Our Jazz Fest Picks
for the First Weekend,
4/27–4/28

When Saturday and Sunday roll around at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, festers have to contend with massive crowds. One strategy I find that is fool-proof is to go where they’re not. So today, I’m not even going to mention the big acts. If you’re reading this, you already know about them. Here are our picks for Saturday, April 27. The full schedule is here.

Veteran New Orleans guitarist and singer Spencer Bohren leads a band of younger musicians appropriately called the Whippersnappers. The group features his son Andre on drums among other luminaries of his generation. They are super entertaining and superb musicians to boot.

Dobet Gnahoré (pictured) is a young singer from the Ivory Coast in Africa. She has a killer band complete with lilting guitar parts and a great rhythm section. The videos I have seen feature some wild dancing while the band vamps. It should be a fun set.

While Gnahoré plays African music with modern instruments, Diassing Kunda is a traditional African drum and kora troupe from Senegal. They have very little internet presence besides a Facebook page. That’s nothing but a good thing in my opinion since you could be among the first to discover them.

Hurray for the Riff Raff hasn’t played Jazz Fest since 2016. That can’t be an oversight on the part of the festival’s organizers since the band, which is a vehicle for the songs of Alynda Segarra, is one of the best young groups to come out of New Orleans in years. More likely it’s because they have been touring constantly in support of their critically acclaimed 2017 album, The Navigator.

While the three big stages will be packed on Saturday, let’s hope there’s space in the Blues Tent for me to hear some of Boz Scaggs. Though he is best known for his massive hit, “The Lowdown” he has a deep catalog and a longtime connection to New Orleans. His latest album is Out of the Blues.

Our picks for Sunday, April 28. The full schedule is here.

Mdou Moctar will be one of the most interesting musicians playing at the Jazz Fest this year. Hailing from Niger, Africa, he is a member of the Tuareg ethnic group and was one of the first musicians to modernize the ancient music of these nomadic peoples. He is known at the “Prince of the Desert.”

The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra has been doing a lot of tribute shows lately. The musicians in the big band take the music of a popular artist and create jazz arrangements of the tunes. The ones I have heard, including the Grateful Dead, have been very successful and I expect the same from their Tribute to Aretha Franklin.

Zeke Fishhead is the alter ego of Ed Volker, the principal songwriter and keyboardist for the Radiators. Of course, if you’re a regular reader of this space, you knew that. Los Reyes de Lagartos (the Lizard Kings) is the alter ego of the great New Orleans roots rock band, the Iguanas. They make great music together and are not limited even remotely to the Radiators’ catalog, playing everything from Bob Dylan to the Zombies.

For the final slot of the final day of the first weekend of Jazz Fest, I am looking forward to the Ellis Marsalis Family Tribute featuring all four of the jazz patriarch’s musical sons. Trumpeter Wynton hasn’t played the Jazz Fest since 2009 while saxophonist Branford last graced the Fairgrounds in 2014. It should be a great set along with drummer Jason and trombonist Delfeayo.

Next week: The first week in review and our second weekend picks.

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