TVD’s Jazz Fest Picks
for the First Weekend, 4/30–5/1

Saturdays have traditional been the most popular days at the Fairgrounds and feature the biggest names on the seven-day roster. This year of renewal is no exception with an encore performance from one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most enduring bands, The Who, along with roots rocker Jason Isbell, hip hop veteran Nelly, and Latin legend Jose Feliciano. But my picks as regular readers know are less well known but equally deserving of your attention.

Start your day with a jolt stronger than a double espresso, which you may need if you were out late last night, and go check out Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes. Another of New Orleans’ long lasting rock bands, this group of classically trained musicians has carved out a niche with hardcore fans and great songs fleshed out with killer arrangements. Take a special listen to the horn section.

Lakou Mizik of Haiti first burst on the scene in New Orleans at Jazz Fest several years back. Since then they have spent considerable time in the city and have recorded with some of the city’s finest including Preservation Hall musicians and local Haitian American Leyla McCalla. They have also featured members of indie rock band Arcade Fire on their sets. I expect Caribbean roots sounds with a healthy dose of New Orleans influence. Listen for their version of “Iko Iko” sung in Haitian creole.

Another one of my favorite bands that used to play only at the Jazz Fest is Trumpet Mafia. Led by trumpeter Ashlin Parker, the band has been a mainstay during the pandemic turning up on the balcony of the Jazz Museum and on a porch uptown among other places. Their Jazz Fest sets feature at least twenty trumpeters!

For one of the hardest hitting post bop jazz bands consider checking out the Cookers at 4:15 in the Jazz Tent. The band features a who’s who of jazz players and includes local alto sax titan Donald Harrison, Jr. With a rhythm section of Cecil McBee and Billy Hart these guys live up to their name—they cook!

My motto on the busiest days of Jazz Fest is “go where their not,” and on the first Saturday that means checking out the Hard Head Hunters Mardi Gras Indians. Led by Big Chief (pictured at top) “Dowee,” these Ninth Ward Black maskers make suits in the uptown style—a legacy of the late great Big Chief Rudy Bigard of the Ninth Ward Hunters. He moved downtown in the late 1970s and brought the style with him.

Sunday dawns early especially if you were out late the night before. But make sure you check out Marc Stone in the Blues Tent (shameless plug—I have a feature about him in OffBeat magazine’s “Jazz Fest Bible”). Stone hasn’t played under his own name at the Fairgrounds in a decade and he has a new album to highlight. Expect soulful vocals and searing guitar.

Dr. Brice Miller and the Mahogany Brass Band is one of my perennially favorite sets at the Fairgrounds. The trumpeter has been playing at Jazz Fest since he was a kid, his father was a musician as well, and he always brings a hot band for a hot set. The amateur video above captures the joy of one of the band’s sets.

Stick around at the Jazz and Heritage stage for Son Rompe Pera or make a quick jaunt over the Cultural Exchange Pavilion to catch the end of the Big Chief Fi Yi Yi and the Mandingo Warriors’ intimate set. This band is one of the “Easter eggs” (thanks Clark Thompson for dropping that concept on me) you have heard about. According to Google, they are a Mexican fusion band with a sound primarily based on cumbia. They integrate the use of the Mexican marimba with other genres such as danzón, rock, punk, ska and more.

Producer extraordinaire Daniel Lanois (U2, Peter Gabriel and many more, pictured below) was at the center of an extraordinary scene at his studios in New Orleans in the late 1980s beginning with Bob Dylan’s Oh, Mercy album and culminating in the Neville Brothers’ Grammy-award winning album Yellow Moon. He played a bit around town with the Nevilles’ rhythm section at the time, drummer “Mean” Willie Green and bassist Daryl Johnson.

Now he’s back for a don’t-miss set at the Fairgrounds featuring Johnson and another extraordinary musician, drummer Brian Blade. Expect jazzy takes on funky New Orleans tunes as well as moody cuts from the French Canadian’s solo work. Speaking of Green, Tipitina’s is hosting a benefit for the legend on May 9.

For the last set of the day, skip the big names including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, filling in for the bereaved Foo Fighters after the unexpected death of their drummer Taylor Hawkins, and check out blues, soul, and R&B great Deacon John. As my colleague and mentor Geraldine Wyckoff says, “Don’t miss the legends.”

Next week—A look back at the first weekend and our second weekend picks!

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