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

The final weekend is here! The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival enters the home stretch with two big days of music featuring some of the biggest acts the festival books and also some of the best local musicians. Here are our picks. The full Saturday schedule is here.

Get your day started with some deep New Orleans culture by heading to the Jazz and Heritage stage for Big Chief Fi Yi Yi and the Mandingo Warriors (pictured above). Fi Yi Yi, known as Victor Harris when not wearing his Mardi Gras Indian suit, is a 50-year veteran of the ancient masking traditions of the black Indians of New Orleans. His suits are designed to showcase the African roots of the culture. His tribe is a spectacle to behold. They also have a new book out.

Boyfriend is a female empowerment rapper who got rained out last year. It was one of the biggest disappoints among the bands that couldn’t play since it was going to be her first time playing at the Fairgrounds. She returns this year with her family friendly show, because, believe me, her nightclub shows are not for the prudish.

Since I started going to the Jazz Fest in the early 1980s, the fest has always made an important effort to feature the great artists of the 1950s. For some years now, the ever-dwindling number of legends have been participating in a New Orleans Classic R&B Legends showcase. This year it’s the Dixie Cups, Clarence “Frogman” Henry, Wanda Rouzan, and Al “Carnival Time” Johnson. See the legends while you can!

Dianne Reeves is one of the greatest jazz vocalists to come around in decades. Born in 1956, she has been called a logical successor to Dinah Washington and Carmen McRae. Though it might be sacrilegious to some of the my readers, I would add Sarah Vaughan to that list. Reeves released a tribute to Vaughan in 2002.

The biggest act to play at the Jazz Fest this year is Aerosmith—at least according to the festival announcement listing and video, which places them at the top. Though they will draw a huge crowd, and I may pass by since they were one of my favorites in high school before I discovered the Rolling Stones, I would direct readers to see the Lee Boys.

This band plays a style of music called, “sacred steel.” It used to be a relatively unknown genre of gospel and is still played in the small group of Pentecostal churches where it developed. But since some of the guitarists who play the pedal steel in the style have started playing in secular settings, it has become better known. The Lee Boys are one of the best bands out there playing this unique music.

By the time Sunday rolls around, feets are failing, backs and livers are aching, but you have to make the final day. Cheers to all the festers who finish. Remember—Jazz Fest happens during the day. Don’t stay out too late! Here are our picks for Sunday. The full Sunday schedule is here.

New Orleans rock sometimes gets short shrift from people coming from out of town for the festival. But you can’t go wrong with either the New Orleans Suspects or Flow Tribe. They are both playing in the opening slot.

After getting your groove on, take a load off in the Jazz Tent for the set by drummer Joe Dyson. This graduate of the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, better known around the world as NOCCA and for producing the likes of the Marsalis brothers, Harry Connick, Jr., and dozens of other world-famous musicians, has become one of the go-to drummers on the highly competitive New York scene. He is as fascinating to watch as he is to hear.

Another group that got rained out at Jazz Fest last year is getting another shot. Lakou Mizik is an intergenerational outfit that came together in the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010. They play a mixture of Haitian roots music and more modern Caribbean sounds. This is dance music first and foremost; so expect the crowd in front of the Jazz and Heritage stage to be moving. Push dem chairs back!

Jack White will draw plenty of young rockers and those baby boomers drawn to the embers of a genre that has lost its place in the musical hierarchy. But I still recommend the Radiators. But then again, regular readers could predict that.

The Rads are celebrating 40 years together and this year they were honored with the 30th annual United States Postal Service’s Jazz Fest Postal Cachet. They also have a new album out, which may be the best studio recording of their long career.

The final slot of the final day? The Steve Miller Band? Trombone Shorty and Orleans Ave.? Calexico? All great calls, but if you want to catch something truly different head back to the Jazz Tent.

Savion Glover is a tap dancer! But not just any tap dancer. He taps on a custom-mad platform while world-class musicians are playing behind him. Strike that—he taps with world-class musicians as a member of the band. You really should see this.

Have fun out there and keep festing!

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