As I did research in the weeks leading up to it I feared I might have waited 20 years too long. Was I up for 100,000 people on a racetrack, 8 hours in the heat each day? I didn’t think so. In the event, I was, although I confess to cutting back the 8 hours by arriving late and leaving early.
Anyway, I packed enough music into the trip to make me feel like fellow RTHer Geo, for whom my quantity of live music this trip is a typical 2 weeks for him.
The first full day was Thursday. The Festival wasn’t starting until the next day and we traipsed around the city, stumbling upon an afternoon performance at the US Mint in Louisiana. [Side bar: This mint, no longer functional, is the only mint in the US to have been the mint for three different countries – the United States, the Confederate States, and the short lived Republic of Louisiana for whom money was printed during its 2-month existence, after seceding from the Union and before joining the Confederacy. Who knew? I’ll bet BigSteve did; anyone else?]
The featured performer was Leroy Jones on trumpet and vocals along with a pianist and bass player both of whom were local but had never played with Jones before. I’d never heard of Jones before but he was great. A great trumpeter and a really special vocalist. Not necessarily the best voice but a great singer. In both his playing and his singing he reminded me greatly of Chet Baker.
That evening found us – on Nancy’s recommendation – at Buffa’s for the weekly gig of Aurora Nealand & Tom McDermott. This video will show you why I was blown away by them.
After they were done, it was off to d.b.a. for a thoroughly pedestrian Chicago blues set by Little Freddie King. The less said the better.
Friday it was off to the first day of the fest. As I referenced earlier, it is at a racetrack. There are 12 stages around the field. We started the day at a performance entitled New Orleans Classic Recording Divas, which featured Jean Knight of “Mr. Big Stuff” fame and The Dixies Cups (“Going To The Chapel”, “Iko Iko”), the latter featuring, I think, no original members but all had been in the group for a long, long time (40+ years?). I’m enough of a music fan to have really enjoyed this.
We also caught bits of Kermit Ruffin & the Barbeque Swingers, Janelle Monae, long-time resident of the RTH Poll, Michael McDonald, and about 15 minutes (more than enough) of headliner Steely Dan. The clear highlight of the day was Geri Allen presenting her Erroll Garner Jazz Project. She had a band—Russell Malone on guitar, Christian Sands on piano, Victor Lewis on drums, and Darek Oles on bass—that had more chops than any group I’ve ever seen. On one song, “The Way You Look Tonight” I heard as great a piano solo as I’ve ever heard, the best drum solo I’ve ever heard, and a guitar solo that ranks with the best.
Saturday, we opened the day with the Jambalaya Cajun Band with D.L. Menard (more on D.L. later). Then we caught last portion of the male equivalent of the previous day’s Divas show, featuring Robert Parker (although we missed “Barefootin’”) and Clarence “Frogman” Henry. Henry was great; his age and his wheelchair didn’t stop him from giving an amazing performance of “Ain’t Got No Home.” Then, there was Kim Che’re in the Gospel Tent, a wonderful interview with Irma Thomas (who unfortunately for us was performing on the second weekend after we were gone), a not-as-wonderful interview with Jack DeJohnette, a performance by DeJohnette, Ravi Coltrane, & Matt Garrison that wasn’t to my liking, a set by John Hammond, Bozz Scaggs’ opening number, and then 25 minutes of Van Morrison. Saturday, I should mention was spectacular weather-wise, blue skies, 80+ degrees and not terribly humid (by New Orleans standards) so the crowd was huge. The big headliner was Pearl Jam and I didn’t venture near there. Van, on the second main stage, was packed. We couldn’t get anywhere near close. Based on my view of the stage, I’d have to take it on faith that it was Van; the Jumbotron screens showed him clearly but even then he wasn’t jumbo. The other problem with being so far from the stage is that the further out you are, the more people are talking rather than listening. So, despite it being the good Van, rather than the bad Van on stage, we cut out early, beating the crowds.
We chilled on Sunday, missing the chance to see Little Freddie King again at the Fest.