Monday, May 01, 2006


Jazzfest: Day 3

The final day of the first weekend of the 2006 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival ended on emotional high notes with dueling performances by local heroes The Meters and out-of-town supporter Bruce Springsteen. Rain showers last night and this morning created muddy conditions at the fairgrounds venue. But that didn't lessen the crowds - which for the third day in a row numbered in the tens of thousands - or dampen spirits.

The Jazzfest crowd is a unique one by most music-festival standards. The vast majority of ticket holders are in their 20s and 30s, but the age range includes plenty of folks from their 40s to 70s and a fair share of youngsters and toddlers. The racial breakdown is even more significant, with a solid mixture of black and white faces in the crowd. With the massive exodus of African-Americans during and post-Katrina, this is a positive indicator that New Orleans remains, as Mayor Ray Nagin likes to say, a "chocolate city."

Musically, a majority of the performers are black, many of them in their teens and 20s. But unlike in other major urban centers where hip-hop dominates the landscape, it appears that New Orleans offers other musical opportunities, such as joining brass bands or Mardi Gras Indian organizations. This is not a knock on rap, just an observation that New Orleans encourages its youth to master instruments - primarily horns and drums - rather than "two turntables and a microphone." The city's designation as the birthplace of jazz has its privileges.

I slept in today and missed the first three hours of music. But from 2 pm on, I roamed the fairgrounds in search of the best music and food Jazzfest has to offer. Here, in chronological order, is what I found:

Big Sam's Funky Nation
Brass band meets R&B, courtesy of the Dirty Dozen's trombonist.

Golden Star Hunters Mardi Gras Indians
Colorful drum-and-chant collective; lengthy "Shoo Fly Don't Bother Me."

Boiled Crawfish
About 30 red mudbugs (one pound), cooked in a spicy broth for $7; I'm instucted to "suck the head twice" (I'd been sucking only once).

Walter "Wolfman" Washington & the Roadmasters
Funky big-band dressed in red, the 63-year-old Howlin' Wolfman in yellow.

Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys
One of the region's top cajun bands - Riley on squeezebox, plus fiddle, acoustic guitar, bass and drums - gets the crowd all "riled"up.

PinStripe Brass Band
Traditionally dressed in white shirts and captain's hats, and black pants, this group swings with three trumpets, two saxes, trombone, tuba, snare, bass drum and cowbell.

Greater Antioch Full Gospel Choir
From preaching to rapping to full-throated singing, this revival outfit will get you lifted; "I'm Goin Back" does just that.

Allen Toussaint w/special guest Elvis Costello
What's become a fairly routine Southern soul review receives a boost from the former New Wave rocker, who's a perfect fit for the New Orleans song legend's warm R&B. The highlight of Costello's five-song set is his impassioned "The River in Reverse," from the recently-released Costello/Toussaint album of the same name, during which he implores, "Wake me up, wake me up!" For more on this collaboration: CLICK HERE

Carrollton Hunters Mardi Gras Indians
The best of the Indian units this weekend features a charismatic chief and an eight-year-old singer; in feathers and with her high voice, she's just too cute for words.

Crawfish Puff
Pastry filled with crawfish etouffee; $5.

Southern Connection Pow Wow
Another unique aspect of Jazzfest is its focus on Native American traditions. At this pow pow, Lyndon Alec performs the magical "hoop dance."

The Meters
From "Cissy Strut" to "Fiyo on Bayou," New Orleans' funk kings Art Neville, Leo Nocentelli, George Porter and Zigaboo Modeliste offer ample proof that the city's rich musical legacy has indeed survived Katrina.

Bruce Springsteen
The Boss decided to debut his new "Seeger Sessions Band" - including a horn section, fiddle, accordian, banjo and guitarist/singer Marc Anthony Thompson (a.ka. Chocolate Genius) - at Jazzfest. From Peter Seeger's "We Shall Overcome" to his own pointed "My City of Ruins" to a rollicking "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)" to the closing "When the Saints Come Marching In," Springsteen is invigorated and at the top of his game. "This is memorable," he says, confiding, "I came here with my wife when we first started fooling around. Coming back 15 years later was bracing. So much of the roots of music was born right here." Springsteen's explosive set and Jazzfest's improbable opening weekend closes at 7:29 pm.

Jazzfest continues next weekend, starting on Friday, May 5. For the schedule: CLICK HERE

Have really enjoyed the music/food rundowns and reviews from N.O. We might have to send you there every time the Mets go to Atlanta, 'cause it worked this time! By the way-Kazmir struck out 10 yesterday in his win over the Red Sox. Lovin that trade-
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