The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is an experience unlike any other. As a celebration of unique culture and music, the festival “celebrates the indigenous music and culture of New Orleans and Louisiana, so the music encompasses every style associated with the city and the state: blues, R&B, gospel music, Cajun music, zydeco, Afro-Caribbean, folk music, Latin, rock, rap music, country music, bluegrass, and everything in between.”
This year marked the 45th anniversary of Jazz Fest, and it was one for the books, with a second weekend that brought four days of amazing music, good food, and fantastic weather to the Big Easy.
We arrived late on Thursday, which tends to get dubbed “Locals’ Day,” so the scene was pretty relaxed. First up was the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, whose performance at the main Acura Stage is always fun to watch and listen to. Later in the day, Bob Marley’s Wailers offered up a long set of history-drenched dub and reggae. Next, we caught up with Lyle Lovett, who performed on the Samsung Galaxy Stage. Equipped with a top-notch backing band and dressed in a suit, Lovett proved himself a real gentleman of the South. He even started his set with “Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel.”
On Friday, I started my day off with Hurray for the Riff Raff, who played the Samsung Galaxy Stage. I was really impressed with frontwoman and New Orleans native Alynda Lee Segarra, who belted some powerful lyrics about love, death, and being aware of her path in life. Next up was Amanda Shaw, a great Cajun fiddler and singer, and a staple of the fest. After that, it was Chaka Khan, followed by Alejandro Escovedo, who drew a large crowd with his electric Texas rock ’n’ roll.
Saturday’s early highlight came by way of bluesman Johnny Winter. Best known for his high-energy blues-rock albums and live performances in the late 1960s and ’70s, Winter showed up with an assistant to help get him onstage. But once he was there, he shredded like only a truly versed player can.
Sunday arrived with not very much sleep for many, including the musicians. The night prior had brought sit-ins at a number of the local clubs, including the House of Blues, The Spotted Cat Music Club, and the very well-know Tipitina’s. Arcade Fire closed out the show atop the Acura Stage in their now-signature, Carnival-indebted style. They showed up accompanied by dancers wearing bobblehead papier-mâché masks of the Pope, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Richard Parry, Jimmy Carter, and many more.
But there were plenty of other acts worth noting on Sunday, including John Fogerty, who employed son Shane Fogerty on rhythm guitar. He opened strong with “Born on the Bayou” and “Green River,” immediately transporting fans back to the days of CCR. He explained that he wrote “Who’ll Stop the Rain” about Woodstock. “You remind me of it a little bit,” he said, taking in the large crowd at the Samsung Galaxy Stage. “Except at Woodstock, everyone was naked and muddy.”
Before the day was through, I caught noteworthy sets from Johnny Sansome, Alabama Shakes, Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars, and Foster the People. But the end of the night belonged to Aaron Neville, whose beautiful voice provided the perfect ending to four great days of Jazz Fest.