By the time I hit day three, one thing had become perfectly clear: people who loved New Orleans Jazz Festival LOVED New Orleans Jazz Festival. Pretty much everyone we had met over the last few days has had a million stories to tell, with their visits to the festival well into the double digits. Not only am I starting to feel like I'm this only one popping their proverbial cherry here but by now also just as clear why people cheep coming back for more.
Great food, good vibes, incredible music and though the massive crowds of today’s Saturday afternoon may have suggested otherwise, it’s all pretty laid back, too. As I arrived, massive crowds had already descended on the two main stages, getting in the prime position for the major acts on later in the day. Of course this is proceeded by plenty of unknown and emerging talents, alongside a few mainstays of the festival.
Local six piece MyNameIsJohnMichael, a strangely articulated artist name, wasn’t quite as strange with the music they produced, coming off in a similar vein to a band like Train. Meanwhile, the local Creole (read: Washboards. Lots of Washboards) sound of Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble, were getting plenty of festival lovers in the mood for a boogie.
We eventually maneuvered our way to the main stage, where “Mr. Music” Allen Toussaint was kicking off “legends day”. With an impressive instrumental ensemble of at least 14 musicians behind him, the colourfully dressed Allen (who last year came to Australia for the Legends of New Orleans event), jumped straight on the Piano, opening with “Let's Grow Together”. The backing band was phenomenal (always trust a veteran musician to assemble an amazing backing band), with tracks like “Can I Get a Witness” and “Holy Cow” proving a particular highlight.
There’s something truly magical about seeing such a legend at home in a place where he is a musical God. And there’s something even more magical when that legend is joined by another. Wearing an impressively bright lime green outfit, Cyril Neville joined Toussaint for a track, and Teresa Anderson joined for “Let’s Get Started Right Now, Here In My Arms, So Glad I Discovered That You’re Going To Be My Lover”. A phenomenal set from a legend of the music scene.
I made tracks to the Jazz Tent next, whose misty drops and seating made for a kind relief from the harsh Louisiana sun (not that it stopped the sweating, mind you). The artist I made the effort for was John Boutté, whose name I had heard of before, though I couldn’t quite place where. Turns out it’s from the TV series Tréme (which I really need to get back into following this trip…).
As the name of the tent would allude, Boutté – with a seven piece backing band behind him – performed some phenomenal Jazz, which lyrically focused on New Orleans and Mr. Boutté himself. Focusing on the vocals and a tambourine with an emotive, borderline theatrical performance, Boutté left the instrumentation to the backing band, who shined. Of particular mention was a cover of the Fats Domino track “No No (The River)”, “You Know I Love You Baby” and “I Love You Like A Pig Loves Mud” (translated from the French/Creole), in which members from the New Orleans Creole Opera guested. This was followed by one of the most spine tingling covers of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” that I’ve ever seen. Though Boutté admitted the cover had been done to death, seeing it performed with such emotion by the Operatic vocalists effectively brought the crowd to tears – and Boutté himself – with the track resulting a lengthy and deserving standing ovation. A special moment for all.
Having spent longer at the tent than I had planned on, but the time I got over to Better Than Ezra, it was impossible to get anywhere near the stage. Who knew they were so stupidly popular? Well, not me at least. But their popularity comes with good reason – this is a band who is amazingly tight, with a big sound and phenomenal music (but you already knew that didn’t you?).
Moving back to the traditions of the festival, I caught the Preservation Hall Jazz Band next – and you don't get more traditional than this; the group's title celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. And from the title you know exactly what you’re going to get: some well performed Jazz. And that’s exactly what they delivered. A trip to New Orleans couldn’t be complete without enjoying a set from this legendary troupe. Meanwhile nearby, artist Paulina Rubio was totally rocking out, serving as a reminder that there’s always something for everyone at this event.
But if it was everyone that needed to be pleased at once, then this was where the legends came in back on the main Acura stage. Playing the festival for the first time, the Eagles showed the biggest crowd of the festival why they remain one of the top touring bands in the world. “Seven Bridges Road” opened the set and they moved straight into “How Long”, “Take It To The Limit” and by the fourth track we’d already heard “Hotel California”, a song so famous that it’s hard not to get emotional when you are singing along with the band themselves (and not a group of drunks at 3am Karaoke). Honestly this was the only song I was truly hanging out for, and after hearing “I Can't Tell You Why” and “Witchy Woman”, I made tracks for some of the other stages (which took a good half an hour effort to maneuver given how packed in everything was).
You may think I’m crazy to head off from the legends after six tracks, but here was a great shirt I saw at the festival which may suffice as a reasoning: “Judge your Jazzfest not by the greatness of what you see, but by the greatness of what you have to skip in order to see it”. Being of the journalist mentality, I really don’t feel comfortable missing much of anything at a festival, so I made my best to take it all in – and there was a LOT of incredible music playing simultaneously. The top of this iceberg was The Warren Haynes Band, who was filling in for the late Levon Helm. With Dr. John due to guest, alongside a pile of rumours, this was one of the most talked about sets of the festival – and with Warren already performing alongside John Mooney earlier in the day, the buzz was all the stronger.
With the time I was able to spend at his tent limited, unfortunately I wasn’t able to see if any of these rumours came true (or even catch Dr. John for that matter), but what I did see was the incredible guitarist playing a hell of a set with a backing band to rival any (you’ll remember what I said about legendary musicians earlier), that included a four piece horn section.. Always a pleasure to see Mr. Haynes. Should you ever get the chance I wouldn’t pass up the chance – even if he is clashing with the Eagles.
Opting to start making tracks out of the event ahead of the tens of thousands camped out for Eagles (so much for journalistic integrity), I managed to catch the last few tracks of recent Bluesfest performers My Morning Jacket, who were playing a massive slow jam when I arrived that eventually lead into their loved track “Holding on to Black Metal”. As always, MMJ shined, reminding the massive crowd why they’re one of the most respected live bands on the American touring circuit.