New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival 2016
April 28 – May 7, 2016
Writer/Photographer: Bob Adamek
The 2016 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival delivered high doses of everything you could imagine. There was sunshine and rain, an overwhelming choice of music presented on 12 stages, food vendors that outdo the restaurants in many major cities, and 425,000+ music fans ready for all of it.
During the second weekend of Jazz Fest, the rain was often the story, coming down hard enough on late Saturday afternoon that the festival producers wisely shut the festival down. The ensuing flash flood swamped the Fair Grounds and the unfortunate result was that the sets by afternoon headliners had to be cancelled. This included Stevie Wonder, Beck, Snoop Dog, Buddy Guy and Arturo Sandoval. Stevie Wonder later showed up at Irving Mayfield’s Playhouse on Bourbon St. to sit in with Mayfield and Trombone Shorty. Meanwhile Beck found his way to Preservation Hall where he joined the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and members of Arcade Fire and My Morning Jacket for a late night second line around the French Quarter.
A moderate steady rain persisted almost all day on Sunday as well, but seasoned festival goers geared up and saw great sets from Neil Young, Bonnie Raitt, Mavis Staples, Arlo Guthrie, Trombone Shorty and two much anticipated guest filled tribute sets, one for Allen Toussaint and one for B.B. King. B.B. King’s tribute set included songs lead by Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Elvin Bishop, Dr. John, Tab Benoit, Walter Wolfman Washington and Luther Kent. The set finished off with all the guests playing “The Thrill is Gone” in what was one of the festival highlights.
Earlier in the week for most of Thursday and Friday, the weather stayed very nice, allowing fans to move around with much less gear. Thursday was highlighted on the two main stages by Elvis Costello, who was energetic and happy as he rolled through 30+ years of hits. On the Acura Stage fans were treated to the Tedeschi Trucks Band with special guests Jimmie Vaughan and Billy F. Gibbons. Tedeschi Trucks are resetting the bar in live music for their incredible blend of soulful vocals and impeccable musicianship.
Their songs are tuneful and their solos are thoughtful, never droning on past the point. The addition of ZZ Top’s Billy F. Gibbons and blues master Jimmie Vaughan added a high level of excitement for the fans. This was also fun for the band, as they traded off on solos, each listening intently to the other, throwing their heads back and laughing as the four guitarists threw down.
The Acura Stage hosted another top guitar slinger on Thursday when Austin Texas’ own, Gary Clark Jr. took over. Clark’s guitar playing is raw, energetic and emotion packed, much like his soulful vocals. Simultaneously, on the Gentilly Stage, Brandi Carlile gave a very high energy set of her own after stating that it was a long awaited honor to be playing Jazz Fest.
Jazz Fest really offers something for everyone. There is a 2500 seat blues tent, a 1500 seat jazz tent and 1500 seat Gospel tent. The Fais Do-Do stage features Cajun, Zydeco, and all other types of roots music. The third main stage at the festival is Congo Square, which featured groove-centric music like the Isley Brothers, Big Freeda, Flo Rida, Cyril Neville and Swamp Funk, Tony Hall’s New Orleans Soul Stars tribute to James Brown and the Friday headliner, Ms. Lauryn Hill. Hill has been getting beat up in the media lately for showing up late to her concerts, including two hours late in Atlanta. But at Jazz Fest she was only 15 minutes behind. She came out with flawless makeup and vestments, played guitar and sang with every bit of emotion she could squeeze out, turning in a stellar performance.
At the Jazz and Heritage Stage, you can see the greatest visual treat of the festival, the Mardi Gras Indian bands. Donning hand sewn suits made of brightly colored feathers and beads, the Mardi Gras Indian bands play traditional music that has been in their culture for decades. Chant styled songs like “Shoo-fly”, “Injuns Here They Come” and “Let’s Go Get ‘Em” are staples of bands like The Wild Magnolias, White Cloud Hunter, Fi Yi Yi & the Mandingo Warriors and the 101 Runners. These bands were joined on stage by some of the city’s top musicians, including Sousaphonist Kirk Joseph, drummer Ray Webber and guitarists June Yamagishi and Billy Iuso.
Jazz Fest veterans know that the headliners aren’t really the main dish. It’s the undercard, with so many local bands playing, that really give Jazz Fest its true flavor. Some of those highlights were turned in by George Porter Jr. and Runnin’ Pardners during a rain soaked but very well attended early Thursday set. Two brass bands that almost never gig, except at Jazz Fest, played to overflow crowds. The New Orleans Nightcrawlers played on Thursday, then the wildly popular Midnite Disturbers on Saturday. Both bands are packed with the city’s best brass players from bands like Galactic, Rebirth Brass Band, Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Big Sam’s Funky Nation. Bonerama shredded the Gentilly Stage on Friday, followed by Raw Oyster Cult (ROC). ROC has the guitarists and drummer from the Radiators, and the band was joined by the remaining Radiators mid-set for a quick reunion. New Orleans fastest rising stars gave a festival highlight set on Friday when the Revivalists were joined by guest percussionist Mike Dillon. Their incredible song writing and no holds barred stage show left the festival buzzing.
Once a little hunger sets in the festival is well armed to accommodate. Most dishes run $5-$10, and include delicacies like crawfish/zucchini/spinach bisque, Pheasant/Quail/Andouille Sausage Gumbo, Chochon de lait Po-Boy, bread pudding with white chocolate sauce or a scrumptious Cuban sandwich.
The night time action in New Orleans during Jazz Fest is second to none. The city’s numerous clubs play host to 2 or 3 bands a night including all-star one off bands and national touring acts alike. Clubs like Tipitina’s, The Howlin’ Wolf, d.b.a., The Maple Leaf and One Eyed Jacks host amazing shows, and music flows out of everywhere through the French Quarter and Frenchmen Street.
Jazz Fest is a bucket list event for any music fan. But once you get a taste of this amazing event, it is hard to think of ever missing it again.