All Photos by Sarah Douglas

James Taylor and Jackson Browne Fill a Jazz Fest Void

October 18, 2021
By: Robert Witkowski

Legends James Taylor and Jackson Browne return to the Big Easy just as the canceled Jazz Fest was slated to wrap up to an excited crowd, eager for a full-blown concert at the Smoothie King Center last Saturday night. Not wanting to keep the fans wanting, Jackson Brown and his band strolled onto stage at 7:30 p.m. sharp.

Browne went straight into the show without any introduction or fanfare. While the crowd welcomed many from his new album, Downhill from Everywhere, they cheered past hits including "Rock Me on the Water" and "The Long Way Around," and "Doctor My Eyes."

"Seeing [New Orleans] coming in from the airport, I was flooded with memories of the crazy sh*t I've done in this town," Brown admitted to the audience between songs. "It sorta escalates every time." The crowd enthusiastically welcomed him back.

Sported a greying beard, the all-black clad Browne swapped guitars for each song, while also periodically jumping on a Yamaha piano. His relaxed vocal consistency was accompanied by backup vocalists Alethea Mills and Tiffany Cross—a new addition to the tour whose attitudes, strong voices, and smooth elegance was fitting for the New Orleans crowd.

An hour into the set, Browne introduced his "good friend, James Taylor," who shared the stage with Browne for a duet of "The Pretender," and then backed him on guitar for Brown's iconic "Running on Empty" to a standing ovation.

After a break to reset the stage, Taylor took over. "So glad to be back in NOLA!" Taylor said. "For the longest time, I didn't think we'd get back here."

Taylor's strong voice transcended the decades as he launched into his deep reservoir of hits, starting with "Country Road" to wild applause. Fans sang along to "Copperline," "Mexico," and his humorous Nixon-era song inspired by the disgraced presidents' exit, "Line 'Em Up," among other standards.

The new set's backdrop enhanced lyrics with dramatic video visuals and choreographed leaf-shaped lamps glowing multiple colors to complement each tune.

Taylor traded the acoustic guitar for electric ("an improvement over gas and steam powered guitars") for "Steamroller Blues." The band was enhanced with jazz greats Larry Goldings on piano and saxophonist "Blue" Lou Marini, well-known from "The Blues Brothers" band. Here, Taylor was noticeably more relaxed, clearly having fun as he fanned his signature cap over Golding's keyboard, ostensibly cooling the heat, while vocalist Walt Fowler belted background, and the New Orleans-appropriate rifts had the band dancing. The home-town crowd cheered its approval.

The crowd yelled songs Taylor referred to as "excellent suggestions" from the floor, though he graciously dismissed them for his new release of a cover of the 1920's "As Easy As Rolling Off a Log," resurrected from a Merry Melodies cartoon. The tune was from his new album, released the same week COVID struck, he compared to "dropping them down the well."

He wrapped up the show with "Fire and Rain," "Carolina in My Mind," "Sweet Baby James" (accompanied by another son, Henry Taylor), and closed with his iconic, "How Sweet It Is."

Not to be outdone by Taylor and Browne's talent, the show was effectively a Hurricane Ida relief benefit concert, with notices posted explaining all proceeds from their performances were to be donated to Louisiana's Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana. Nice to know they still walk the talk...and the song.

For more images from the concert, visit sarahdouglasphotography.pixieset.com.

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