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Five Jazz Fest newcomers you don’t want to miss

Janelle Monae @ Voodoo Experience 2010 || Photo by Wesley Hodges

After the 2012 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival lineup was unveiled, the first theme that struck us was the unprecedented caliber of the female artists in this year’s lineup. But another noteworthy attribute of the roster is the admirable job festival organizers have done tapping into not only (a) some great young artists who haven’t previously played the Fest, but also (b) younger artists who know a thing or two about putting on an entertaining and engaging live show.

Read the short blurbs below about our five picks from the impressive lot, and give the videos a look if you aren’t already familiar with these newcomers to the Fairgrounds.


Janelle Monae was featured in the Ladies of Jazz Fest post but we’d be remiss if we left her off of any kind of All-Rookie Squad after her electrifying performances at Voodoo Experience 2009 (in the rain) and festival-highlighting show on Halloween at Voodoo 2010. Monae is a rare talent, entertaining enough to be invited to open for Prince at Madison Square Garden, theatrical and odd enough to join of Montreal’s touring circus, and with enough of a broad appeal to play the 2011 GRAMMY awards and serve as the house musician at the ESPYs in the same year. With a talented band, a seemingly endless well of charisma and panache to draw from and an infectious enthusiasm, she’s going to be a part of this dance party when the time comes. Without question one of the better live performers out there today and quite possibly the can’t-miss performance of the entire festival.


Lafayette indie standouts GIVERS had a huge 2011, releasing their acclaimed debut In Light, signing to Glassnote Records, making several major festival debuts and racking up 3 awards at January’s Best of the Beat Awards. After playing a big Sunday set at Voodoo this year, the next piece of the puzzle for the local-ish band is to rock the Fairgrounds at their first Fest. If you haven’t seen them play, make sure you’re in the crowd for some feel-good sunny day pop tunes straight outta Louisiana.


Twenty-seven-year-old soul man Gary Clark Jr. is an exceptional blues guitar talent hailing from Austin, who somehow managed to fly mostly under the radar outside of his hometown until 2011. In ATX, Clark’s exceptional talent has been recognized since a very young age. In 2001, Austin’s mayor declared May 3 to be “Gary Clark Jr. Day” in town, and he’s taken home the Austin Music Award for Best Blues and Electric Guitarist on three separate occasions as well as being hand-selected by Eric Clapton in 2010 to play the Crossroads Guitar Festival. Clark speaks softly, wields a giant axe and struts with swagger to boot; he also may be the chosen one to bring raw, traditional blues guitar back to the masses.


Over the past half-decade or so, the blinding flamenco guitar fireworks Rodrigo y Gabriela have taken the Mexican guitar duo around the world and back again and landed the two at almost every major music festival in the world. Cutting their teeth in Dublin playing bars and clubs, Rod y Gab picked up the invaluable knack for knowing how and when to play to the crowd in front of them. Always knowing when a quiet solo will be well-received or when the two need to sync up for a Metallica-esque blowout, Rodrigo y Gabriela have developed the well-deserved reputation as a live band not to be missed (no matter who you are or what music you like). Their latest work Area 52 marks the first time Rod y Gab have used backing musical accompaniment, as the duo enlisted C.U.B.A., a 13-piece Cuban orchestra, to help build a bigger sound. I got a chance to see Rod y Gab debut some of the new material this past summer during a special show with the L.A. Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl; the symphonic accompaniment seemed a tailor-made match for the band’s dazzling and complex arrangements. Should make for an excellent mid-afternoon set that will hopefully land these two a well-deserved slot on the Acura Stage.


There isn’t a whole lot to say about Bon Iver that hasn’t already been written about on the blogosphere ad nauseam. Given the coveted “Best New Artist” tag at the GRAMMYs validates the artist’s still-growing career to those who hadn’t paid any attention, but Vernon has been a favorite in indie circles for a half-decade, ever since the release of his debut LP For Emma, Forever Ago. This stark and lonesome album, as the legend goes, was created by Vernon during four snowy months in isolation in a remote Wisconsin cabin. The rest, as they say, is history. Bon Iver looks to be touring with a larger band this time around, hopefully making for a fuller sound that will play better in the open air than his quieter routines on earlier tours. On the basis of pure star power, Bon Iver rounds out the squad.

Wesley Hodges writes about music for Live Music Blog; NOLA and NolaVie.


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