TVD’s Jazz Fest Recap: The Second Weekend

Those visitors who attended the first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival were treated to awesome spring weather in New Orleans. Second weekend? Not so much. Summer arrived sometime Monday and though the music was spectacular, there was a much higher humidity level through the four days of the second weekend and temperatures hovered in the upper 80s. Here’s a look back.

Thursday has alternatively been called “locals day” or “slackers day,” but this year, Friday actually deserved that moniker because Thursday was jammed packed with talent. I headed straight for the Acura stage to see my new favorite local act, Hurray for the Riff Raff, expecting to see thousands of Parrot Heads waiting Jimmy Buffett’s closing acoustic set. Perhaps they only come out for the full band, because it was not that crowded.

On the other end of the field, an entirely differently demographic arrived to see Florence + the Machine (pictured above). In between, I caught sets by Otra! and the Alto Woodshed in the Jazz Tent, which featured Khari Lee and Aaron Fletcher facing off on alto saxophones. They tore it up with Troy Davis on drums, Roland Guerin on bass, and Victor Atkins on piano.

Everyday at the Jazz Fest I try to check out a new act I have never heard before and hope to be blown away. On Friday it was Sarah Jorosz. She’s a very young mandolin player and singer who is really talented. She did a bluegrass version of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” She also sang a song referencing Katrina that she wrote when she was fourteen called “Broussard’s Lament.”

But the highlight of the day was the closing set by Rodrigo and Gabriela with C.U.B.A. For the first time that I remember, an act had canned music playing before and after their set. And it was metal! The guitar-playing duo was incredible. Gabriela was a human beach ball bouncing all around the stage while playing her wireless acoustic guitar. Rodrigo, though only slightly less animated, provided the guitar heroics with stunning leads. By the end of the set, they had the crowd going nuts as well.

Saturday was predicted to be the most crowded day of the second weekend, and the prediction proved true. It was packed out there, but not too packed to move around as long as you stayed away from the main stage. Amazingly, there was hardly a wait for the port-o-lets, which were placed strategically around the track. Kudos to the organizers for yet another tweak that enhances the experience.

The Black Feather Mardi Gras Indians lost their big chief last year, the legendary downtown sewer and singer, Lionel Delpit. I knew I had to see their set. The new chief is very young and he had the largest crown I have ever seen. He seemed emotional and tentative at first, but he got the crowd behind him as his gang paid homage to Delpit and simultaneously supported their new leader. He chanted, “I am the new big chief” before segueing into Delpit’s signature song, “Chief Black Feather.” It was a poignant moment that was not lost on the crowd who enthusiastically joined in the chorus.

The final Sunday was bittersweet for me and legions of Fishheads because the Radiators were not closing out the day as they had for the previous twenty years. But a consolation was a set by the band’s leader and pianist Ed Volker (pictured at top). Joe Cabral joined him on baritone sax along with Michael Skinkus on percussion. I thought the set was a bit disjointed, he played or referenced at least twenty songs in an hour, but it was great to see the Fishhead family back together again.

Kermit Ruffins (pictured) played on an outside stage for the first time in as long as I can remember and put on a stunning set that showcased his new Japanese pianist. He is a generous bandleader and gave precious stage time to two female vocalists, Mykia Jovan and Nayo Jones, and also let his drummer, Derrick Freeman, take a song in the spotlight.

When the end of the day came, I had a choice—go back to the spot where I stood for most of the previous twenty years (I actually did skip the Radiators a few times for acts like Hugh Masekela) or go see the Neville Brothers. I chose the brothers and was glad.

Though the beginning of the set seemed to lag, Art Neville had played late the night before with the original Meters and earlier in the day with the newest incarnation, the Funky Meters; by mid point the band was kicking. There were numerous special guests including Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, Irvin Mayfield, and other members of the Neville nation.

When Aaron Neville (pictured above) returned to the stage for the traditional encore of “Amazing Grace” and the sun began its slow descent, I knew that all was right with the world and with the Jazz Fest.

All photos except Florence + the Machine by “Baton Rouge” Bill Boelens

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