Jazz Fest 2018: Best of the Fest

For its 49th year, Jazz Fest was granted near-perfect weather over both weekends, which was a welcome change from the soggy conditions of the past few years.  And although the big-name headliners were a bit underwhelming, the crowds were much more manageable than usual, and it was easy to move around between stages all day.  Louisiana artists once again delivered some of the best sets of the Fest and reminded us why there’s nothing else in the world quite as magical as Jazz Fest.

Read on for some of our favorite musical moments at the Fairground and around town.

Galactic at Jazz Fest 2018 (photos by: Shane Colman)

Best Funk – Galactic

There have been many incarnations of Galactic over the years – the Meters-esque instrumental funk, the raunchy Houseman years, and the hip-hop powerhouse – but the band seems to have settled into a space of soulful groove that still hits you in the gut when you least expect it.  

The band took the Acura stage late Sunday afternoon for a master class in New Orleans funk that proved yet again why they are one of the best bands to ever come out of this city. Opening with the pounding rhythms of “Baker’s Dozen,” drummer Stanton Moore was locked in for the entire set as he led the band through a career-spanning set that got the crowd moving in the hot sun.  Since it was Sunday afternoon, Corey Henry took it down to the Treme with a funky “Ooh Nah Nay” that featured a serious brass workout from Henry, Shamarr Allen, and Ben Ellman. Fittingly, the set ended with an impassioned take on Allen Toussaint’s “Goin’ Down” that felt right at home in Mr. Toussaint’s backyard.

The Lee Boys at Jazz Fest 2018 (photos by: Shane Colman)

Best Gospel – The Lee Boys

Although the Gospel Tent has the distinct honor of being the one stage at Jazz Fest that you can never go wrong with, the closest the Fest got to a divine miracle happened at the Fais Do Do Stage.  While the crowds flocked to Steven Tyler at the end of the second Saturday, the veteran sacred steel family of The Lee Boys played to a small crowd of fervent fans that danced and hollered to the triple-steel guitar attack of one of the best bands in the world.  New Orleans music lovers are probably familiar with the sounds of Roosevelt Collier, a founding member of The Lee Boys, but when he gets in the groove with his brothers and cousins it truly sounds like the entrance music to the pearly gates. Here’s hoping this is the start of a new Jazz Fest tradition.

Stoop Kids at Jazz Fest 2018 (photos by: Shane Colman)

Best Young Guns – Stoop Kids

Local darlings Stoop Kids have been grinding on the live circuit for years now, and their opening slot on the Gentilly stage felt like a first glimpse into their future.  The Loyola grads play a contagious mix of rock, doo-wop, hip hop, and soul that defies categorization but is guaranteed to get the bodies moving. Frontman Griffin Dean is a one-man circus, running on and off the stage like a madman between shredding guitar solos and singing soulful falsetto while the band follows him down every detour he takes.  The band was clearly thrilled to be playing on the big stage, declaring “Long live Jazz Fest!” and using the moment for the bassist to scatter his mother’s ashes over the sacred grounds. Although they didn’t win NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert this year, it’s only a matter of time before Stoop Kids pick up the attention that vaulted Tank & the Bangas to the national stage.  Keep your eyes on these boys.


Jonathon “Boogie” Long at Jazz Fest 2018 (photos by: Shane Colman)

Best Modern Blues – Jonathon “Boogie” Long

If Buddy Guy is the father of Louisiana blues, Jonathon “Boogie” Long seems to be the son who inherited the throne.  After bursting onto the scene a few years ago, Long has managed to absorb the energy of those who came before him while blazing his own path through the swamps of Louisiana blues.  Once again, the Baton Rouge native held the Blues Tent in the palm of his hand as he led his ace band through a rollicking set of epic solos and bayou boogie that stood as one of the best sets of the entire Fest.


Jack White at Jazz Fest 2018 (photos by: Shane Colman)

Best Future Blues – Jack White

Self-described vampire Jack White made a rare daytime appearance with a thundering set of fuzzed-out rock and roll that definitely woke up the fading masses on the final Sunday of Fest.  Backed by two keyboardists, a drummer, and bassist, White blasted through new songs off Boarding House Reach before dipping into some White Stripes classics that got the crowd singing and shouting along.  

In recent years, White has shifted from a guardian of the blues to a sometimes annoying ambassador of what’s “real,” but when that distinctive riff from “Seven Nation Army” kicks in everything else goes out the window and all that matters is the man and his guitar.  With many more years of creative output left in the tank, it’s not a stretch to think that Jack White is poised to rewrite the rules of the blues for the 21st century.

Jazz Fest 2018 (photos by: Shane Colman)

Best Days Between Party – NOLA Crawfish Fest

While the Fairgrounds remained silent Monday through Wednesday, NOLA Crawfish King Chris “Shaggy” Davis filled the void with his own festival at Central City BBQ.  The huge outdoor space was transformed into a crawfish and music wonderland, with some of the best mudbugs in town and a stellar lineup featuring the best funk from around town and across the country.  No matter how you look at it, the amount of crawfish consumed at this fest is almost unbelievable (over two tons were boiled on the first day alone). Washing all that delicious down with some dirty funk from the likes of Ivan Neville, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, and Samantha Fish feels like a match made in New Orleans heaven.

Jazz Fest 2018 (photos by: Shane Colman)

Best Jams – Joe Russo’s Almost Dead

Continuing an annual tradition started back in 2015, the collective known as Joe Russo’s Almost Dead played two raucous shows at Mardi Gras World that resurrected the spirit of the Grateful Dead with a funky New Orleans flavor.  Night one started off with a solid first set consisting of “Scarlet Begonias” and “Help on the Way,” as well as an interesting take on “I Need a Miracle” that riffed on the Dead’s most famous New Orleans tune, “Truckin.” But the second set is where things really took off, with Marco Benevento doing his best James Booker on a grand piano before the band jumped in for The Basement Tapes deep cut “Yazoo Street Scandal.”  A heartbreaking “Morning Dew” granted guitarist Tom Hamilton the spotlight he was campaigning for all night before bringing it home with a rocking “Bertha” that shot the crowd off into the night.

Jazz Fest 2018 (photos by: Shane Colman)

Best Rock – Queens of the Stone Age

Queens of the Stone Age played to a sold out Saenger Theater after day one of the Fest and delivered a blistering set of desert boogie rock that showed off the raw power of The Saenger’s sound system.  Over the past decade, Josh Homme’s band has garnered a reputation as one of the baddest rock and roll bands in the land thanks to their captivating performances and brilliant records. Their stop in New Orleans featured classics like “No One Knows” and tunes from their excellent 2017 album Villains all played with an intensity that surpassed any big-name rock band at the Fairgrounds. It wouldn’t be a Jazz Fest night show without a sit-in, and local legend Bobby Rush earned some of the biggest applause of the night as he led the band through a blues-rock excursion that sounded right in their wheelhouse.



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