Jazz Fest unveils 50th anniversary “cubes” and announces 2019 news

Tuesday morning, the paddock area of the New Orleans Fairgrounds was abuzz and the annual “press party” —or press conference, for readers unfamiliar with the mores of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival—was more crowded than I have ever seen it. Everyone was eager to find out the specific times and stages for the thousands of acts booked for the festival’s 50th year.

But before producer/director Quint Davis got to the metaphorical goods, the Preservation Hall Brass Band treated attendees to a song sung by octogenarian Charlie Gabriel. The group, which played at the first festival in 1970, was announced in advance. But Irma Thomas was a surprise and she wowed the crowd with a spirited rendition of “Don’t Mess with My Man” backed by the Hall band.

After the requisite speechifying from officials and sponsors, which also included a touching moment where Thomas explained the role of the early festival in reviving the careers of so many of New Orleans’ R&B stars of the 1950s, Thomas sang an a capella version of “Happy Birthday” to the festival itself.

Then Davis told the crowd about the lineups for each day. Of course, who would precede The Rolling Stones on what has been informally dubbed “Stones Thursday” (May 2) was on many minds.

The answer it turns out makes perfect sense. Ivan Neville, who played with Stones’ guitarists Keith Richards and Ron Wood in the Xpensive Winos back in the 1990s, will lead his band, Dumpstaphunk. Samantha Fish, Ander Osborne, and Cowboy Mouth fill out the day on the Acura stage. In a first, all live music will cease at the other stages at 4 PM to give the Stones the full attention of everyone at the Fairgrounds.

In other news, AARP is now a sponsor and they will be presenting solo and/or stripped down performances in the Rhythmpourium (formerly the record tent) each day. Expect to see locals like Helen Gillet, Spencer Bohren, and Hazel & the Delta Ramblers (as well as chairs) in the intimate space.

Also, numerous acts from countries of the African diaspora including Haiti and Brazil will be returning to the festival. For festers with really long memories the return of Chouval Bwa, a style of traditional music from Martinique, will be a true highlight and flashback to the carefree fests of the 1980s and early 1990s. The musicians are on the schedule all eight days along with their fascinating outdoor carousel. The carousel is open from noon-6 PM. Don’t miss it.

It’s thirty days until Jazz Fest! The full schedules for each day are here. In a very nice touch, every act that played at the first festival is marked on the “cubes” with an asterisk. Needless to say, there aren’t very many of them.

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