TVD Live: Jazz Fest,
the First Weekend

After all the bad weather last year, it was great to have three rain-free, albeit a little warm for the season, days at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Here’s a look at some highlights.

I started each day with the Mardi Gras Indians. The Commanche Hunters were impressive on Friday, but the Creole Wild West (pictured at top) on Saturday brought the biggest tribe including numerous precious children in suits playing Indian with guileless joy.

Larry Bannock (pictured above on left in hat), the Big Chief of the Golden Star Hunters, has been in ill health lately and I wondered if he would make it to the Fairgrounds this year.

He showed up in fine form sans suit with a pretty tribe, which featured an Indian with the innovative look shown below. Note the antique pistols and the holsters on his apron.

Golden Star Hunters #2 Sunday

In his younger, more volatile years, Bannock was known for his outspokenness from the stage. Shameless plug—check out some of the stories and quotes in my book. Though he is a bit diminished by age, he did have at least one quotable line, “ You know the saying about God looking after babies and damn fools? Mardi Gras Indians are damn fools.”

Afoxe Omo Nile Ogunja

Brazil was the featured country this year and the bands visiting New Orleans were very impressive, especially the drum and vocal group, Afoxé Omô Nilê Ogunjá, (pictured above). I saw them perform twice and the sets were very different. It seems they spent the time between their Friday and Sunday performances soaking up the New Orleans vibe, because their spirits were so much higher the second time around.

Though Forroteria is not based in Brazil, they have a couple of Brazilian members. I also checked them out twice, and observed the same phenomenon. Though visiting bands have a sense of what the Jazz Fest crowds are like from word of mouth and the long history of the event, they have to experience it to understand it.

Forroteria Saturday Katarina

This group plays forro, a style of rural music from the northeast of Brazil, which is similar to the zydeco of Louisiana. The instrumentation is basically the same, but the beats are more syncopated and the songs are in Portuguese. The group was incredible particularly the triangle player/singer (pictured above) and the accordion player. The lead guitarist played angular lines reminiscent of David Byrne with Talking Heads, and the bass player kept the crowds moving.

Another group I discovered this year was the Mavericks. Though they have been together for 25 years, they weren’t on my radar before they returned from a long hiatus. They are now. The group’s singer, Raul Malo (pictured below), did a very credible version of “Blue Bayou,” made famous by Roy Orbison, despite that the fact that it was not on their set list—so he said.

Raul Malo Mavericks Saturday

The band was super animated and tore through an impressive range of styles. At times their two-man horn section—trumpet and sax—sound like a mariachi band. At others times they raged like a rock band.

Bombino (pictured below) is a band from Niger in Africa, but their sound is decidedly bluesy. They put on a stellar set in the blues tent and exposed thousands of festers to the musical cross pollination of the African diaspora.

Bombino Sunday

As usual, the festival staff made some tweaks to improve the experience. The track surrounding the infield was reconfigured to make it easier for pedestrians. Sound bleed was addressed on the Acura stage. During both Santana and Phish’s performances I noticed the secondary speakers in the back of the massive field were considerably louder than the main speakers on the stage. This made Branford Marsalis’ sweet ballads all the sweeter even though tens of thousands were grooving to the noodling of Phish a few hundreds yards away.

All in all, it was an impressive first weekend. Though the crowds were massive on Saturday and huge on Sunday for Eric Clapton’s first ever Jazz Fest performance, it was all manageable. It’s a true testament to how this fest may change and evolve, but is still the same as it ever was—if you look in the right places.



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