Our Jazz Fest Picks for the Second Weekend,
5/4–5/5

As the 50th anniversary of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival comes to a close over the final two days, I recommend looking deep into the schedule. Consider abandoning your preordained plans, your over-highlighted cubes, and wander the Fairgrounds hoping for the mystical Jazz Fest “stumble.” Here are our picks for Saturday. The full schedule is here.

Rick Trolsen is one of the most genre-diverse musicians in a town full of them. He leads a traditional jazz band, a Brazilian choro group, and plays piano in a dive bar on the West Bank. But on the second Saturday he will be leading his Neslorchestra. It’s a big jazz band playing esoteric music for the mind.

For the 50th anniversary, Jazz Fest has been bringing back many of the world music bands that have graced its stages over the years. Boukman Eksperyans of Haiti is one such group. They play high-energy dance music and will be appearing on one of the smallest and most exciting stages at the fest—the Cultural Exchange Pavilion—on the second Saturday. I expect a dance party par excellence. They also play a bit later in the day on the Jazz and Heritage stage and elsewhere on Sunday.

Boukman last played at the Jazz Fest back in 2011, but their first time was way back in 1991. I was at both gigs. To hear a world music band of more recent vintage consider checking out Jupiter and Okwess of the Congo. They played last year and blew minds with their great stage presence and killer guitar work.

I’ve heard nothing but great things about The War and Treaty since the husband and wife-led soul band burst on the scene a couple of years back. They played last year at the festival and were also interviewed on the Allison Miner stage—a rarity for a first time performer at the fest. I missed the show and the interview, but have this time marked for the second Saturday.

If you’re a regular reader of this space, you might find it hard to believe that I would recommend Pitbull. But because of literally being stuck in a massive, unmoving crowd at his stage back in 2015, I saw most of the set. I was seriously impressed after I accepted the fact that there was no way out of area without seriously bothering people who were having the time of their lives. His music is rather lightweight, but he’s a real showman and the performance, complete with flags flying from nearly every Latin American country, was something to witness.

If you prefer something closer to home (assuming your actual or spiritual home is Louisiana) and on a smaller stage, check out the Rayo Brothers. This band of actual brothers (actual surname—Reaux) from south Louisiana plays original music inspired by the blues, country, and their old-time musical traditions.

Here are our picks for the last Sunday of Jazz Fest. The full Sunday schedule is here.

The Gentilly stage on May 5 is a full slate of great acts beginning with the legendary Meters’ bassist George Porter, Jr. & Runnin’ Pardners. The band has a new guitarist, Chris Atkins, who took over when Brint Anderson “retired” to move back to Mississippi and become a chef. Atkins is a monster player who reminded me of the late, great Snooks Eaglin when I saw the band at French Quarter Festival.

Some things on the schedule bear some explaining and the Fairview Brass Band Reunion is on the top of the list for the second Sunday. Danny Barker  is credited with reviving the brass band tradition when it nearly died out in the 1960s. He put together a band of youngsters and taught them the old traditions both musically and culturally.

I expect most of them to be on stage in Economy Hall. See who you can identify in the above photo from the era. Barker is on the far right.

Back in 1996, when Chaka Khan (pictured at top) first played at the Jazz Fest, Quint Davis, the producer/director and the entire crowd were blown away by her set. A hyped up Davis exclaimed from the stage, “This one’s for the judge—next time it’ll be the soul and heritage fest!” Shameless plug—read all about it and the whole history of the Jazz Fest in the 1990s in my book.

Amazingly, Khan is back for only the third time in her long career. She will be preceding Maze featuring Frankie Beverly. It will be packed, but I hope to catch a bit before heading over to the Gentilly stage to catch The Radiators.

The death of Charles Neville closed the door on ever seeing the Neville Brothers again, but he will be there in spirit when members of the Neville family join Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue to close out the 50th anniversary of Jazz Fest. Their jam has already happened before without the advance notice, but we longtime festers really appreciate the effort that Quint Davis and company make to ensure the continuity of the cultural continuum. See you there!

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