TVD’s Jazz Fest Picks
for the Second Weekend, 5/7–5/8

The Marina Orchestra has been around the New Orleans music scene for about ten years. They got their first booking at the Jazz Fest in 2020. We all know what happened to that. Now they are back and opening the second Saturday on the Lagniappe stage.

The band is another of my favorite local acts that mines the connections between New Orleans and the Caribbean. With a trombone and sax player and a steaming rhythm section, the band’s original pop songs positively pop with some of the vibe made famous by much more famous American songwriters, see Paul Simon, David Byrne.

Singer/songwriter Shannon McNally follows them on the same stage. For a time the sultry voiced singer lived in New Orleans and began developing her unique blend of country and Americana. Her most recent album is a reimagining of the songs of Waylon Jennings. She has a deep reverence for the songwriters of New Orleans as well.

Friends recently asked me why Rickie Lee Jones (pictured at top) was playing at the French Quarter Festival a couple of weeks ago since she isn’t known as a local artist. But she has been living in the city for some time and features our own Mike Dillon on percussion in her live band. Guitarist Cliff Hines also plays with her, making Jones a “New Orleans” artist IMO. Expect a nearly fully improvised set, as she reportedly doesn’t make a song list and goes on feeling and audience reaction alone.

Puss n Boots is another one of those “Easter eggs” on the schedule. This countrified Americana band would probably not be as well known if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s one of the side projects of gazillion-selling singer Norah Jones. The group also includes Sasha Dobson on vocals, drums, acoustic guitar and bass, and Catherine Popper on vocals, bass, and acoustic guitar. I haven’t seen them live but I love the girl group energy and I love the title of their first album, No Fools, No Fun.

Most of my picks so far for the second Saturday are a bit on the mellow side, so to achieve the balance that Jazz Fest is known for, head to the Congo Square stage for the Rebirth Brass Band. They play right before closer Erykah Badu. Rebirth needs no introduction to most readers, but it’s important to note they now have some younger players in the fold including trumpeter Glenn Hall formerly with the Baby Boyz Brass Band.

The last acts of the day on both Saturdays are usually mega acts, and with Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac fame, the aforementioned Badu, Christian singer turned pop star Lauren Daigle, rocker Melissa Etheridge, and million-selling saxophonist David Sanborn on the bill, I expect massive crowds all around. For more female vocals and less crowds consider Lena Prima, or if you want to dance the hora with a crowd of like-minded locals, head over the Lagniappe stage for the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars.

When Sunday hits, if you’ve been going to the Fairgrounds every day there are a few different ways to approach the last day. I usually like to start with some Mardi Gras Indians or a brass band, and both are available with the Commanche Hunters on the Jazz and Heritage stage and the TBC Brass Band on the Congo Square stage.

But with Muevelo playing in the intimate Cultural Exchange Pavilion that’s where I’ll be. Led by singer Margie Perez, the band digs deep into the catalog of the great Cuban singer Celia Cruz. With an ace horn section and great percussion, this group will certainly get your blood flowing.

I recently reviewed 89-year-old saxophonist Charlie Gabriel’s new album for OffBeat magazine. The veteran member of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band will likely feature cuts off the album performing with his “friends.” Of course, for a man this popular, the list of possible friends is vast. Expect his marvelous tone and some choice vocals along with the bass of Preservation Hall musical director Ben Jaffe.

Though Dr. John passed in 2019 before the pandemic caused the cancellation of Jazz Fest two years in a row, he left this earthly plane in June, so now three years later the fest pays tribute with an all star ensemble. Irma Thomas, Cyril Neville, Jon Cleary, Ivan Neville, Davell Crawford, John Boutte, and John “Papa” Gros are listed, but I also expect to see members of the good doctor’s regular band as well.

The Lagniappe stage is home for all the acts that can’t be pigeonholed into Jazz Fest’s broader categories. Case in point is Mahmoud Chouki. This peripatetic string musician is most at home on the middle eastern instrument, the oud. But he is a jazz player at heart and will have some of the finest of New Orleans’ younger jazzers backing him up.

The next three acts on the Lagniappe stage are all worth sticking around for if you’ve had enough of walking around the massive track or just love the eclectic nature of New Orleans music. While I love the duo of Tom McDermott and Aurora Nealand as well as the tour-de-force solo cello and loops concept from Helen Gillet, I just adore the last act of the day, Bon Bon Vivant. They are another impossible to categorize act—suffice it to say you will love the female vocals, tasty sax, and songs with a circus-like vibe.

Though The Headhunters have carried on without jazz icon Herbie Hancock for decades, the current version of the band with percussionist Bill Summers, drummer Mike Clark, and saxophonist Donald Harrison, Jr. continues in a similar vein with more of a New Orleans influence since Summers and Harrison are locals. Expect percussion-heavy, funky jazz.

For the last act of the day and of the 2022 Jazz Fest, you can’t go wrong with any of the choices. Willie Nelson is my nostalgic favorite since I saw him play way back in the 1990s at the Fairgrounds. But with so much involvement this year by the extended Neville family surrounding the tributes, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue is the place to be.

Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews inherited the longtime closing slot from the Neville Brothers and in years past he has featured some of the musicians from the musical family. I expect the same this year with an extra focus on those we have lost. After all, Jazz Fest is about looking back at the past as well as looking forward to the future.

Next week—Second weekend recap!

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