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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.

2012 Fantasy Map

2012 Fantasy Map

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.

Mahalia Jackson - Historic Jazz Fest Picture

Mahalia Jackson – Historic Jazz Fest Picture

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.

Jazzfest 1975 Historic Poster

Jazz Fest 1975 Historic Poster

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.

Arieal

Arieal

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

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The 41st New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

A Russ Agdern Perspective: Part I

Mr. Russ Agdern

Mr. Russ Agdern

What a week!  My third trip to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (Jazz Fest) was nothing short of incredible.  The surprises were many, the disappointments were few, the food was awesome, and when you get to hear some of the best music in the world in one the most important musical towns in the world, you’re in for a good time.

2010 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

2010 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival takes place over the last weekend of April and first weekend in May at the New Orleans Fairgrounds, but, like most parties in this town, can’t be contained in one venue, so Fest spills out in the clubs, halls, restaurants, bars, record stores, boats, coffee houses, laundromats, Carnival float warehouses, street corners and empty lots of the Crescent City.  Two things set Jazz Fest apart from other festivals in my mind – the musical diversity and the food.

Who Dat Ville

Photo by Marisa Harford

While heavy metal, pop, opera, classical aren’t there, and quality hip hop is not so represented (The Roots and Chali 2na were both here in 2008, haven’t seen a hip hop group I like since at the fairgrounds), some of the very best in Jazz, Funk, Blues, Gospel, Zydeco, Cajun, Folk, Rock are all over the place at the fairgrounds and in the venues around town.  Ani DiFranco and Gift of Gab played club shows, members of REM sat in with Bonerama, Pearl Jam, Elvis Costello, Simon and Garfunkel, Van Morrison all played at the fairgrounds, so don’t be fooled into thinking this is solely a Jazz festival, because it ain’t.  Sure, there are 3 different jazz stages at the fairgrounds (one for general jazz, one for traditional New Orleans Dixieland Jazz, and one split between brass bands and Mardi Gras Indians) but there are also two main stages, a gospel and blues tents, a zydeco/Cajun stage… you get the idea.

Prejean's pheasant, quail and andouille gumbo (Photo by Prejean's Restaurant)

Prejean's pheasant, quail and andouille gumbo (Photo by Prejean's Restaurant)

The food at the fairgrounds is tremendous.  It is freaking delicious and goes way beyond “best festival food you’ll have” into some of the best you’ll ever have…period.  I wait all year for Prejeans Pheasant, Duck, and Andouille Gumbo.  Their Fried Chicken and Jambalaya combo is one of the best ways to spend $8.  And I’m not even talking about all the things most folks seem to like, like the crawfish monica, the shrimp po boys, the cochon de lait sandwiches, the mango freezes… trust me when I say you should budget yourself 20 bucks per day for food at the fairgrounds. You’ll thank me.

Photo By Lynn Lesh 2010

Photo By Lynn Lesh

This being my third Jazz Fest, I tend to have a rhythm I like to follow, things I like to do.  Some of my favorite moments of Fest have happened during the in between days or extra days, so I tend to do second weekend with an extra day or two on either end of the weekend.  This gives me time to actually see the city, something I don’t really do as much while the music is in full swing.  This also gives me a chance to catch additional great music at various places, including the Louisiana Music Factory which hosts many in store sets during the days surrounding Fest.  I think this review works best chronologically, so let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

Welcome to NOLA

Welcome to NOLA

Wednesday: April 28, 2010: Day One

Arrive at airport, no traffic on Bronx/Queens Expressway and breeze through security line… only to find a gate full of ANGRY people.  Why so serious?  You see, the airlines don’t apparently know that it is Jazz Fest, even if millions of people do.  So they oversell flights, and are shocked when they need 5 volunteers to go later, but folks already have reservations and concert tickets.  I considered getting bumped, but wanted to get to town.

House of Blues, New Orleans

House of Blues, New Orleans

I don’t normally do House of Blues shows, would rather support local clubs.  But today, they had Kermit Ruffins of the Barbecue Swingers, doing a “Treme House Party” on stage with Walter Wolfman Washington, Dr. Michael White, Henry Butler, and Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews.  This sounded awesome.  Plus, Fesshead Krewe (represented by a metal bust of Professor Longhair) was hosting a party in an empty lot, with The  Rebirth Brass Band and an all star band of Neville-related project alums (Band called “Never Was Brothers”), which sounded great.  So no flight credit for me. Really excited about this House of Blues‘ show.  So excited that I call after I land to see if I should get tickets early or just walk up.  The box office suggested coming early so I head right from my host’s place towards The French Quarter.  On the way, pass by Fesshead Fest, and never have a received a look of utter betrayal like the one I got from the man waiving people in to Fesshead Fest.  The guy was shocked that I kept driving, how could I do this to him?!  But I stopped long enough to hear The  Rebirth Brass Band rock out one tune and was it hot!

Café Du Monde beignets

Café Du Monde's Beignets (Photo by Marisa Harford)

Park on Decatur, run to the box office, snag a ticket, stop by Café Du Monde for some beignets (French donuts with powdered sugar) and some Café Au Lait (coffee with milk).  Great couple musicians jamming on some folk and soul music out front, a sister with dreads on guitar, a youngish guy on guitar, a drummer… another guitarist walks up and joins them, as does a singer, who starts singin’ the hell out of some Bill Withers.  I love Bill Withers.  Hey, apparently, so does Cyril Neville, who’s suddenly standing five feet from me, also checking them out.  I decide not to say anything to him, even though he’s an amazing musician who’s done some amazing stuff, most recently touring with Galactic and burning down The Brooklyn Bowl after The Saints won the Super Bowl.  Another woman walks up and starts singing Aretha Franklin‘s “Chain of Fools” and is fantastic.  This is gonna be a good week.

Go hang with my host for a few moments before I head over the House of Blues, he’s an old friend through social justice work and is a good dude trying to good work in a city that needs it.  Off to HOB!

Photo by Matt Cornell

Kermit's Poster (Photo by Matt Cornell)

Show review:

This show had all the makings of an epic, but some things worried me – like why call it a “Treme House Party” when people can go see Kermit Ruffins playing in the Treme tomorrow night?  It’s Jazz Fest.  My guess is that lineup doesn’t need to piggy back off the show, even if it is popular.  Great opening act, singer and a guitarist accompanying.  Great voice, insane Mariah Carey-like upper range.  But the main event was a disappointment, for a few reasons:

1)      The curtain opened and we were watching a ‘Treme House Party’.  The stage was set with couches, chairs, a bar, and random non musicians hangin’ out, having drinks.  Weird.  The House of Blues brings you a fake version of something that exists for real a couple miles away tomorrow.

Trombone Shorty @ Kermit's Show

Trombone Shorty @ Kermit's Show (Photo by Matt Cornell)

2)      I had hoped there would be some real interaction between the guests, with each other, with Kermit.  But the show was a lot more of Kermit plays one song, special guest X leads The Barbeque Swingers for a few numbers, maybe Kermit joins on one, then special guest X leaves.  LAME.  Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t actually lame, the musicianship was fantastic, but the vibe was off, and Kermit having a drink on stage, trumpet in hand, while someone else leads his band and doesn’t get in on it?  Weird stuff.

3)      Because of 1 and 2, things were low energy for the first half, which is a shame b/c Walter Wolfman Washington and Dr. Michael White were great.  But Henry Butler really kicked things up a notch with his cover of “Mustang Sally.”  Then Trombone Shorty’s mini set was also great and he brought his brother James Andrews out to do “Skokie” and “Oop Oop A Doo.”

Treme on HBO

Treme on HBO

4)      I’m sure Treme is awesome.  I can’t wait to see the series, actually.  And I very much dig John Boutte, the guy who wrote the song that became the theme.  Still, it sounds a lot like the beginning to “Do Whatcha Wanna“, and I got very excited the four times I heard it this weekend, only to be disappointed.  My guess is musicians in NOLA will be as tired of that song as they are of “The Saints” very soon.

I know folks say that bad sex and pizza, even when they’re bad, are pretty good.  But whoever said those things must clearly not know good pizza and good sex, because pretty good doesn’t freaking cut it when it could be mind blowing.  While pretty good, and probably great for folks who didn’t know they could expect more, this show was probably the disappointment of the weekend.  It could have been one of those crazy moments of synergy when brilliant musicians make something happen, but instead it was a weird, gimmicky thing that was more like an all-star review than the party I had hoped for.

Irvin Mayfield and the NOJO Jam

Irvin Mayfield and the NOJO Jam

Next up, I stopped by the Jam Session at Irvin Mayfield’s new place, called a “head cutting session.”  For y’all don’t know, cutting heads is not just jamming, but is actually competitive combat.  Kinda how a poetry slam is to spoken word and performance poetry.  So, to hear it billed like that, I was hoping for some folks spitting fiyo.  What was going down there was a bunch of younger cats playing some charts together.

Megalomaniac's Ball - Garage A Trois (Photo by Jon Weber)

Megalomaniac's Ball - Garage A Trois (Photo by Jon Weber)

It was great to see them finding their feet, but again, not quite what I expected.  Still, the players was solid, lotsa horn players getting their groove on to “Straight“, “No Chaser” and whatnot.    Good times.  Caught several songs then felt my energy start to flag a lil bit.  While I was enjoying the jamming, it wasn’t worth starting the week off sleep deprived.  It was too late to hit The Megalomaniac’s Ball, featuring Garage A Trois, Stanton Moore Trio, Dead Kenny G’s, Mike Dillon and Earl Harvin Duo, at The Howlin’ Wolf, so I decided to head back towards the rental car.  A good but not great start to the week, was starting to feel a little bummed.  Thing is, some of the best shows I’ve seen at Fest have been the night before, so expectations were great and not met.

So…it’s 2am and I’m driving down Elysian Fields and about to turn onto my friend’s street…when I hear a brass band.  I immediately park.  Last year there were brass band battles on Frenchman, a block away.  I head towards Frenchman and sure enough there are two small groups going at it, with a frenzied group of dancers between them.  More and more players join up, including Clarence ‘Trixzey’ Slaughter, formerly of Trombone Shorty’s band.  It’s getting crazy.  The crowd is getting larger.  For the second time today, Cyril Neville bumps into me.  I decide again not to say anything.  A guy shows up with a baritone (smaller version of a tuba) and another guy with weird saxophones.  A shorter Latina woman is dancing like crazy.  Cyril bumps into me again and I thank him for such a great Super Bowl show at The Brooklyn Bowl with Galactic.

Cyril: Aww, thank you man.  You know, that night… we were Doin Work! You know?

Me: Yeah you right. And brother, you sure were.

Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews has now shown up and though half the crowd is spraining eyeballs trying to notice it is him without staring, he’s unarmed and just there to watch.  The band is taking it up and up.  Two drunk dudes are doing their best to ruin it by stumbling into the band but thankfully not succeeding.  Clarence ‘Trixzey’ Slaughter is KILLING on his horn.  Hell yeah! Finally, the band busts out “Saints” for a while, then second line and it’s a wrap.  Instead of bed by 2am, it’s more like 4:30am now.  And while still a little disappointed about the first show, I went to sleep real happy.  Seen some great musicianship and showmanship, and Jazz Fest hadn’t even restarted.  This was gonna be an awesome week.

~ Article by: Russ Agdern ~

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