among the most respected in town play at the same time in the early afternoon. Alex McMurray fronts the Tin Men, a band whose name derives from the metallic nature of their three instruments. Sousaphonist Matt Perrine and Washboard Chaz, on his namesake instrument, join him singing ditties and classics in a style all their own.

Carl LeBlanc has been on the scene for decades playing with everyone from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band to Preservation Hall. The small stage in the middle of Bourbon Street where he has played at the last few festivals is a chance to witness his stellar guitar work up close and personal.

Right down the block is a band I can’t wait to hear. Blato Zlato, which means, “swamp gold” in Bulgarian, is led by Boyana Trayanova—a musician who actually hails from the eastern European country. The music has a New Orleans twist. Check out the video to get an idea of what they are all about.

Back in Woldenberg Park, Raw Oyster Cult makes a rare festival appearance. The band appeared on the scene after the “retirement” of the Radiators and features three-fifths of the funky rock band. Expect to hear classics from the songbook of the Rads as well as some choice covers and songs written particularly for the project.

The final time slot of the day has something for everyone. Cyril Neville brings his new project, Swamp Funk to the main stage. Corey Henry and the Tremé Funktet will be pushing their funky horn sound into the stratosphere. Astral Project will tailor their modern New Orleans jazz to the outdoor setting, and Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes will have the Jax Brewery parking lot rocking.

Of course there’s more music going on including the roots rock of the Honey Island Swamp Band and the great jazz vocalist Germaine Bazzle among others.

As they say on WWOZ, go out and hear some live local music!

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