Jazz Fest 2011 has come and gone with most of us surviving another year of wicked sunburns since we were blessed with beautiful weather both weekends along with record crowds. As always, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage krewe pulled together an awesome lineup that had crowds head banging to the tunes of Kid Rock and getting wasted away with Jimmy Buffett. The local artists like Galactic, Big Sam, Trombone Shorty, Shamarr Allen, Bonerama, Johnny Sketch, and many others gave the world a little bit of what Saturday night in N’Awlins is all about.
On Mother’s Day, the final day of Jazz Fest 2011, the ground was caked with enough moisture to form a lazily pleasant one-layer mud pie that didn’t glop, fill your shoes or fly in your eyes. Sandals were in style, widebrimmed hats, shorts, tanks, sundresses and sunglasses. There were two mainstays for surviving the heat of the outdoor stages – Mango Freezes and Rosemint Iced Tea.
Sunscreen was traded like commodities on the stock market, and as many Shell Oil “get spotted” stickers were discarded as were worn, one even boldly pressed to the collar of a woman’s sleeveless top with an impromptu “X” of black electrical tape. The funk, rock, and brass were brought and now only vivid memories remain of dusty flip flops, Crawfish Monica, and kick ass music.
The second weekend of Jazz Fest was the last chance for many long-time Fishheads to come to New Orleans and see their favorite band. The first show I saw was a reincarnation of SNAFU, the Tulane alumni Krewe, which first started throwing Jazz Fest shows back in the early 1990s. After a one-year hiatus, the Krewe staged their show at a new venue called The Temple. It’s oddly setup, as you walked into what looks like a VFW Hall, where the organizers pitched a few tables for a makeshift bar. A long, winding flight of stairs later, you were in a small theater with room for about 500, and a balcony for another 100-150. The 30-foot ceilings make for some sound-issues, but the Rads didn’t let that stop them from playing their most intense set of the weekend. SNAFU sets are notorious for the Krewe picking the setlist and making the band play songs they haven’t played in years, sometimes decades. For someone who sees the band often, it’s hard to imagine they could play a set with three or foursongs I’m not even familiar with, but these guys managed to do it. And, they did it with guitarist Camile Baudoin firing up the joint with his rarely-played Gibson Les Paul guitar. It made for a heavily rock-n-roll night, highlighted by the Elvis Presley cover “Little Sister” and the fan favorite “Make You Say Hot Dog.”
Friday night, Rads fans converged for a sold-out show at Tipitina’s. This show featured a more traditional set list, but the sound was far superior to the night before. Camile was back at it with the Gibson Les Paul and the crowd was in overdrive the entire night. It was so revved up, it was nearly impossible to get close to the stage. This night belonged to keyboardist Ed Volkers and his throaty vocals on songs like “River Run,” and “Zigzagging Through Ghostland” and the addition of Darcy Malone, Dave’s daughter, who sat in on several songs of the 2nd set including a kicking “Little Sadie.” The only disappointment on this night was the early midnight shutdown due to Tips’ 2am Jazz Fest shows.
The weekend concluded with their closing spot at the Jazz & Heritage Festival. Billed as The Radiators and Friends, this show included Michael Skinkus on percussions throughout, but the surprises included three songs with BeauSoleil’s Michael Doucet, highlighted by “Never Let Your Fire Go Out,” and three songs with Government Mules’ Warren Haynes, including “Waiting for the Rain.” Next came the horns, as frequent collaborator Mark Mullins joined the stage for a song, followed by his Bonarama hornmates Craig Klein and Greg Hicks, who jammed out on “Cocktail Music” and “Long Way Down.” The show wound down with the inclusion of Little Feat’s guitarist Paul Barerre and the rest of the shows’ friends for a jam session on “Where Was You At” and “Wild and Free.” The biggest surprise of the night came when Jazz Fest organizer Quint Davis gave us one more song (15 minutes after their strict closing time) as Malone’s brother Tommy joined the crowded stage. Overall, it was fun for the band and fun for the crowd, but musicallyspeaking Haynes’ solos were a little unmemorable and Baudoin’s guitar got overshadowed by the addition of 3 and sometimes 4 other guitarists on stage.
What made the weekend really special wasn’t the songs being played, but rather the emotions on the stage and in the crowds. You could see the smile on Dave Malone’s face as he closed the Fair Grounds amongst his closest friends. He was at a loss for words, and somehow to us fans, that silence said a lot. Like the thousands around us, we grabbed our friends and hugged and cried at the thought of losing another great New Orleans’ tradition.—Shane Finklestein
There is no rowdy like the Mouth! Fred LeBlanc worked the heated crowd like a personal trainer, hyping up the Fair Grounds with unbridled energy. VIPs were called out along with throngs of locals and tourists alike to ‘get your ass down’, and boy, did they! John Thomas Griffith joined fellow original member Fred along with guitarist Matt Jones and Bassist Casandra Faulconer. CM played their hearts out, once again packing the grounds around the Acura stage with a performance bar set as a beacon for any and every audioadrenaline junkie who’s ever want to call New Orleans home. A clear statement was made by the crowd fanned out way past the VIP seats and pushing into Big Chief territory all the way to line the Port-O-Lets. NOLA likes! —Dionne Charlet
The colorful bunch from Canada had only been under my radar since their triumph at the Grammys this year. I am one of those kids who jumped on the bandwagon way after the band released Funeral, considered by many, their best album to date. I waited 5 hours at the Acura Stage to secure a decent spot to see them perform during their Jazz Fest debut. By the time Arcade Fire took the stage, a pleasant breeze had replaced the blazing sun adding a very appreciated element to the experience.
The band kicked off the show with the fitting “Ready to Start” and went on to deliver an eclectic repertoire filled with emotional songs and vivacious instrument arrangements. While Regine Chassagne frequently traveled through the stage from the drums to the keyboards in her classic golden outfit, her husband and lead singer Win Butler chatted with the crowd sharing that “The Suburbs” was inspired by their drive from New Orleans to Houston. He also encouraged the public to visit the Haitian Pavilion explaining that one of the band members had ties to the earthquake-stricken country.
When the band returned to the stage for the encore, they brought along special guest Cyndi Lauper – who headlined the night before - to sing one of what Butler considered their favorites songs from the 80’s, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Lauper stuck around for “Sprawl II” to play the dulcimer utilizing a curious apparatus, but adequate for New Orleans: a shot glass.
Arcade Fire concluded their participation at the festival with “Wake Up,” the emotional theme song of Spike Jonze’s film “Where the Wild Things Are. “ They delivered a spirited performance to a sizable and very pleased crowd who busted out the typical Jazz Fest dancing moves and occasionally sang along to the songs. The Canadian troupe seemed equally comfortable on stage. It will not be a surprise if they become a recurrent attraction in future lineups of the festival.—Cristina Wollenberg
Chicago’s Lupe Fiasco was the act I was looking forward to the most at this years’ Jazz Fest. Having avidly followed the MC since 2006’s Food and Liquor I eagerly awaited a show that would encapsulate the emotion and eclecticism of his albums.
His show, disappointingly, was a bloated affair. Things kicked off well enough; Lupe was backed by a rock band, bringing an unpolished, visceral energy to songs like “Instrumental,” “Words I Never Said,” and a surprise performance of N.E.R.D.’s “Everybody Nose.” The rock renditions did not translate well for every song, particularly mellower tracks such as “Daydream,” which sounded like a barely recognizable nü-metal remix rather than the original recording.
I was enjoying the show enough until mid-way through when Lupe diverged to grace us with his shallow thoughts on current events. Nothing induces me with the urge to vomit quite like the gratuitous, yet seemingly obligatory (I think back to Eddie Vedder’s bowel-rupturing remarks last year), musician political rant—it’s always vapid, clichéd and, well…unwanted. Lupe was no exception. As the band performed the tune to the national anthem, he barfed out a litany of tired adages lacking both narrative structure and, more importantly, a point; his time-wasting state-of-the-union address came across more as a discursive, flower-power rendition of Baz Luhrmann’s late ‘90s graduation anthem “Wear Sunscreen” than any actual call to action. At the end of the day, if I want political thought I’ll read the Washington Post…I’m paying to hear you play music dude—get over yourself!
Further emasculating his flacid performance was Arcade Fire, whose massive sound penetrated beyond the Acura Stage and could be faintly heard over Lupe’s sinking show. I was about to abandon ship and dive into Arcade Fire’s tide when Lupe briefly redeemed himself, rolling out favorites “Superstar” and “Kick, Push.” This was a short-lived reprieve. Just before closing, Lupe’s band kicked into a seemingly interminable and entirely unnecessary jam session. Sure, it’s nice that Lupe stepped back and gave his band a chance to shine, but this was a missed opportunity to perform sadly neglected songs like “Paris, Tokyo” and “Gotcha.”
Ultimately, I was glad to finally see one of my favorite rappers live…but I can’t help but think I should have seen Arcade Fire instead. —Greg Roques
When I say there was a stream of viewers so steady it was often hard to see over their heads from a camp chair poised in front of Anders Osborne, I am not exaggerating. Not one bit. The vibe from the crowd was an easy sway of music appreciation and hero worship for a Swedish transplant who has endured his own hardships and put his soul into his music. The emotion in the lyric spilled from the stage and through the speakers on a wave of instrumental mastery to affect the crowd. He was everyone’s musician, sharing a piece of his long haggard journey through a broken heart, drugs and Katrina with each Jazz Fester who wanted in.—Dionne Charlet
Ms. Lauryn Hill
For all intents and purposes, L. Boogie is back. Although it was rumored throughout the day that she pulled out of the festival (what is a Lauryn Hill show without a little rumor and innuendo anyways?) Ms. Lauryn Hill did grace the stage as advertised and generally on time. After the stage was warmed by her band and background singers, playing live renditions of radio favorites like Kanye’s “Flashing Lights,” Ms. Hill finally came out, and for many people who have waited at least a decade, if not all their entire lives to see the “Miseducated One”, the moment was almost indescribable.
First up, Lauryn Hill must be cold blooded. It’s the only way to explain her get up. In the middle of Jazz Fest’s well documented heat and humidity, Ms. Hill was dressed rather inappropriately in more layers than anybody would care to count. She wore baggy gray pants under a long dress, and over this dress, a gray blazer and topped off her ensemble with a broad hat. Despite all of the fabric, Hill still managed to sweat less than everyone else on stage. It even seemed as if the Jazz and Heritage Gods smiled upon her, as the first hint of shade I had seen all day was rather poignantly casted upon the Congo Square stage in the middle of her set.
Even if you love Lauryn Hill, you can still understand and admit that she is well past her prime as a vocalist. It is no longer the 90’s and with five kids and a lot of life between those years and now, she’s just not the same young woman we first met with the Fugees. However, Ms. Hill is a trifecta of musical talents, and is far from diminished. She still carries a tune better than any of her critics could ever dream to, raps like the legend she is, and although she didn’t play any instruments this go round, clearly did her best to direct the best sound possible out of her band, despite bad audio and Jimmy Buffett’s set bleeding in from afar.
With New Orleans’ own Hot 8 Brass Band lending their horns, Hill went through a variety of classics, including “X-Factor”, “Zealots”, “Lost One”, “Everything is Everything” and a few songs from her late father in law, Bob Marley’s catalog, including “Is This Love”, and her duet with him, “Turn Your Lights Down Low”. She ended the set with, “(Do-Wop) That Thing” and sent everybody home happy and satisfied. Because although it wasn’t Lauryn Hill circa 1999, it was Ms. Lauryn Hill nonetheless; and anyone who knows and loves the music or the woman knows just how special that is, as she can easily disappear for another extended period of time.—Craig Magraff
John Legend and The Roots
I have a confession: I love musician super groups: Audioslave, Velvet Revolver, the upcoming Kanye West/Jay-Z collaboration…sure, they’re rarely as captivating as their individual founding acts, but I am always intrigued to hear what new sounds established musicians can give birth to during a superpower team-up.
John Legend and The Roots lived up to this standard when they closed the Congo Square stage Sunday, May 1. The Roots unadulterated rock sound brought an organic, jam touch to Legend’s soulful and entrancing piano and vocals. The collaborators mostly performed tracks from their 2010 album Wake Up! One draw-back of the musician team-up is you always hope they will squeeze in your favorite tracks from their individual efforts. While I would have loved to hear Legend perform “PDA,” both groups played a number of hits spanning their respective careers, including Legend’s “Green Light” and The Roots “Seed 2.0.” Mos Def—fresh off a tireless after-hours performance with the Hot 8 Brass Band the night before at the Howlin’ Wolf—joined them onstage with all the energy from his late-night performance for a few songs before closing out the show.
Without a doubt the strongest performance I saw this year.—Greg Roques
The Nicholas Payton SeXXXtet
New Orleans native and internationally renowned trumpet extraordinaire Nicholas Payton performed with his SeXXXtet for a Jazz Tent packed with rosy-cheeked Fest-goers and high-powered misters on the pleasantly balmy second Saturday of the Fest. His father, the legendary local bassist and sousaphonist Walter Payton, Jr., had just been specially recognized a couple hours earlier in an Economy Hall set dedicated to him and fellow local legend, drummer June Gardner—both of whom passed away this past fall. Nicholas recalls his earliest musical memories as a young boy lying underneath the family piano while he listened to his parents—his mother Maria was an adept pianist and opera singer—jam with the likes of Professor Longhair and members of the Young Tuxedo Brass Band, the band he joined with his father at the age of nine. By 12, he was a well-known prodigy following in both the footsteps of Louis “Pops” Armstrong and other New Orleans trumpet greats before him, as well as the multi-genre, multi-instrumental roots of his youth. These influences and the great talent he has honed along the way spilled out from the rafters of the Jazz Tent, entertaining even the passersby and spectators who yearned for a seat for this highly anticipated set. With great poise and a quiet, humble sense of self, Payton purred, blasted and trilled through a set of straight jazz that was as tangibly emotional as it was spiritual and intellectual. G-rated, despite the group’s alluring name, the entire performance was a treat and a reprieve from the warm weekend’s wanderings—and only a taste of what’s to come from this brilliant musician, composer and performer.