Jazz Fest has come and gone once again, leaving the music-loving masses wetter and muddier than usual, but still counting down the days until next year’s party so they can do it all again. I spent the duration of Jazz Fest soaking in as much music as humanly possible both at the Fairgrounds and around town into the wee hours. From afternoon brass bands to late night cave music, here are my highlights of some of the best performances I caught this year.
Best Rock and Roll – My Morning Jacket
Jim James and co. are no strangers to Jazz Fest, and they did not disappoint as their freaky Southern rock echoed off the Gentilly Stage for one of the last dry sets of the weekend. Opening with the ominous “Victory Dance” as clouds gathered overhead, the band played a quick 90 minute set showcasing the bulk of the tunes from their latest album, The Waterfall, along with some greatest hits to get the crowd on their feet and rockin’ out. The highlight of the set was the jaw-dropping cover of “Purple Rain,” complete with wailing guitar solos and subtle accompaniment from Preservation Hall Jazz Band. In a week packed with tributes to The Purple One, MMJ’s was the one most likely to make Prince smile down on all us mortals.
Best Blues – Jonathan “Boogie” Long
Baton Rouge native Jonathan “Boogie” Long has been blowing minds at festivals across the South since the ripe old age of 14 thanks to his seemingly endless supply of classic blues licks. Long channels the spirit of fellow Louisiana bluesman Buddy Guy, wrestling sweet tones from his guitar while strolling into the crowd for an up-close and personal look at the blues. Bonus points for the addition of versatile drummer Terrence Houston (known around town for his funk work with The Funky Meters) for matching Long’s intensity and stretching out into classic blues territory.
Best Funk – Vulfpeck
The hottest young band on the national funk scene stopped through New Orleans for Weekend 1 of Jazz Fest to open big shows at The Joy, The Orpheum, and Tipitina’s as well as sweep up hordes of new fans in the process. The four Jewish boys from Los Angeles played with the intensity and confidence of a band twice their age as they ripped through their original songs and feel-good party anthems from the Jackson 5 and Stevie Wonder. The band effortlessly worked the crowds as well, leading the audience in three part harmonies and delivering hilarious banter between songs (the lack of kosher beignets at Cafe du Monde was especially well timed for Passover). Look out for these guys at Jazz Fest 2017 – they’re coming back and will undoubtedly be bigger and better.
Best Dance Party – Marco Benevento
Blue Nile hosted some of the best shows of the week, but Marco Benevento’s late-night blowout was truly one for the books. Marco’s trio tore through an eclectic set that included fan favorites, raucous covers, and tunes from his excellent new album, The Story of Fred Short. The feeling in the room was electric from start to finish as the band ebbed and flowed within their unique fusion of rock, jazz, and dance music. Formerly an instrumental band, Benevento proved himself a confident singer and frontman as he climbed atop his baby grand to shout the chorus to Harry Nilsson’s classic “Jump Into The Fire” and ended the night with a rollicking cover of “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” Marco definitely gave this gig a little something extra amidst a busy week of shows around town.
Best Brass Band (Classic) – Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Just because the core members of Dirty Dozen essentially wrote the brass band playbook 35 years ago doesn’t mean the band can’t find new ways to push the music forward. A packed house at d.b.a. proved the perfect setting for Dirty Dozen to showcase their timeless sound for hardcore fans and those lucky enough to stumble into the Frenchmen club at the right time. Don’t be fooled by the gray hair – these guys still have it and show no signs of slowing down.
Best Brass Band (Modern) – Shamarr Allen & the Underdawgs
Shamarr Allen’s Underdawgs rose to the top this year as one of the most exciting and fun-loving bands of the entire Fest. Allen’s trumpet skills are no secret (and there were plenty of incredible solos from his pocket trumpet), but his band’s ability to jump from hip-hop to rock to funk ensured there were zero dull moments in a jam-packed set. From a joyous cover of Prince’s “Kiss” to the audience interaction of the infectious “Weekend Dance,” Allen worked the crowd and led his band through the kind of Jazz Fest set that brought people from all walks of life together for a funky good time.
Best Jazz – The Mashup featuring Ike Stubblefield, Terrence Higgins, and Grant Green, Jr.
The organ trio is a thing of pure beauty and simplicity, granting each member the space to explore their own sonic territories before coming together in blissful harmony. Motown legend Ike Stubblefield holds down a few legendary jams every year during Jazz Fest, and this set in the Jazz Tent proved to be one of the best of the weekend. Dirty Dozen drummer Terrence Higgins and jazz guitar master Grant Green Jr., joined Stubblefield for a sublimely funky affair that served as a perfectly soothing soundtrack to the intense weather happening outside.
Best Cave Music – Moon Hooch
With only two saxophones and a drummer, the Brooklyn trio stomped through an hour-long set of their self-described “cave music” with barely a second to breathe. The horns seemed to synchronize with each other on an entirely different plane and the drummer beat the skins with a primal intensity that swung from hard rock to heavy funk. Packing this much noise into the confines of the Howlin’ Wolf’s Den proved to be the most electrifying moment of the excellent all-night Bayou Rendezvous and the perfect late-night party to keep the exhausted bodies moving.
Click through the gallery below for a full visual recap of both weekends of Jazz Fest 2016.