Our Jazz Fest Picks for the First Weekend, 4/29 and 4/30

PHOTO: ELSA HAHNE | There are plenty of acts for any taste on the first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival including Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers for rockers; Lorde for the younger set; Pitbull for pan Latin party hip hop; George Benson for jazz guitar heads, and more New Orleans music of every stripe than any festival in the world. Here are my weekend picks. The Saturday schedule is here.

I recommend catching at least one Mardi Gras Indian tribe per day. With Saturday shaping up to be one of the most crowded days at the Fairgrounds, start at the most intimate stage with the Commanche Hunters. Led by Big Chief Ki-Ki, this tribe represents with the uptown style of beadwork and creates some of the most amazing suits you’ll ever see.

The leader of Corey Henry and the Tremé Funktet (pictured at top) has a long musical history given he’s still in his forties. The trombonist was Kermit Ruffins’ musical foil for over a decade and recently spent several years as a special guest with the nouveau funk band Galactic. Now he’s focused on his own project and based on two recent performances, they are on fire.

In keeping with my theme of trying to avoid the most crowded areas, head back to the Jazz and Heritage stage in the middle of the day for the New Breed Brass Band. Like Corey Henry, these young cats have their roots in the Tremé neighborhood and they bring the serious soul.

Jazz had a big influence on the music of the entire African continent. But for reasons too profound and deep to get into here, South Africa has produced more modern jazz artists than any other country in the Motherland. Unfortunately, trumpeter Hugh Masekela, one of the two South African greats scheduled to appear, has cancelled due to illness. Pianist Abdullah Ibrahim will carry on with our own Terence Blanchard ably filling in for Masekela in his seminal 1950s band, the Jazz Epistles. This is a must-see for me.

With Maroon 5 and Usher with the Roots drawing massive crowds at the end of the day, I am going with Alabama Shakes. I first saw this band when they were still a regional act and was blown away. Now that they have reached the big time, I can’t wait to see how their music translates to the big Jazz Fest crowd.

Sometimes when Sunday hits on the first weekend, you just want to laze around and listen to some great songs played by simpatico players. The Tin Men are just the ticket. Led by guitarist and singer/songwriter Alex McMurray, they play wry songs from his pen as well as great covers. For some reason, McMurray’s bands always seem to be booked in the first slot, but he always brings it like he’s closing the fest down. The full Sunday schedule is here.

For the first time in Jazz Fest history (don’t quote me on that, but I’m pretty positive it’s true), two hip-hop acts will be playing at the same time. Of the two, I am most curious about Boyfriend. A mysterious female performer who tosses gender conventions aside, she will have to tone down her notoriously risqué act for the family-friendly fest. Heads up: explicit lyrics in the video.

In yet another example of producer/director Quint Davis’ genius programming, the female street poet and rapper Telmary y Habana Sana of Cuba follows Boyfriend. Let’s hope the two powerful women pick up tips from each other.

New Orleans is known for a plethora of so-called supergroups, but many of them are just one-offs put together to sell tickets. The Magnificent 7 are an actual band with Dave Malone of the Radiators and Tommy Malone of the subdudes on guitars and vocals, Robert Mercurio of Galactic on bass, Raymond Weber of a ton of funk bands on drums, percussionist ubiquitous Michael Skinkus, John Gros of Papa Grows Funk on keys and vocals, and Mark Mullins of Bonerama on trombone.

The recent album from Lakou Mizik of Haiti has been in steady rotation since it came out over a year ago. This band is an intergenerational outfit that came together in the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated the island nation 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!

Latin hip hop will take over the Congo Square stage Sunday afternoon making April 30 the first day in Jazz Fest history with four hip-hop acts (this I am sure of). Gente de Zona (People of the Zone) are Cuban and they precede the world’s most famous musician of Cuban descent, Pitbull. Besides doing their own thing, Gente de Zona have recorded with Enrique Iglesias and Marc Anthony among others.

Check back next week for our second weekend picks.

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