Slackers Day
Jazz Fest Picks

What started out as an experiment has turned into an institution. Alternatively called “Locals Day,” the Thursday before the second weekend of the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is now a favorite of locals and visitors alike. Here are my picks.

Conflicts emerge immediately in the first time slot. Both Hurray for the Riff Raff and Flow Tribe are great young bands that perform with incredible energy. I have seen a few Flow Tribe sets lately and have been impressed with the band’s ability to read a crowd and flow with it. Hurray for the Riff Raff was last year’s sleeper set of the fest. They have now graduated to the opening slot on the Acura stage.

I just saw Hurray for the Riff Raff at the Louisiana Music Factory on Tuesday, and lead singer and primary songwriter Alynda Lee has revamped her band’s lineup once again adding a fiddle player and multi-instrumentalist Casey McAlister on guitar and keyboards. She mentioned how bummed the entire band felt when Levon Helm had to cancel his Jazz Fest appearance this year and then subsequently passed away. She dedicated a spirited version of “Ophelia” to him. It should be a great set by the folk rockers.

If you like Cuban music, don’t miss Otra. They don’t play as much around town as they used because Sam Price, the band’s bassist and leader, is also in the Honey Island Swamp Band and much of his time is devoted to that roots rock outfit. He has less than an hour after Otra’s set is finished to race to the Acura stage to play with the HISB. I suggest you do the same.

For some reason last weekend, performances at the Jazz Tent were either incredibly packed or suspiciously sparsely attended. We couldn’t get near it for Irvin Mayfield’s New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, but got seats right up front for Poncho Sanchez. I suggest getting there early for Regina Carter’s “Reverse Thread” set. She is a fabulous violinist who plays with a sterling tone and lots of energy.

That same advice holds for the performance by Ani DiFranco (pictured) on the Fais Do Do stage. She has a dedicated audience and she is scheduled to perform on one of the small stages. It will be intimate, but packed with fans.

The final slot of the day is also loaded with conflicts. Esperanza Spalding (pictured) played in the Jazz Tent her first time at the fest, then she won the Grammy for best new artist and has graduated to the big stages. She has been touring in support of her new album, which is much more pop oriented, so don’t expect too much jazz.

Over in the Jazz Tent, Astral Project is a perennial favorite. They are a New Orleans institution and always bring their A-game to the Fairgrounds.

Last weekend, I took a chance several times on bands I had not heard live before including Iron and Wine and Janelle Monae and was suitably impressed by the Jazz Fest’s willingness to book acts that don’t fit tightly under the “jazz and heritage” umbrella. I will do the same on Thursday by checking out Florence + the Machine (pictured at top).

Tomorrow—my picks for Friday!

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