"I first came here when I was 14 with my Mom, and I've been back a few times," lead singer Justin Vernon said to the first Friday Jazz Fest crowd. "There simply isn't a better music festival in the whole world. I wouldn't say it if I didn't mean it - that would be some pandering shit!" Pretty high praise from the recent Grammy winners, and actually a somewhat rare occurrence: it's not every show that Mr. Vernon speaks directly to the crowd. Bon Iver had some competition too, a fact that they acknowledged mid-show… the kick-off of the 50-year reunion tour of The Beach Boys is no small rival. The result for Bon Iver was a more intimate show that proved their mellow, chilling music can indeed translate into an interactive, attentiongrabbing performance.
Much of the show was from their most recent album, self-titled Bon Iver, although they did throw in a few old favorites. The set began with "Perth," rolling into "Minnesota, WI" before moving into "Towers" and then "Michicant." A version of "Skinny Love" that got the crowd riled up, and an encore of "For Emma" were two songs from their previous album For Emma, Forever Ago. The real standouts of the performance were the emotionally charged trombone playing of Reginald Pace and the saxophone of Colin Stetson, horn sounds which fit so perfectly within the framework of Jazz Fest. Their solos at the end of the "For Emma" encore actually made me smile. All in all, a totally satisfying musical journey that left the crowd in high spirits, with a feeling of contentment as the sun set slowly behind the Gentilly Stage. —Elizabeth Tran
The versatile Lafayette, Louisiana, musician opened up the Blues Tent on Sunday. Although he had no backing musicians, his swampy blues music filled the gigantic space and pulled in casual listeners as they passed. Brother Dege performed with just two instruments: a brassy sounding Dobro (a type of resonator guitar) that he continually played with a slide and different distortions and a bass drum that he used a kick pedal for, while standing up, which added a steady, thunderous beat. Dege sang soulful and sad ballads like the plea-filled "The Battle of New Orleans," a song about asking for help during the days after Katrina. He then ended his powerful set with a Hendrix-style, heavily distorted rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" which prompted the audience to stand immediately in salute and cheer in appreciation. As he played the patriotic number, he threw the Dobro around his body and over his shoulders to bend notes and flung it toward amplifiers to get feedback. He finished strong by holding his instrument over his head, and the crowd cheered. —Emily Hingle
David Sanborn and Joey Defrancesco
Saxophonist David Sanborn was a departure from the norm; although he performed the music that is the namesake of the festival, he definitely had a contemporary Northeastern jazz sound in the vein of John Coltrane. There were no sharp-sounding trumpets with a Spanish/Caribbean heritage like most jazz that is found here, but cool, avant-garde sax notes with organ and drums to back him. David Sanborn also looked like a modern jazz man, performing in a black suit and shirt with black sunglasses on. Each musician took turns performing long solos with occasional punctuations and accompaniments by the others that showcased their experimental abilities before all of the instruments' music would find a way back to each other; whirly jazz organ followed the bombastic drum hits, and then the saxophone played in unison. But David Sanborn definitely led the group during the performance with his scaling notes on the throaty sax.—Emily Hingle
Florence + The Machine
As gracious as a ballerina who resembles a porcelain doll, Florence Welch delighted the New Orleans Jazz Fest crowd closing out the Gentilly Stage on May 3.
Barefoot and wearing a sheer black dress, fabric flowing as if it were wings, the front woman of the British indie-pop band Florence + the Machine delivered a performance that made most fans feel like they were at an Italian opera.
Along with two guitarists (one was wearing a Saints fleur de lis T-shirt), two vocalists, a harpist, keyboardist Isabella Summers (from original formation), and a drummer, Welch swung through songs from the band's two previous albums Lungs (2009) and Ceremonials (2011), having the fans sing every word to her slightly dark yet romantic repertoire.
Welch expressed her love for New Orleans noting that during her last trip to the city before the start of one of their tours, she woke up after an evening in town with the realization that "all my clothes were ripped, my phone was gone and there was definitely a graveyard and a Cadillac involved."
"New Orleans took a part of me and I don't want it back," she said angelically interacting once again with the crowd.
For the lucky ones in attendance at the Lil' Band O' Gold show at famed music club d.b.a. in the Marigny, Welch delighted an unexpected crowd by joining in on two songs, one of which was produced by Lil' Band O' Gold member and Lafayette native C.C. Adcock, part of an all star tribute to Buddy Holly.—Leticia Brunetto
Keith Frank & the Soileau Zydeco Band
This band played an astounding and surprising blend of Cajun music and R&B/soul; it was an incredible assortment of traditional Cajun beats, swinging country drums, cool funk and stirring soul. It was like an unlikely fusion of music that can all be found in southern Louisiana, but never in the same place and from very different periods of time and backgrounds. However Keith and his band came across it, they worked it out perfectly. The Soileau Zydeco Band also had the distinction of a female bass player, something fairly uncommon in any type of music. She played perfect funk-inspired bass guitar lines while the washboard percussionist complemented her. The big band danced onstage, and it was contagious to the crowd who moved to the music even as the sky slowly trickled then poured drops of rain. The people not running for cover invited the cooling water and enjoyed the band even more.—Emily Hingle
Red Stick Ramblers
The Red Stick Ramblers not only drew a dense crowd for their set at the corrugated steel-decorated Acadian-style stage, but were lucky enough to have their set be a part of a scene for the HBO show Treme and thanked them between songs for filming them. The Ramblers entertained the dancing crowd with classic Cajun music that was an assortment of fast Acadian dance numbers with Linzay Young and Kevin Wimmer's twin sawing fiddles, accordion, Chas Justus's acoustic guitar, drums, a beautiful upright bass, and delightful melodies sung in Cajun French and English and some slower, sweet songs that inspired pairs to dance romantically with each other. But everyone listening was moving along to the swinging sounds, whether dancing passionately, tapping their feet sitting on the lawn or in chairs, or swaying as they enjoyed their fest food and drink.And it seemed as though the Treme cast and crew couldn't help taking a few minutes between working out the shots to dance a little.—Emily Hingle
An Evening with Sarah Jarosz
Night Show—May 5 at HOB The Parish The crowd begins to cheer even before the young trio gets a chance to step out onto the stage. The band doesn't say a word, as they need no introduction for this enthused audience of late night Jazz fest attendees. They just start gently playing creating a pulsating and powerful ambience that fills the room with a soft acoustic hum before everyone is submersed into the beauty of the voice they came to hear. Then, she starts to sing. More cheers are heard applauding the young 21-year-old Austin native for her giant yet gentle voice that accompanies her variety of string instruments she plays throughout the show.
Cellist Nathaniel Smith as well as violinist and fellow student at the Berkley College of Music in Boston, Alex Hargreaves, both perfectly complement the charming selections played during the two-set performance that is riddled with not only the groups well written originals but also composed of many clever cover songs to liven up the night.
After a few tunes the soulful bluegrass trio gets comfortable and starts talkin' a bit. It was their first time in New Orleans, and they fit in just fine with their fun, quirky comments and natural excitement to be playing during one of the country's most famed two weeks of music.
The entire performance had this exuberating personal feeling that made you feel that Sarah Jarosz was singing to you in your own back yard or living room. However, it was the pure musicianship displayed by these young professionals that truly made the night shine. Not only did the group flawlessly cover such classics as "Up On Cripple Creek" by The Band, along with throwing down their own Grammy Nominated instrumental "Mansinneedof," but the solo works produced by all three were mesmerizing. It was by far one of the most memorable, inspiring shows that I saw during Jazz Fest.
The audience was amazing, the venue was perfect and Sarah Jarosz accompanied by her band were even better than I could have ever expected. —Chris DiBenedetto
The world-renowned rock and roll band Supagroup almost had too much energy for their noon slot. Supagroup's old school hard rock sound, influenced by bands like Rhino Bucket, AC/DC and Van Halen, sounded incredible live and really injected some adrenaline into the crowd that was just settling in for the day's long haul and weary from previous festing. Founders, brothers and guitarists Chris and Benji Lee pulled out all the arena rock moves and jumped around on stage, sometimes jumping off the drum riser, and gestured grandly and as they sang their songs like "Hog Wild" about plus-size lovers, "Rock and Roll Tried to Ruin My Life," and "It Takes Balls." And I have to commend bass player Josh "Metal Charm" Gilmore for wearing the metal band Deicide shirt. That's not something you often see at Jazz Fest. Supagroup was a real crowd-pleaser due to their high-energy and highly fun show. —Emily Hingle
Worship My Organ
Night Show—April 28 at Blue Nile One could only imagine by the title that this show was filled with nothing but outrageous organ playing. Well, you're right… for the most part. Worship My Organ is an annual Jazz Fest show that combines the irresistible talents of keyboardists Robert Walter and Marco Benevento with the chaotic virtuoso Skerik on the saxophone and beat master Adam Deitch on drums. Though a highly improvised show, many would probably not be able to tell, as the spot-on performance kept everyone on the same page.
Skerik tore through ripping saxophone solos, guiding them out of this world by combining his chisled sound with his full on guitar pedal board and outrageous stage antics. Robert Walter played to his own style by having both a Hammond B-3 Organ and Wurlitzer set up that allowed him to both gently smooth out the often frenzied tunes with classic funk organ solos and persuasive R & B piano melodies. Benevento dove in with his Brooklyn indie-funk flair with ease as he often led the group through his fun chord structures backed by his own feel-good bass lines on his heavy midi synth.
The group often revisited themes played earlier in the night as well as took wild turns in mood, rhythm and overall structure leaving the audience grabbing at their sleeves in anticipation. They capped the night off by playing a tease of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" a track often known to be covered by saxophonist Skerik who lead the group into the tune for its final encore.
Worship My Organ is an extremely fun, energetic show that encompasses the utmost musicianship from these experienced performers as they showed off their skills to a full house. —Chris DiBenedetto