As my fifth New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival gets closer, the anticipation gets stronger. This year is a little different- I have two friends coming to Jazz Fest on my say so, so I’m a little stressed, wanting to make sure they tell me what they want to hear, making sure they love it as much as I do. So in prepping for my favorite week of the year, here are some things you don’t want to miss:
At the fairgrounds:
Thursday, May 3rd
High School Gospel Choirs: I like to open my fest with the McMain Singing Mustangs – every year, these kids bring some serious firepower to the Gospel Tent. McDonogh #35 High School also does some incredible stuff later in the afternoon.
New Orleans Music Legends: Bassist George Porter Jr. has probably played on your favorite album, whether with Tori Amos, David Byrne, being the bass line sampled for tons of hip hop classics, or with his own groundbreaking work with the legendary Meters. Do yourself a favor and see him. While you’re at it, check out piano virtuoso Henry Butler, and the boys and girl in Dumpstaphunk. All of em will make you wish you lived here and saw em more often.
Home Grown Up and Comers: I saw Mia Borders in a tiny club with a leaky roof on the lower east side last year and she was amazing. Probably got an awesome band with her, including NOLA saxman Khris Royal (who’s probably with George too), and her cover of Bill Wither‘s “Use Me” was just bananas last year.
Friday, May 4th
The One Woman Army, now with backup: Theresa Andersson is a tremendous singer, fiddle player, and all around musician. This year, she’s got a great krewe of musicians with her, including Hannah Krieger-Benson, a fantastic trumpet player and singer who’s doing her own stuff (Hannah KB Band) and some ska too (The Local Skank)
Pick your own Jazz Adventure: Three amazing jazz sets happening right after Theresa, at the same time. I have no idea how I’ll do all three. Big Chief Donald Harrison will be mixing his bebop and modern jazz skills with R&B and NOLA classics, ala the amazing cover of “Indian Red” he did for the Treme Season One Soundtrack. Or, you can get your fill of low end saxophonics, with Roger Lewis (Dirty Dozen Brass Band) leading three Bari Saxes and a Bass Sax for Baritone Bliss (which was fantastic last year). Or, you can see Preservation Hall trumpet man Mark Braud do his own thing in the Economy Hall tent.
Holy People: Bet on Mavis Staples, who was already among the top reasons we went with this weekend, to put on a ridiculous set at the gospel tent in honor of her friend (and ours), the late great Levon Helm. I’m sure her set is going to be so great, I’ll probably miss Deacon John‘s killer cover of “Many Rivers to Cross” to get a spot. However, if I were you, I wouldn’t miss much else of his set. Local music legend, a fantastic performer, a great singer, a helluva guitar player, just amazing stuff, see Deacon John.
Saturday May 5th
Family Preservation: Loads of famous families in the New Orleans tradition – on Saturday, the Brunious family represents in Economy Hall. A few hours before Mark Braud (nephew to the late John Brunious) takes the stage (and hopefully passes out some ice cream) with the
Preservation Hall Jazz Band, his other uncle (and brother to John) Wendell Brunious will step up to the stage- Wendell was on fire at BAM a couple weeks back, sitting in with Dr. John, so look for some tasty trumpet goodness all around.
Raisin’ Hell: Another scion of a famous musical family takes the Fais Do Do stage, Rockin Dopsie and his Zydeco Hellraisers. I feel like a lot of my favorite Zydeco bands all seemed to be packed into first weekend, but Rockin Dopsie is a notable exception.
Local Greats to Look For: Anders Osborne is a beast on guitar, and his new album is a great mix of sweetness, of sadness, of blues and power. Not sure who’s playing with them, but see it. Paul Sanchez’s Rolling Road show is always packed with local stars, Joe Krown with Russell Batiste and Walter “Wolfman” Washington is a tight organ guitar drums trio that does it right. John Boutte‘s voice, which you may recognize from the theme song from Treme, is tremendous to hear in the Jazz Tent – he may spoil us with a great cover of Leonard Cohen‘s “Hallelujah”…if we’re lucky!
The Cafe du Monde stand between the Jazz and Blues tents, around 5:30pm. Good time to hydrate and get some iced coffee. Hard to see ending my Preservation Hall second line early, but gonna need to refuel. And what better place to do it? Herbie Hancock and his band in the Jazz Tent on your right, the Warren Haynes Band (with tinyrager.com faves Nigel Hall and Alecia Chakour, as well as Dr. John, playing out) on your left in the Blues Tent.
Sunday, May 6th
Sunday is always the most packed day, the closing day of the festival. Of course, I can tell you to park at Gentilly Stage all day, or don’t miss Galactic, but hopefully you already know. Here are a few things you might not know about:
The Family that Prays Together: Remember that John Boutte guy from Saturday? He’s bringin’ his whole family to the gospel tent. You should get there too.
Glen David Andrews: Cousin to Trombone Shorty and James Andrews, the fire-breathing trombone player’s got an incredible performance you don’t want to miss. Why he’s not taking his rightful place closing down the Gospel tent is beyond me, but at least it makes the FOMS (Fear of Missing Something) to close the festival a bit easier.
Camping at the Jazz and Heritage Stage: I don’t know the higher heights, but every other group at the Jazz and Heritage stage is a smoker, starting with War Chief Juan, the TBC Brass Band, Los Hombres Calientes will be incredible (why not in the Jazz tent?), and
Big Chief Bo Dollis: It’s not clear if the Big Chief is going to make it, he’s fallen ill, so I expect the boys to rock it out hard for him even if he can’t make it. Look for Brooklynite turned Orleanian Billy Iuso wrecking shop on guitar (if not here, with Anders on Saturday), he’s a force to be reckoned with.
Close out with the Hall: Okay, so you’ve got 8, count em, 8 amazing sets lined up to end your fest. My pick is Preservation Hall – they’re going to have a lot of friends on stage with them and it’s going to be a lot of fun. Also, I have no idea why they put Sharon Jones in the Blues Tent when she’s going to want the crowd up and dancing.
The night shows are a whole other animal, coming for part 2…
Words by Guest Writer: Russ Agdern