TVD Live: The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival,

PHOTOS: DENNIS MCDONOUGH | When the gates of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival opened on Friday for the first time in three years a round of applause followed an audible roar as people were clearly very excited to once again walk the festival grounds. There were a few kinks to be worked out after the two-year pandemic pause and a slight delay in opening on Sunday due to rain. But all in all, it was a beautiful first weekend with smiling faces all around as friends old and new got reacquainted with the traditions.

One of best parts about attending the Jazz Fest is discovering new bands and getting reconnected with old favorites. One group I was excited to see, Son Rompe Pera, is a Mexican act that can only be described as cumbia punk. Five heavily tattooed ace musicians tore it up twice in one day at the Jazz and Heritage stage and in the Cultural Exchange Pavilion.

When they hit the stage I was astonished to see two musicians playing a single vibraphone! One of the two switched back and forth to playing manic guitar parts depending on the song. The bass player and drummer thrashed like the rhythm section for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Meanwhile, a percussionist on bongos and guiro with giant earlobe extenders (pictured at top) occasionally left his kit to sing with the emotion and energy of Anthony Kiedis of the aforementioned L.A. rockers.

For something entirely differently musically I was also pumped for the return of producer extraordinaire Daniel Lanois. The Canadian is responsible for some of the most iconic music ever recorded including best selling albums by U2, Peter Gabriel, Emmylou Harris, the Neville Brothers and numerous others.

He set up shop in an old mansion on Esplanade Avenue and gradually integrated himself into the New Orleans scene playing gigs on the side with the rhythm section of the Neville Brothers.

For his set at the Lagniappe Stage, which was overflowing with curious festers, he had one of the jazz world’s greatest drummers, Brian Blade, along with Neville’s bassist Daryl Johnson. But when the set started it was just a duo—Johnson came out about half way through the set along with vocalist Joe Maize, Sr.

On both standard electric guitar and pedal steel, Lanois coaxed at times chilling; at times spooky lines while Blade accented the soaring tones with snare rolls and tom-tom cracks as only he can. When Johnson appeared, he wasn’t in funk mode on the bass, but was more like an able accompanist adding texture to the songs.

Their three voices together made for some thrilling listening, as neither Johnson nor Lanois are known specifically as singers. There were moments when it felt like the song might just fall apart, but these cats are pros and that only made the music feel more real.

When the set ended it felt like something had shifted in the New Orleans universe. Lanois left town under some mysterious circumstances and though he didn’t play any “New Orleans” music, even with someone as versed as Johnson by his side, it was clear that New Orleans left a mark on him.

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