wed 19/06/2024

theartsdesk at the New Orleans JazzFest | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk at the New Orleans JazzFest

theartsdesk at the New Orleans JazzFest

Mainstream AOR helps underwrite perhaps the world's best-value music festival

CJ Chenier: swinging Zydeco

Jazzfest has managed to succeed as a mainstream rock festival. The first weekend’s headliners on the main Acura Stage included John Mayer, Billy Joel and Dave Matthews, while this weekend promises Fleetwood Mac, Maroon 5 and The Black Keys.

If the aforementioned suggest a festival devoted to AOR chart-topping US rock, then understand that the festival’s organisers allow the superstars to drag in suburban rock fans, thus underwriting the rich regional music flavours that dominate most of the other 11 stages.

Admittedly, the Acura Stage did also host local legends Dr John and Allen Toussaint , but as both are seated pianists whose music is suited to more intimate spaces the Acura proved not the best place to see them. Yet I spent my time running between the smaller stages where a feast (a feast!) of wonderful music played from late morning until 7pm. Early closing means you can head back into central New Orleans – three miles – and hit all manner of bars and clubs: I caught Dr John at Tipitinas, the city’s most celebrated music venue, and his voodoo groove caught fire there in a way it never did at Jazzfest.

BB, I must sadly note, lacked the lovely spark that once made his performances such a pleasure

Jazzfest tends to theme stages. The Fais-Do-Do stage largely features Cajun and Zydeco music from the swamps north of Lafayette, while The People’s Health Economy Hall Tent is mainly devoted to jazz bands that play in the traditions invented in New Orleans at the start of the 20th century. The Congo Square Stage features largely contemporary African-American music, the Jazz & Heritage Stage featured many spectacular-looking Mardi Gras Indian collectives alongside the young, hip-hop influenced brass bands that often can be found playing on the city’s streets. Lagniappe Stage is devoted to young, acoustic bands (country, rock, jazz, folk) while Gentilly Stage feature loud  blues-rock and funk. Then there are strict Blues and Jazz stages where the likes of BB King and Joshua Redman performed to seated audiences.'

BB, I must sadly note, is finally showing his age and lacked the lovely spark that once made his performances such a pleasure. While Redman, gifted a saxophonist as he is, sounded effete compared to local jazz groups like The Original Tuxedo Jazz Band. Tributes to pioneers Sidney Bechet and Kid Ory both found the music alive and roaring with audience members rising to dance a second line (umbrellas held high!) around the tent. This year the festival’s focus fell on Native American culture so powwow drum groups, hoop dancers, weavers and even Native graffiti artists and DJs (A Tribe Called Red – three obese young men who mix powwow rhythms and chants with house beats) all were out in force. Oh, there was also a Gospel Tent and, this being the South, you can imagine how powerful the choirs and solo singers performing there were. “God is good” was a frequent refrain to which this atheist could only add “if you sing that well he might well be!”

While Friday’s temperature was pleasant and Saturday’s hot and sticky, Sunday saw showers of Louisiana rain turn the racetrack into a quagmire. Oh well, at least it wasn’t cold and with the likes of Tex-Mex legend Little Joe & La Familia performing. This was a first for this watcher of Tex-Mex – and Joe was superb, both in voice and attitude. “We’re all wetbacks now,” he joked to his damp audience whilst wearing a T-shirt that read “I ONLY LOOK ILLEGAL”). CJ Chenier (son of late zydeco legend Clifton Chenier) delivered a swinging set. Big Chief Monk Boudreaux led The Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indians through a set that had infants on stage alongside their parents and grandparents (all decked out in fabulous regalia). It made for the best day of the weekend. Jazzfest may get as muddy as Glastonbury but the music is way, way better! How I wish I was staying for this weekend – and with day tickets at $50 each it is, surely, not just the planet’s best festival but the best-value festival.

It made for the best day of the weekend. Jazzfest may get as muddy as Glastonbury but the music is way, way better


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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