Beyond the Fairgrounds: A look back at Jazz Festival 2011 nights

Trombone Shorty

Funky Meters, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Ave., Dragon Smoke, Good Enough for Good Times
Various Venues
New Orleans, LA
May 1-7, 2011

Photographer/Writer: Bob Adamek


For most of us, music in our home town is a temporary thing; it breezes in late one afternoon then moves on to the next town late that night. This is not true of New Orleans, a place where music lives. But when the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival rolls into the Crescent City, it is enough to make even seasoned New Orleanians do a double take

The city and the festival seem to intuitively know how to make the most of the experience for the thousands of fans that make the pilgrimage for one of music’s greatest fortnights. With the actual festival at the fairgrounds closing down shop at 7:00PM each day, it inherently gives the hardcore music junkies in attendance the  chance to go back to their rooms, grab a shower, food and some rest before being confounded by the amazing smattering of nighttime choices.

By 10:00PM, there’s a full slate of shows in action and by 2:00AM, another wave of the same begins to crest.

NOLA at night during Jazz Fest is a musical smorgasbord that is laid out through the city’s legendary rooms. And it is within these walls that bands recombine into other bands and double and triple bills become the norm.


The shows…


Funky Meters at Tipitina’s Uptown, 5/1/11

web_517Sunday night featured a band that is credited as being a founding father of funk, the beloved Funky Meters, at one of the band’s birthplaces, Tipitina’s.

After a blistering set from the funky up and coming Khris Royal and Dark Matter, a packed house went wild as Art “Poppa Funk” Neville, George Porter Jr., Brian Stoltz and Russell Batiste Jr. took over the stage.

The band came out of the gate in great form ripping through classics like “Doodle Oop,” “Soul Island” and “Jungle Man.” Art then talked about the surprise of having to change keys in songs as he has gotten older and his inability to sing in the same keys of which he was once able. He did this just before ripping into the Ray Charles classic “What’d I Say” that was followed by a favorite amongst the Meters faithful, “People Say.”

The band was in a great mood, with laughing and joking around being standard thoughout the evening. Russell Batiste took first lead singing duties on “I Got To Get My Name Up In Lights,” a song that his father performed with the Meters on Saturday Night Live in 1977. Russell claimed the song was written by the Meters but made popular by the offshoot band comprised of George Porter, Jr., Brian Stoltz, and Batiste (PBS). This obviously drew huge laughs from the rest of the band. As a set list surprise, the band tore through a Bo Diddley melody and ended the night with the doowop classic “Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight.” With that, the night was complete…for the Funky Meters at least.


Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue at Tipitina’s Uptown, 5/7/11


web_621Trombone Shorty took over Tipitina’s the following Saturday night for a highly charged 2:00AM set. Shorty’s band was as tight as a fist, showing off what has made them a premier ticket throughout the summer festival circuit.

Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and his band of long time friends “Orleans Avenue” worked their way through super funky instrumentals, featuring Shorty’s spectacular work on the trombone, followed up by songs where he can equally tear up a trumpet. But beyond his brass skills, Shorty has also learned to work in shorter pieces which feature his rapidly maturing vocals and managed to get the fans of his year old release Backatown, screaming, hooting and dancing.

The show reached a climax shortly after a nice sit in by Kid Rock’s sax player, Dave McMurray, that led Shorty to break into dance himself, putting on a dazzling of James Brown/Michael Jackson styled dance moves. He then got each member of his band to dance across the stage. Most of these guys can’t dance at all, but were totally committed to the gag, which had the audience and band bursting with laughter

Troy’s band had a ton of fun together and delivered a great show to the late night Tipitina’s faithful.


Dragon Smoke at One Eyed Jacks, 5/3/11

web_518This was the tenth straight year that Dragon Smoke has performed a show on the Tuesday between weekend one and two of Jazz Fest. Consisting of Eric Lindell, Galactic’s Stanton Moore and Robert Mercurio and Dumpstaphunk’s Ivan Neville, the lineup gathers each year for a “one-off” for the Jazz Fest faithful.

Each year, it could be easily missed in the mix of the stellar grid that typifies Jazz Fest late night sets, but each year it is entirely sold out.

There was serious anticipation floating around before the set started and the band did not disappoint, running through a varied set list of songs from Eric Lindell, the Meters and some full out covers such as the Neville led Steve Miller’s “Fly Like An Eagle”.

As Ivan and Eric took turns on lead vocals, the back line of Stanton and Robert Mercurio was impossibly tight. Rather than sounding like a throw together jam, the band sounded like a well rehearsed machine. Ivan paused part way through the first set to speak about how truly grateful he was that he and the other three players still made time for each other to do this gig each year with as busy as all these guys are during Jazz Fest and also took the opportunity to express his gratitude for the crowd showing up to enjoy the music alongside of them.

As great as the band was with its core four, the show took on another dimension when Big Sam Williams came on stage, trombone and crazy dancing in tow for “If There Is A Hell Below, We’re All Going To Go” and “Will It Go ‘Round In Circles.” This band with a legitimate A-List front man was something special and even the band could not contain their smiles as Big Sam blew solos and danced around like a man possessed.

The band acted just like old friends should act, laughing, joking, shaking their heads and pointing at each other and the camaraderie didn’t stop there. Rather, they seemed to make a concerted effort to ensure that  the audience felt like they were just as much of a part of the friendship as the folks on stage were. It was camaraderie at its finest and the music that came forth was of a caliber all unto itself.


Good Enough For Good Times at The Maison, 5/5/11

web_559Maison on Frenchman St. played host to a show that had a relatively small crowd of people, none of which will ever regret spending the night there. Good Enough For Good Times played a genuine brand of NOLA funk all night.

The band is made up of Galactic band mates and long time friends Robert Mercurio and Jeff Raines on bass and guitar, keyboard/organist Brian Coogan and the remarkable drummer Simon Lott. Together they laid down nothing short of truly badass instrumental New Orleans funk grooves. They covered Galactic’s “Hamp’s Hump,” Booker T and the MG’s “Green Onions” and a host of Meters songs, all of which were familiar to the Frenchmen St. denizens.

The highlights of the night came with a pair of sit-ins; first, Clarence Slaughter on sax, then adding Corey Henry from the Rebirth Brass Band and Galactic on trombone. The combination of the brass aficionados provided a spectacular front line energy to the gig as solos were traded like baseball cards and served as the whipping cream to the crowd and the proverbial spark for the band.

Perhaps it was GEGT who demonstrated best what Jazz Fest at night truly is: Four musicians who are well respected in their own right in their individual bands who also opt to add in others throughout the night, making what was the classic definition of “Super Group” and transforming it into something even greater.

Jazz Fest late nights is a session in musical humility where no artist comes across as feeling superior to another. It is about a collective sound that can only be formed when all parts are equal.

As much as the festival itself, late nights in NOLA make the trip down in May worth so much in regards to a full on musical experience…but it is late night sets in particular that provide the opportunity to see things happen on stage that you may never witness again, sans the Cyndi Lauper sit-in with Arcade Fire at the Fairgrounds.


Click the thumbnails to view more photos from the shows by Bob Adamek…