Lettin’ it ride in the Big Easy: Jazzfest 2010 recap, Part V: it’s time to chill

The last in our five-part series, where the festival puts the ‘jazz’ in Jazzfest.

Delfayo Marsalis & the Uptown Jazz Orchestra, WWOZ Jazz Tent
I was the first one up after obtaining maybe five hours of sleep, and I quickly rushed back off to the fairgrounds. It would have been nice to get more sleep, but I didn’t want to miss Delfayo Marsalis. The skies were still overcast and threatening rain, and it misted throughout the day. But, in a great gift from the music gods, it didn’t actually rain until about 20 minutes after the end of the festival.

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The tent was packed for this 1:35 pm set and rightfully so, as the trombone ace from New Orleans’ first family of jazz led a 15-piece horn section through a set of swinging jazz numbers with a classic and classy vibe. Younger brother Jason Marsalis played drums and the set featured one crowd-pleasing number after another, with round after round of applause. This was the best jazz set of the weekend in this reporter’s view.

Ellis Marsalis, WWOZ Jazz Tent
Pianist Ellis Marsalis followed his son’s group with his own quartet for another great set, again featuring Jason Marsalis on drums. The songs were a little more subdued than Delfayo’s set, but the playing continued to sparkle. Jason delivered a stellar drum solo during one tune that won a huge round of applause, while all the band members soloed with great skill on a superb reading of “My Favorite Things.” It’s too bad that Wynton and Branford couldn’t be summoned for an all-Marsalis family jam, but getting to see Delfayo and Ellis in succession with Jason was another great Jazzfest treat.

The Dead Weather, Gentilly Stage
Jack White led his new group on drums in a hot set before a big crowd in the mist at the Gentilly Stage. White is a snappy drummer and every project he’s involved in oozes the blues, but the Dead Weather mix that old school blues vibe with a heavy indie rock sound that is just plain tantalizing thanks to lead vocalist Allison Mosshart. The former singer of the Kills appeared as some sort of dark, avenging angel, and she captivated the crowd on every tune. The new “Hustle and Cuss” featured a groovy syncopation that went over well. The set peaked with “Treat Me Like Your Mother” from the band’s first album, a flat-out bad-ass rocker that saw the energy soar as Mosshart owned the stage. White also played guitar on one tune, treating fans to some of his bluesy shredding, before he and Mosshart sang a duet on a slow, dark simmering blues to end the set in haunting yet breathtaking fashion.


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Lettin’ it ride in the Big Easy: Jazzfest 2010 recap, Part IV: Up all night

Part three in our five-part series, where Greg Schwartz literally pulls a triple shift, finishing the night shortly before the sun came up. Don’t let the number of entires fool you. One of these sets was almost three hours long.

Rebirth Brass Band, Congo Square Stage
A local institution since 1983, the Rebirth Brass Band has become one of the bands that personifies what New Orleans music is all about. Mixing heavy funk with old school second line jazz, the band entertained a huge crowd on another overcast but thankfully dry afternoon. A funky take on “It’s All Over Now” saw the big horn section used to great effect. Later, the band jammed on TLC’s “Waterfalls” for another highlight that had much of the throng dancing. Others sampled the great food and many craft selections that lined the area, including some stunning artwork such as stained wood paintings that retailed for $3,000. The overall crowd was much larger than the previous two days, due to it being Saturday and with Pearl Jam headlining. But a laid back vibe still permeated the air.

Band of Horses, Gentilly Stage
These rising indie rockers from Seattle have an intriguing sound that mixes orchestral pop influences with rock ‘n’ roll flavors that recall groups such as My Morning Jacket, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, the Shins and Pearl Jam’s more melodic side. The band’s new LP Infinite Arms leans to the atmospheric side, but they can rock out too, and they did for much of the set with vocalist/guitarist Ben Bridwell delivering an energetic performance. The laid back sound of “Factory” sounded nice, but it’s songs like “Laredo” that show the band at its most accessible, with an infectious melodic rock that makes it easy to see why Pearl Jam tapped the band to open their current American tour. I would have liked to stay for the whole set, but I had to get over to the main stage for one of the festival’s main events.

Galactic, Acura Stage
If there’s one band that personifies the modern funk rock sound of New Orleans, it has to be Galactic. Heavily rooted in the classic funk of the Meters and the Neville Brothers, the band mixes in a forward-looking acid jazz sound as well as classic rock and hip-hop flavors that have made them one of the planet’s most dependable party bands for over a decade now. But while the band can always be counted on to get the good times rolling, they also throw in an occasional socially conscious vibe that has also become a New Orleans trademark. The band distributed a little pamphlet called “Galactic’s Guide to the Planet of New Orleans – a guide to New Orleans music, food & fun,” filled with great recommendations from each band member. “If you happen to catch any of our shows, you will be seeing the band in our element: the place of Galactic’s formation, in our hometown city during a special occasion,” read the pamphlet. So an extra air of anticipation accompanied the band wherever they went.


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Lettin’ it ride in the Big Easy: Jazzfest 2010 recap, Part III: Lady Soul bailed out by three of the four elements

Part three in our five-part series, where a gaggle of Hall of Famers step in to replace another Hall of Famer.

Most of my comrades decided to take this day off, since Friday seemed to present perhaps the least best overall lineup of the weekend. But they missed out on some great stuff. It was an overcast day that threatened rain, but the weather gods were most kind as the precipitation held off until just after the festival ended on Sunday.

Astral Project, WWOZ Jazz Tent
Jazzfest brings in lots of great rock bands to up the fun factor and sell more tickets, but I was definitely of a mindset to catch some jazzy jazz too. The Astral Project’s 1:30 pm set delivered in a big way. In contrast to the main stages, the jazz and blues tents feature rows and rows of seating. It can still be hard to find seats though, and the tent was pretty packed for this performance. But there’s an usher who works to help stragglers find seats, and it was nice to get one after the late night out. Local daily paper The Times-Picayune has called the Astral Project the city’s “premier modern jazz ensemble,” and there were few who would disagree after this great set. Drummer John Vidacovich, saxman Tony Dagradi, guitarist Steve Masakowski and bassist James Singleton form a dynamic quartet. The songs were mostly up-tempo with lots of changes, hot solos and just plain great playing that received numerous rounds of applause from the appreciative audience.

Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers, Congo Square Stage
Trumpet ace Kermit Ruffins came up with the Rebirth Brass Band (which he co-founded) and now fronts his own unit. Ruffins and his current band mix the jazzy jazz with elements of funk, pop and hip-hop for a genre-bending unit that has become a New Orleans classic. Some might also recognize Ruffins from a recurring role on HBO’s new show “Treme,” which takes place in New Orleans. A groovy take on “I Can See Clearly Now” was a hit with the crowd in the mid-afternoon time slot. The sky was gray, but with no rain it felt indeed like a “bright, sunshiny day.” The smooth horn lines sounded great over the upbeat groove, while Ruffins’ vocals conjured a nostalgic big band era. Ruffins then stepped up and delivered one of the best trumpet solos of the weekend, exploring the melody with full jazzy flair.

Forgotten Souls Brass Band, Jazz and Heritage Stage
This small stage near the main entrance of the fairgrounds featured a series of great brass bands throughout the weekend. Almost any time you walked by, there was a brass brand making sure things stayed jazzy and funky. The Forgotten Souls had a big lineup and a classic sound that drew in most who walked by.


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Lettin’ it ride in the Big Easy: Jazzfest 2010 recap, Part II: Bringing the ‘phunk

The second of our five-part series, Greg Schwartz spends five days in New Orleans, absorbing more music than one thought humanly possible, grinning ear to ear the entire time.

Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, Acura Stage
Music started at the fairgrounds in the 11 am hour, but I felt like I was doing well to make it there by 1:30 pm for the main stage set by Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk. I’d caught Dumpstaphunk opening for Phil Lesh & Friends at their January 2008 Mardis Gras show in San Francisco, so I knew this was a band not to miss. Ivan is of course one of the legendary Neville Brothers, so the band’s sound is rooted in that classic New Orleans funk style pioneered by the Meters (which featured Art Neville, and later also Cyril Neville.) It was a picture-perfect beautiful, breezy sunny afternoon and hearing these funky sounds kicked things off in high style. Bassist Tony Hall, who some might recognize from his time served with the Trey Anastasio Band, was a star of the show. He laid down a bright punchy low end that made every tune bounce, and also sang with soulful flair on songs like Sly and the Family Stone’s “You Can Make it if You Try.”

Amanda Shaw & the Cute Guys, Gentilly Stage
The Gentilly Stage is the second biggest stage and the furthest walk from the main stage, but it still only takes five to ten minutes to get over there (as opposed to some festivals where certain stages can be much farther apart.) Local lass Amanda Shaw drew a large crowd to hear her high-energy, rootsy country rock sound as she led the band on fiddle. A spunky cover of the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” got things rocking as the charismatic Shaw sang with punk energy, but then injected Cajun-rooted fiddle runs for a unique take on the punk classic. Shaw’s instrumental talent shined brightest on an instrumental tune that closed the set with a bluesier flavor. The 19-year-old New Orleans native soloed brilliantly, while also moving and grooving with a dynamic stage presence making her one to watch moving forward.

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Gov’t Mule, Acura Stage
Warren Haynes and his blues rock quartet took the main stage at 2:50 pm and rocked out for the next hour. “Broke Down on the Brazos” from the band’s latest album By a Thread was an early highlight, with Haynes riffing out on the high-octane jam. “Beautifully Broken” slowed things down a bit, but sounded great on such a sunny afternoon. An instrumental jam went in a decidely Allman-ish direction, and even featured a “Blue Skies” tease that unfortunately did not fully materialize (the Allman Brothers Band had however played the festival on the previous weekend.) Haynes then sang a little bit of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” before returning to the jam. Mule standard “Thorazine Shuffle” cranked the blues rock back up to peak level, with Haynes throwing in a “Get Up Stand Up” tease on his guitar. The man is a classic rock encyclopedia, which makes every Mule set an adventure since you never know what tune might pop up.

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Lettin’ it ride in the Big Easy: Jazzfest 2010 recap, Part I: Pre-festival tuneups

There are a lot of great festivals out there vying for the dollars of music fans these days, proof positive that the market for great live music is as strong as ever. When you start comparing them, there are several factors to consider: the strength and diversity of the lineup, location, food and amenities, availability of late night entertainment, and finally overall value. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (better known as just Jazzfest) ranks highly in each category. As an MC said at the end of each day, “The best thing about Jazzfest is that when you leave here [the fairgrounds], you’re in New Orleans.” While the Jazzfest format may be similar to other major festivals, the fact that it takes place in New Orleans makes it as unique as the Crescent City.

“New Orleans is the opposite of America, and we must hold onto places that are the opposite of us. New Orleans is not fast or energetic or efficient, not a go-get-’em Calvinist well-ordered city. It’s slow, lazy, sleepy, sweaty, hot, wet, lazy and exotic,” wrote author Mark Childress in The New York Times shortly after Hurricane Katrina.

But rookies and amateur music fans beware – New Orleans and its many musical attractions are geared toward professional party animals. It’s all too easy to wear yourself out with one late night on the town, and if you’re not careful, it could drag you down for the rest of the weekend (or at least until you catch up on sleep.) The music at the fairgrounds ends at 7 pm each day, a bit early by general festival standards. But there’s a reason for that – when you’re walking out of the fairgrounds, your night is just beginning. There’s any number of evening shows going on all over town, of both the marquee and free varieties, followed by the late late shows that don’t even start until at least 2 am. This is something of a double-edged sword, since it means you’re going to spend more money on food, drinks and taxis than you have at any other festival. But when you’re in New Orleans for just a short time, you’ve gotta live it up. The food at the festival is simply amazing – from the po-boy sandwiches and gumbo to the crawfish monica (zesty macaroni and cheese with crawfish tails) and exotic desserts, you’re not going to beat these culinary offerings at any other festival. It’s only a shame that Miller Lite was allowed to corner the market on beer sales, meaning you couldn’t have a tasty local Abita ale with your local food. This should be changed. But the rest of Jazzfest has got a great thing going.

Iron Horse

Most of the bars stay open all night and you can drink on the streets, which means the fun doesn’t ever have to end on anyone else’s schedule. Drinking becomes almost like breathing, since you don’t need to worry about whether you’re staying or going to the next spot before you order that next drink. But when there are bands you want to see early the next day at the festival, then comes the conflict. Stay out having fun, or go back to home-base and try to get some sleep? Once you fall into the orbit of the night owls, it’s increasingly difficult to pull away from their nocturnal agenda. But if a night owl is what you are, then there’s no other festival that presents as much opportunity to spread your wings as Jazzfest. Sure, some other festivals have late late shows too, but not as many, not with such free-flowing booze and not with that “Nawlins” charm. There’s something special about New Orleans, and for serious music fans, Jazzfest is the best time of year to experience it.

Pre-festival: Wednesday, April 28

My accomplice and I drove from Austin to New Orleans on Wednesday, ready for four days of festival action. We were staying with some comrades in a house just a few blocks from the fairgrounds, rented through a team member that used to live in the neighborhood. We soon learned that staying in this nest of night owls would practically require flying in their nocturnal rhythm. So it was that we found ourselves on Frenchman Street after midnight, one of the city’s top musical hotbeds. The music welcomed us as soon as we got out of the taxi, as two competing horn sections blared their jazzy sounds at each other from opposing street corners while people danced in the streets.

Then it was on to Maison, where guitarist Eric Krasno was playing. Known for his funky acid jazz work with Soulive and Lettuce, Krasno has clearly built up quite a rep over the past decade as no less than Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann and Allman Brothers Band/Gov’t Mule guitarist Warren Haynes both sat in with him at the cozy club. Kreutzmann was in town for a gig with his new band 7 Walkers, who would be opening an evening show for Gov’t Mule on Friday. He played on several tunes and seemed to be enjoying himself immensely, which was great to see from a rock legend in his 60s. Then Haynes sat in on a groovy arrangement of Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” that was more Band of Gypsys-style, and which saw Haynes and Krasno trading licks in a smoking jam. Haynes followed this by singing a lively rendition of the Jerry Garcia Band standard, “That’s What Love Will Make You Do.” Later, Krasno and his band threw down a super funky instrumental take on the Beatles’ “Get Back.” Krasno has a new album out and it seems like he’s primed for a big year.

It was a late night out, and well after 4 am by the time we returned home. The night owls who had been in town since the previous first weekend of the festival said this was the earliest they’d been home all week. Local radio station WWOZ played on our little stereo when we got home and all week, and we all quickly fell in love with this fabulous station. They play funky soul jams in the early part of the evening to get you going when you’re getting ready to go out, and ambient jazz when you get back in the wee hours to lull you off to sleep. The playlist covers everything from the oldest vintage jazz to the newest funky stylings.

Coming up next: Thursday, and the party officially begins.

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