No place embodies the spirit of festive living as much as the city of New Orleans, so when we go for Jazzfest, it is not for just a music festival, but an entire sensory experience of music, food, and hanging out with friends from all over the country. It is the kind of vacation where you have to spend a few days resting afterwards.... in other words, the good kind! Here's how we spent our 6 days there for Jazzfest 2008:
We arrived in the French Quarter around 12:30, had some lunch at Napoleon House, then eased into fest mode by checking out some in-store performances at Louisiana Music Factory, and a couple of $2 Abita drafts at Ol'Toones saloon across the street. Checked into our hotel on Royal Street, then went back out to see the Rebirth Brass Band outside of La Belle Gallerie on Chartres.
This happened to be right across the street from Bacco restaurant, which was having a half-price wine happy hour; they had a table available, so we decided to have dinner there, and indulged in a decadent plate of lobster ravioli in champagne cream sauce. Not exactly New Orleans-style cuisine but delicious just the same. Met up with some friends at the hotel, and joined some of them at the Howling Wolf... for a so-called "brass band blowout", but we arrived during a very long set break and only ended up seeing one band, the Hot 8.
was the perfect opening day - started out with beautiful clear blue skies and sun, not too hot- and was our fullest day at Jazz Fest, which is like a big family reunion. We hit Liuzza's first, our favorite pre /post fest gathering spot, to have a couple of the most festive Bloody Marys in town while catching up with old friends, some we hadn't seen since last year's jazzfest. After a brief stop in the Gospel tent to get energized (and apply sunscreen) we went for a festival breakfast of Oyster Patty for me and Cochon de Lait for Joe, then headed over to Fais Do Do to catch the Figs, a new all-girl band out of Lafayette, playing country/ western swing. They had good harmonies and interesting material, plus colorful retro outfits.
They were followed by Joe Hall & the Louisiana Cane cutters, a traditional sounding Creole accordion player with 2 fiddle players in the band. After that we headed to the blues tent to see J. Monque D' a blues harmonica player/ singer , who is always entertaining. On the way in to the fest we had run into an old friend who is always raving about a Latin band called "Paky Saavedra's bandido", so we decided to check them out. We heard a few songs like "la Bamba", "Guantanamero", etc. then went to meet up with some friends. After that, we went to the blues tent to see CC Adcock & Doyle Bramhall - straight ahead blues/ rock, then over to Acura for Robert Plant & Alison Krauss- wow! I liked this more than I thought I would. It sounded better live than on the CD. T-bone Burnett and Buddy Miller accompanied them. They sounded good together, and I liked Plant's rendition of Allen Toussaint's "Fortune Teller". Hearing Black Dog with banjo was cool and they sounded good together on some of Alison's tunes too. However after spending over 30 minutes standing, shoulder to shoulder, packed in the thick crowd, barely able to move, craning my neck to see, I had to move on, and headed over to Congo Square for Leo Nocentelli's Rare Funk gathering. At least you could move around there, and dance, though it seemed to end a little early. Next was Ozomatli on the Gentilly stage, a kind of world music mix, with lots of percussion and horns and dance moves. Then in true Jazzfest fashion we switched gears again and went back to fais-do-do for Bruce Daigrepont, where we got some good Cajun dancing in. Ai-eee!
It's been a while since I've witnessed the watermelon sacrifice at Jazzfest, that bizarre ritual that takes place before the last act on the Fais do-do stage. It's tough to describe in words but I took some video:
After that was grammy award winning Terrence Simien, who always puts on a good show. There was a good crowd there.
Then we drifted back to Congo Square for the mellow reggae of Burning Spear, who seemed to be making up songs on the spot, and on the way out, stopped in Economy Hall to hear jazz chanteuse Banu Gibson. ...We saw about a dozen different acts that day, not counting the Second line parades and Mardi Gras Indians. It was a great first day at the fest!
Dinner that night was at Deanie's seafood - char broiled oysters, fried oysters and shrimp, stuffed crab. Yum!
We started out in Economy Hall, where we heard Connie Jones' Crescent City jazz Band. After so much running around the day before it was nice to have a seat in this tent, listening to the traditional dixieland Jazz band. After that it was over to Fais Do Do to see Hadley J. Castille, a Cajun band with a country/ string band style. The next act I wanted to see was Turbinton's House - tribute to Willie Tee and Earl Turbinton, two brothers on the New Orleans music scene, who had both passed away within the last year. Those tributes can be good, since you never know who might show up. The first part of the set was the jazz portion, with members of Astral Project, and David Torkanowsky on piano; the second half was more of an R&B set. A few minutes into this tribute set, it started pouring rain outside, and became very crowded in the tent, so we stayed for the rest of the day, and this was how I heard the most jazz ever in one day at Jazz fest. Ever since the schedule came out, I was looking forward to seeing Billy Joel that day, and maybe some of the Ponderosa Stomp revue in the neighboring Blues tent, but we decided to stay put since we had pretty good seats in the jazz tent, and it was not a bad thing. Astral Project was up next, and they were very good. I had heard of them for years, but never seen them before. Then we were treated to a tight performance by the 17-piece Count Basie Orchestra, led by the dapper and dignified looking John Hughes.
That's how it goes at jazzfest- usually whatever you see is bound to be something good, even if it is not something you planned on. Later that night we headed out to Rock'n'Bowl, where we saw Jon Cleary, then Sonny Landreth.
Sunday started off sunny, though the grounds were still muddy from the day before. After an extravagant breakfast at Brennan's, we arrived at the fairgrounds a little later that day, starting off in the Gospel tent with Shades of Praise, then a little hoo-na-tee-na-nay, with the Golden Star Hunters Mardi Gras Indians. We watched a bit of Shamarr Allen, then made our way over to the Voice of the Wetlands Allstars at Acura. If you could only see one set at jazzfest, that was a good one to pick, since it included Tab Benoit, Dr. John, Cyril Neville, Anders Osborne, Jumpin' Johnny Sansone. As they sang "Don't let the water - wash us away" I looked up at the darkening skies and echoed the song's plea. The next song was "Louisiana Sunshine" but it didn't do much to stop the deluge.
After about a half-dozen more songs, including a touching Johnny Sansone ballad for everyone trying to return home to New Orleans, the skies opened up and sent us running for cover under a food tent. When it let up a little bit we made our way over to the Gospel tent for a while, and I convinced Joe to stay by taking shelter in the Grandstands - it just couldn't rain all day! As we approached the sheltered Lagniappe stage inside the paddock area, we heard a familiar twang - the schedule said "Del McCoury Interview" but there was no interview, just Del and The Boys, picking away! I guess the interviewer didn't want to compete with the sound of the raindrops. No strangers to rainy festivals, the conditions didn't seem to bother them, and they let loose with their trademark hard-driving bluegrass, studded with humor. The announcer said they would be on the Fais-do-do stage later, and Del quipped, we'll be "dosey-do-ing". It was funny, they were one band I had not planned on trying to see that day, because I usually get to see them at other bluegrass festivals. But the venue provided a welcome refuge, and the music was uplifting anyway. Since it was still coming down pretty good we decided to stay put, and I slurped down a dozen oysters while listening to the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars. As soon as the sky started to brighten, we went back out, and I headed down to the jazz tent to see Nicholas Payton. The sun was back out, and I met up with Joe afterwards near Fais-do-do, where Del and the boys were playing to a mud-stomping crowd that included a couple of hula-hoopers. Not your average bluegrass festival.
For the last set of the day, I found a peaceful, relatively dry spot to watch Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint from across a moat full of with turtles. From that vantage point, I could hear and see the video screen pretty well and it was right near the Mango Freeze booth --- ah, nirvana! a nice way to end the day at the faigrounds, though we left a little earlier than usual, in search of dry socks and hot food. Even though it was a little wet, it was still a good jazzfest.
Here are the rest of my pictures from the first weekend.
Monday was a nice relaxing day, full of surprises. We had breakfast at Mena's, then wandered down to the French Market for some shopping, and rode the streetcar back and went to LMF to get some CD's. A little later we headed over to our friends' house in Gentilly for the raffle drawing / party, which I wrote about several weeks ago. There was some delicious food, including our hosts' famous homemade crawfish bread and crawfish cheesecake, and dozens of Threadheads hanging out in the backyard. Paul Sanchez, (ex-guitarist from Cowboy mouth, singer, songwriter, and just one of New Orleans uniquely talented musicians) was there, and silly me, I thought he was just there as an invited guest, and just "happened" to have his guitar with him. But he was there to perform, and he entertained us with a beautiful set of originals and covers, as only he can do it. Some were funny, like Manana, and Hurricane Party, and some were sad. When he sang Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927" there was not a dry eye, but he soon lifted us back up with "At the Foot of Canal Street". While all this was going on, the raffle prizes were being drawn inside, so at the end of the performance, some people were matched up with their winnings. I won a bunch of CD's and DVD's, mostly live recordings - can't wait to hear them all! Later on we went to Gumbo Shop for dinner, then on the advice of a couple of friends we just met, to Kerry Irish pub to see Kim Carson, and there was a whole crew of threadheads there too! Kim said something about Jazzfest being the best time in New Orleans, when all the real music lovers descend upon the city, and I must agree, it is wonderful to be in the company of so many like-minded individuals. We love it!
Tuesday was the fourth annual Threadhead party, aka "the patry", an excellent ending to the week that made up for some of the less than ideal conditions at the fairgrounds over the weekend. Organized by a group of threadheads from all over North America, what started as a simple backyard gathering in 2005 has turned into a somewhat larger event with a fundraising component, which benefits New Orleans Musicians Clinic (NOMC) and Silence is Violence (SIV) [see previous posts in this blog, or visit threadheads.org for more info.] This year over $20k was donated to the 2 charities, mostly from the raffle. The party itself was almost like a mini version of Jazzfest, but without all the running around. It started around noon, with Bob French and the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band, followed by the Hot 8 Brass band, who were joined by Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and some Mardi Gras Indians.
Paul Sanchez entertained us again, this time with his "Rolling Road show" revue, which included John and Lillian Boutte, Craig Klein from Bonerama, Susan Cowsill, and more.
To eat, there was plenty of boiled crawfish, jamabalaya, shrimp pasta, salad, and awesome desserts - plus plenty of beer, soft drinks, and spiked ice tea from the Old New Orleans Rum Distillery. One of the highlights of the day was the performance by the kids from the SIV sponsored music clinic, supported through the Fest4kidz initiative. What a jam! From where I was standing it was hard to get good pictures; here is a link to a short video on youtube. After that, Big Sam's Funky Nation got everybody grooving, then Shamarr Allen closed out the night with his band. The bass player, Will, had won a grammy for his work with Terrence Simien, and he brought the grammy out for all of us to behold. The night ended with a everyone second-lining and singing along to his "Meet me on Frenchmen Street", around 10pm.
A ten-hour party sounds like a long time, but it just flies by when in the company of good friends, great music and food, like a fest within the fest.
More pictures from Monday's raffle party and Tuesday's Threadhead patry
Inevitably, we had to leave New Orleans the next day, but we will return next year for Jazzfest, if not before. We consoled ourselves the following weekend by watching and listening to live internet broadcasts 2nd weekend... some year I hope to be able to make it for both weekends, but I don't think I would ever want to trade first weekend for second... there's just something about being there for the opening day that is so special.