Die-hard Jazz Fest fans come in all shapes and sizes, from young to old and local to international, and all have a seemingly endless supply of energy that keeps them dancing until they physically cannot keep their eyes open. Jazz Fest stands out from the overcrowded national festival scene in special ways that any regular can quickly point out: incredible homegrown talent, amazing food, engrossing art, (usually) mild weather, and a national treasure of a city.
While these are all valid reasons to choose choose Jazz Fest over other big-name festivals, there is one big advantage our fest has over them all: the complete absence of a curfew. There’s nothing like a party that never ends, and during Jazz Fest it’s pretty much impossible to find a single hour without live music in some form.
This past weekend I crammed in as much music as I could amidst my normal working and living responsibilities, choosing music over sleep whenever possible. From Thursday evening to Sunday night I took in some of the best performances of my life AND managed to keep my job and girlfriend. Here’s my account of the wild odyssey that was Weekend 1 of Jazz Fest 2015.
Thursday April 23
9:30 – Arrived at Carrollton Station for the release party of Eric Lindell’s excellent new album The Sun and the Sea. Eric Lindell’s son is working the door as a handful of people at the bar watch the end of the first half of the Pelicans game.
10:08 – Eric and his ace band tune up and blast the room with some of the best Southern rock to ever come out of Louisiana. Eric’s clearly having a blast and the crowd is going nuts.
10:27 – An older gentleman is really getting into the music in the front row and scarfing down candy bars. He says he’s Eric’s biggest fan in New York City and wants me to come to NY to see him play a beachfront bar this summer.
10:45 – After playing the title track off the new album, the woman next to me says on cue, “Wow! That song was great!”
11:10 – The band takes a break and the Pelicans go into overtime. No need to further recap one of the worst nights in the history of professional basketball in New Orleans.
Friday April 24
1:30 – Took a half day at work and made it to the Fairgrounds. Immediately sucked into The Gospel Tent for a soul-shaking finale from Leo Jackson and the Melody Clouds. A guy in the front row playing the tambourine is upstaging the tambourine player on stage.
2:00 – Maurice “Mobetta” Brown is playing deep grooves in the Jazz Tent and the seated crowd is easing into Jazz Fest.
3:34 – Derek Trucks is channeling the ghost of Duane Allman with the Tedeschi-Trucks Band. Seriously phenomenal guitar playing as the band blasts through their original tunes, a cover of Derek and the Dominoes’ “Keep on Growing,” and quick tease of Led Zeppelin’s “What is and What Should Never Be.” “Mobetta” Brown is on trumpet; must have rushed over after his band’s gig in the Jazz Tent.
5:12 – The sky is getting seriously dark, the wind is picking up, and the temperature is dropping. An announcement that heavy rain is coming is met with enthusiastic cheers from the crowd.
5:20 – Wilco take The Gentilly Stage right on time to play a quick succession of classic tracks including “Handshake Drugs,” “Kamera,” “Walken,” and “Heavy Metal Drummer.” Jeff Tweedy gives a shout out to a flag that reads “could be worse” as the lightning makes its first appearance.
5:48 – With cancellation a real possibility, I hustle over to the Jazz Tent to catch Grammy-winning funk band Snarky Puppy.
6:00 – Snarky Puppy is playing to one of the biggest crowds of their lives thanks to the rain driving the masses under the tent. A particularly loud thunder clap announces the inevitable: the fest is shutting down for the day.
6:25 – WWOZ is exclusively playing songs about not letting the rain get you down. New Orleans’ fighting spirit is well intact.
8:25 – Stumbled through the swamps of City Park to the New Orleans Airlift’s Music House installation for a surprise performance. Wilco minus Jeff Tweedy are here banging on a house full of giant chimes. Guitarist Nels Cline leads the houses on a 30+ minute avant-garde improvisation that sounds like a transmission to Mars.
10:15 – Greyboy Allstars take the stage at Tip’s and do a faithful rendition of the feedback-driven noise collage that starts off Jimi Hendrix’s Axis: Bold as Love. For the next hour the band plays the album front-to-back with impressive talent and the perfect amount of exploration.
12:40 – The fatigue from a long work week has crept in and I call it a night. As I head home down a deserted Broad Street I’m passed by two giant tour buses heading away from the Fairgrounds.
Saturday April 25
12:10 – Tank and the Bangas are crushing The Gentilly Stage with an expanded lineup of more than 10 members. Tarriona “Tank” Ball is mesmerizing as usual and the band is locked in.
1:50 – Tony Hall of Dumpstaphunk leads a tribute to James Brown that features one of the tightest horn sections of the fest. This is the same band that plays the annual James Brown birthday tribute every Jazz Fest at The Maple Leaf.
1:58 – The rain picks up considerably and the crowds huddle under the nearest tent. No word on what’s cancelled and what’s still on.
2:20 – Decide to brave the rain and venture to the Acura Stage to catch Big Sam’s Funky Nation. The announcement comes on that his set has been cancelled, but Dumpstaphunk will be on soon.
2:44 – The Jazz and Heritage Stage has become a muddy slip and slide as one guy does a lot of things he’ll regret tomorrow. I hand him a beer to take the sting off.
3:40 – Juvenile and Mannie Fresh play to a packed crowd that receives them like the biggest rap stars in the world. Juvenile looks absolutely thrilled, even when Mannie Fresh steals the show with the more impressive rhymes.
4:45 – Note to self: The bathroom right next to the stage that just finished may not be the best choice.
5:24 – Ryan Adams takes the stage amidst classic arcade machine and hilariously oversized amps. His voice and band are strong as they tear through new and old songs with an emotional sincerity that’s downright impressive.
5:39 – Ryan introduces “Dirty Rain” by telling the crowd he wrote it in a New Orleans hotel room. Could not be more appropriate as fans lose sandals in the mud pit 100 yards back from the stage.
5:49 – Apparently Ryan also recorded his album Love is Hell in New Orleans. Hopefully he’ll be back to play another show soon.
6:23 – As much as I love Ryan Adams, The Who is THE WHO. Roger Daltry is banging two tambourines together, barely looking a day over 30, as Pete Townshend does windmills on “Pinball Wizard.”
6:32 – The hypnotic intro to Baba O’Riley starts and the sun breaks through the clouds. The one-two punch of “Baba” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” make the perfect finale (even if it’s only 6:45 when the band bids goodbye).
10:54 – On the way to The Maple Leaf I decide to make a detour to Publiq House to catch Lafayette indie-pop band Givers. Local rock duo Caddywhompus is wrapping their set and announces they’re about to embark on a South American tour.
11:39 – Givers just played the best, most rocking song of the day, leaving it all on the stage and feeding off the crowd’s energy. The Leaf will have to wait.
12:10 – The P.A. system at Publiq House blows out from so much rock. No one is happy.
12:10 – The P.A. makes a brief return, only to blow out again 30 seconds into the next song.
12:15 – P.A. on. P.A. off. The band stays positive and plays unplugged versions of AC/DC’s “TNT” and “Groove is in the Heart.” They don’t need no stinkin’ P.A.
12:18 – The P.A. is back and the band crushes their final few songs before announcing a very special guest DJ will keep the party going late night.
12:42 – Solange Knowls is spotted before the guest DJ arrives: DJ Windows 98 (aka Win Butler of Arcade Fire). He’s been popping up unannounced around town for these late-night DJ gigs since he moved here last year. He spins a set that could be described as “Talking Heads and beyond,” incorporating all sorts of rare Afrobeat with accompaniment from members of Givers on drums. There’re about 30 people getting down.
2:43 – A great succession of classic tracks, including “Mind Games,” “All the Young Dudes,” and “I’m So Tired” serve as the perfect wind down. Butler is having a great time, grinning from behind the decks and swigging a giant bottle.
3:05 – Butler exits as casually as he entered.
3:30 – Adam Deitch arrives ahead of me at The Maple Leaf to join his Lettuce bandmates Jesus Coomes, Eric “Benny” Bloom,’ and Ryan Zoidis for a late-night jam. It’s Deitch’s 31st birthday and he sits in on keys for about an hour before moving to the drums.
5:11 – Lettuce/Soulive guitarist Eric Krasno jumps onstage and now we have most of Lettuce rocking one of the most intimate rooms in town.
5:36 – With one eye open I manage to grab a cab and head home.
BONUS: Sunday April 26
4:00 – After a late start to the day, manage to get some work done for the week ahead and piece together the mayhem of the past three days.
9:55 – Arrive at The Joy Theater for The Word. The crowd is small but ready to keep partying and the theater looks ready to accommodate.
10:22 – The Word emerges and launches into the gospel-tinged Southern rock that only they can pull off. Luther Dickinson is trading slide guitar licks with Robert Randolph (who has a broken hand!) and NOLA’s own Roosevelt Collier. Big Sam Williams shows up unannounced and adds a whole new layer of sound with his New Orleans flavor.
11:10 – Just when I think I’ve heard the best song, the next one tops it and introduces another aspect to the wildly eclectic sound. This time it’s a 4 on the floor dance party. The lights at the venue are perfectly synced to the music.
11:22 – The band slows things down for a minute, taking us on a country drive through Mississippi and letting the fire of the first set slowly simmer out.
11:28 – Most of the band leaves the stage and drummer Cody Dickinson straps on a washboard, plugs into some guitar effects pedals, and makes that thing sound like it crash-landed from George Clinton’s mothership.
11:30 – The band takes a break and I go back to reality to prepare for the week ahead.