Our Jazz Fest Picks
for the First Weekend, 4/28–4/29

Saturdays are the biggest, most crowded days at the Jazz Fest, so it behooves you to get there early. With Rod Stewart filling in for Aretha Franklin as the main act on the Acura stage there are bound to be as many disappointed festers as there are those happy about seeing the old Brit tear through his deep catalog. Here are our picks. The Saturday schedule is here.

Mardi Gras Indians are always a good way to start the day. The Commanche Hunters are a newer tribe on a cultural scene that has been growing every year since Katrina almost decimated the indigenous black communities of New Orleans.

Take a trip around the fest before heading back to the Jazz and Heritage stage for Big Chief Walter Cook and the Creole Wild West at 1:25 PM. They are the oldest black Indian tribe in New Orleans dating back to the turn of the 20th century.

Or for amazing intergenerational roots rock, head to the Gentilly stage for the Chilluns. Though New Orleans has plenty of intergenerational bands, there are four reasons why the Chilluns are singular among these ensembles. The group hails from three families (Malones, Bohrens, and Clements), features both male and female musicians, doesn’t play jazz or brass band music, and most significantly, rarely performs due to scheduling conflicts.

Steven Bernstein plays an unusual instrument—the slide trumpet. It’s like a hybrid of a trombone and a typical trumpet. He plays twice on the first Saturday. His first set is in the Jazz Tent with an ensemble also featuring New Orleans expatriate pianist Henry Butler. Butler Bernstein and the Hot 9 have been tearing up gigs all over with their hot, hot take on trad jazz.

Later in the day, Bernstein sits in with the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars. The Klezmers are a long running band that mixes traditional Jewish music with jazz and New Orleans rhythms. Their shows are super-fun and a way to get away from the massive crowds streaming into the Fairgrounds intent on seeing Rod Stewart, Khalid, and Jack Johnson.

Sona Jobarteh (pictured at top) of Gambia has had my eye since the schedule came out primarily because I don’t think Jazz Fest has ever booked a band from that particular African country. But then I found out she is a virtuoso kora player who hails from a griot dynasty in her country. Born in 1983 in London, her lineage is from of one of the five principal kora families in West Africa.

Ed Volker and Los Reyes de Lagardo is my pick for the last slot of the day, but if you are a regular reader, you knew that. Volker was the driving force behind the Radiators and his band is actually the Iguanas despite the Spanish pseudonym. They play some Rads classics and other material with a supple touch.

Sunday comes fast during Jazz Fest. Here are our picks. The Sunday schedule is here.

You know you wanna rock before noon right? Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes will get your pulse racing. The last time I saw them a month or so back at a “Wednesdays at the Square” show, they were firing on all cylinders.

Conflicts rear up in the second time slot with the Creole Jazz Serenaders with Don Vappie going up against the Panorama Jazz Band. Vappie is a banjo player par excellence and his band mines the line between old time Caribbean sounds and trad jazz. Panorama is just flat out fun as the lanky frame of their leader, clarinetist Ben Schenck, towers over his bandmates. They play all kinds of music from around the world—so it’s a music history lesson and a real good time.

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 guitar, Robert Mercurio of Galactic on bass, Raymond Weber of a ton of funk bands on drums, ubiquitous percussionist Michael Skinkus, John Gros of Papa Grows Funk on keys, and Mark Mullins of Bonerama on trombone. They got rained out last year at the fest, so anticipation is high for their Fairgrounds set.

I recommend checking out Mardi Gras Indians every day of the Jazz Fest even though I may not always mention particular tribes in my picks. Monk Boudreaux and the Golden Eagles stand out for their powerful performances and the spiritual expression of Boudreaux, the big chief.

I have been recommending checking out Dr. Brice Miller and the Mahogany Brass Band for years (long before he got his Ph.D.) and this year is no exception because the trumpeter always has a great time on stage, his large family is usually up front and center, and they play great music. If you want intimate, emotional, and traditional all wrapped up in great horn playing, the Jazz and Heritage stage is the place to be.

You also can’t go wrong heading to the Gentilly stage at the end of the day for David Byrne. The former frontman for Talking Heads has a great new album out and Jam On, the Sirius radio station, was broadcasting his set from Coachella this past weekend and it sounded great.

Check back next week for reviews and picks for your second weekend.

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