TVD Live: The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival,
5/2–5/5

PHOTOS: BILL BOELENS | The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival dodged a second weather-related bullet when more severe storms rolled through the New Orleans area early Saturday morning. The opening of the festival gates was delayed by 90 minutes, but miraculously the extremely dry ground absorbed most of the torrential rains leaving a lot of mud, but little standing water. Here’s a look at some highlights.

Right at the top of the list has to be the appearance of legendary singer Aaron Neville on the Acura stage for the first time since his last show with the Neville Brothers in 2013. He was one of several big names, including Jimmy Buffett, Rita Coolidge, and Irma Thomas to participate in the Tribute to Allen Toussaint. Neville dedicated “All These Things” to his ailing older brother Art “Poppa Funk” Neville.

Aaron also joined his younger brother Cyril (pictured at top), his son Ivan and his nephew Ian during an emotional mini-set as Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and Orleans Avenue wound down the 50th Jazz Fest. While Cyril, Ivan, and Ian were expected to join Andrews since they did so last year, few thought Aaron would appear.

After he sang a touching version of “Yellow Moon,” the Neville family reprised their medley of “Amazing Grace” and Bob Marley’s “One Love” for the first time in six years. For decades, that medley was the last music many festers heard as they were leaving the Jazz Fest.

While the Nevilles were doing their thing all those many years, the Radiators, led by keyboardist/ singer/ songwriter Ed Volker (pictured), also held another sizable audience in their thrall on the other end of the Fairgrounds. While John Fogarty had the honor of closing out the festival’s Gentilly stage this year, the Rads put on a memorable set complete with two nods to the Rolling Stones.

As most everyone knows, the Stones were scheduled to appear under unprecedented circumstances on the second Thursday. There were numerous Stones tunes played over the eight days, but no one can cover the iconic British band like the Radiators. They steamed through “Let It Bleed” in the middle of their set and blew it out with a closing “Sympathy for the Devil.”

A new generation of brass band musicians and Mardi Gras Indians now grace the stages at the Jazz Fest. The Sons of Jazz Brass Band tore it up on Thursday. They had a ringer on stage with trombonist Tyrus Chapman. Chapman was one of the first musicians to add rap to brass band music and was a member of the Rebirth Brass Band as well as his own Highsteppers Brass Band and other groups.

Among the black Indians, the Hard Head Hunters (wild man pictured) are among the most powerful of the latest generation. They joined elders like Big Chief “Little” Charles Taylor and the White Cloud Hunters on the intimate Jazz and Heritage stage.

Fan favorite Kermit Ruffins (pictured below) played with his own band, the BBQ Swingers, and also led a tribute to Louis Armstrong. “Satchmo” is one of his musical heroes and the set was swinging with the energy of decades past as Ruffins led a crack outfit through many of the classics.

There were many other tributes this year as the festival staff looked back wistfully at so many departed greats. But Jazz Fest and the foundation that owns the festival are all about perpetuating the deep and rich culture of New Orleans. As Trombone Shorty said as he left the stage, “Here’s to another fifty years!” Amen.

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