New Orleans Legends Converge for an Afternoon Celebration
With three years since the last French Quarter Festival, locals and visitors alike spent this past weekend gathered around New Orleans's most storied districts for a four-day-long celebration of the return of local music. With the traditional springtime event hit especially hard by the March 2020 beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic, the music festival's triumphant return serves as a celebration of the city's resilience and the unbeatable music that its people love.
Jackson Square served as a focal point for French Quarter Fest, as it does for much of the New Orleans culture as a whole. In the southern corner of the Square, a massive stage was set, sponsored by General Electric to accommodate artists on all four days of the festival. This prominent position highlighted some of the festival's biggest artists across all four days of the festival, but on late Saturday afternoon in particular two back-to-back New Orleans titans of NOLA music entertained major crowds: Charmaine Neville and James Andrews. In this exuberant environment, these two acts served strikingly modern renditions of classic local music.
Charmaine Neville is the daughter of Charles Neville, a leader of the legendary New Orleans "Neville Brothers" musical act. Coming up in such a legendary musical environment with her father Charles and uncles Art, Erin and Cyril Neville, Charmaine filled some large shoes by becoming a very talented musician in her own right. Announced at the GE Stage as "The Darling of New Orleans," Charmaine took the stage with a jovial countenance, personally addressing the crowd and commemorating the set to an inspirational deceased family friend and remarking that it's "been a long, long, long, long time."
Charmaine's set kicked off with a very nice, funk-infused rendition of the classical jazz song, "St. James Infirmary." The funk nature of the piece captured and epitomized the casual, upbeat nature of the performance as a whole. After the roaring applause of the first song, Charmaine introduced her son Damien, and the two took a moment to highlight the importance of recognizing those who are struggling and overcoming hardship, everywhere from Ukraine, to America and all around the world. Moving on to an electrified cover of The Temptations' "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," Charmaine and her entourage continued a very strong performance.
After a brief pause to look around the larger vendors of the French Quarter, both in and around the French Quarter Fest roping of Jackson Square, the stage's final performance evening began with another master of New Orleans's soul—the legendary Tremé Brass Band leader James Andrews. Just as Charmaine's influences stem from her musical family, James is the grandson of R&B legend Jessie Hill as well as the older brother of Troy Andrews, better known as Trombone Shorty. Equally strong an influence is neighborhood-based flare underpinning the most authentic contemporary New Orleans music—Andrews's assertion to "Just tell 'em I'm from the Tremé" earned an uproar of applause from the crowd's locals.
Andrews's musical style on-stage was a great example of the coming-and-going, jam band-influenced style that both James and Shorty are known for. His set began with a freeform version of "Lil Liza Jane" that expertly crossed between emphasis on his own vocals, the percussion beat, and melodic instrumental bridges. His next number retained a strong personal flare, being a boldly animated cover of his grandfather Jessie's R&B standard, "My Ooh Poo Pa Doo," which is a hallmark of his grandfather's oeuvre that was also originally produced and composed with the help of music legend Allen Toussaint. Continuing with a version of the local classic "Down in the Tremé," the set was incredibly well-versed in the storied base of New Orleans music, with the live performance feeling more welcome than ever.
The open-air, free-of-charge nature of French Quarter Fest gives a relaxed, freeform tinge to the upbeat gathering. As opposed to the massive, centralized crowds of other venue-centralized music festivals, the openness of French Quarter Fests allows for quick ducking into other shops and hotels. That Saturday afternoon in Jackson Square wasn't about just bringing back the music of these legendary artists themselves, it was about bringing back the feeling of live performance on a scale that had been on hold for two years. Finally, at long last, the French Quarter is looking to be itself again.
The 2022 French Quarter Festival took place from April 21-24 around the French Quarter. The free event included hundreds of performances by musical guests across twenty different sponsored stages in and around the French Quarter.
**Celebrating 2022 French Quarter Festival with performers Tim Laughlin, Benny Grunch and the Bunch, Charmaine Neville, The Soul Rebels and Walter "Wolfman" Washington and the Roadmasters on Saturday April 23, 2022.