Despite half the first Sunday getting rained out, this year’s Jazz Fest had some of the most enjoyable weather I can remember. With a hint of fall in the first weekend, and comfortable temperatures extending through the second weekend, I was actually dry for quite a lot of the festival. I’m usually sweating profusely the whole time. Last year I lost 10 pounds while enjoying all the excellent and hardly healthy food Jazz Fest has to offer.
There were some things not to like this year. The lineup was pretty weak compared to previous years, with no blockbuster headliners. That in itself didn’t bother me as I would be quite content to see fewer “big name acts” and the crushing crowds that come with them. Pairing that with even more expensive tickets this year at $80 a day, however, was upsetting.
I heard a lot of great music over both weekends, much of it “accidentally,” especially during the second weekend. There were very few bands on the schedule I was married to. I didn’t have that many acts highlighted as “must see” and wandered around more than I usually do. I briefly saw my brother Jeff and his new wife on the first Saturday after Treme Brass Band, but we didn’t get to hang out much.
I spent a little more time with my friend Lindsay, along with her mother and niece. I met up with them at the end of the second Saturday and Sunday. I met up with them for Stevie Wonder on the second Saturday. We were along the track at bridge 4 in a distant but decent spot. Unfortunately the sound bleed was horrific from Snoop Dogg at Congo Square. That was compounded by other sound issues with Stevie. From where we were, it sounded like half the band was missing in action and the half we could hear was playing through a tin can. After about a half hour we abandoned the Acura Stage and retreated to the blues tent for the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band. I had never heard of them but was quite impressed with the hour of their set we did see.
On the closing Sunday I met up with them again when I left The Meters early. They put on a great show but it had a jam session vibe that I was not particularly enamored by. They were just outside the blues tent where Blues Traveler was playing. It was packed to the rafters and they played a great show. I was able to weasel my way to the front near the end to shoot some pictures.
Speaking of photography, I took nearly 13,000 pictures at this year’s festival… far more than necessary, but I did feel more disciplined than I have in previous years. I’m getting better about not pulling the trigger on shots I know I won’t keep. As I write this on the Friday after the second weekend, I have only uploaded one day or photos. I’ll probably spend another two weeks working on them.
Outside of incremental improvements in my technique, one of the biggest changes on the photography front this year was the addition of a runway extending from the middle of the Acura Stage towards the crowd. It lets performers get a lot closer to the general admission crowd than they have in the past. I was up near the rail for Harry Connick, Jr. and was able to get some remarkable close-up shots. It also provided some great photo-ops during Jon Batiste and Stay Human, even though I was not nearly as close to the stage. I did not see many acts at the Acura stage this year but I hope that runway is present next year and I have more chance to take advantage of it.
This entry is already running long and I haven’t said much about the great music. I’ve never had any skill in articulating detailed assessments on music. Either I like it or I don’t. I’ll end with the following list of all the bands I saw this year.
Friday, April 28:
David L. Harris
Stephanie Jordan Big Band
Mokoomba of Zimbabwe
Harry Connick, Jr.
Saturday, April 29:
First Baptist Church of Vacherie Mass Choir
Xavier Universal Jazz Ensemble
Connie and Dwight Fitch with the St. Raymond & St. Leo the Great Choir
Treme Brass Band
Jon Batiste and Stay Human
Terrance Simien & The Zydeco Experience
Sunday, April 30:
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Thursday, May 4:
Southern University Jazzy Jags
Loyola University Jazz Ensemble
Jesse McBride Big Band
Corinne Bailey Ray
Tower of Power
Friday, April 5:
Davell Crawford & One Foot in The Blues
Earth, Wind, and Fire
Saturday, May 6:
Glen David Andrews Band
Tank and The Bangas
Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band
Sunday, May 7:
The Rocks of Harmony
Khari Allen Lee & the New Create Collective
Bill Summers & Jazalsa
If last year’s weather for French Quarter Fest was “amazing,” as I described it then, this year’s weather could only be called perfect. It was sunny, dry, and cool. This was the only New Orleans festival I can remember where I didn’t go home each day a sweaty mess. While it was easier to be out longer, I was in my car headed home by 7:30 each day. This year I went on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I elected to skip Thursday and go to work. I’m taking three vacation days for the upcoming Jazz Fest during exams at the law school where I work which drew some undesired attention, and I didn’t want to push my luck.
I did even more wandering than I usually do at the festival this year. In the past I’ve made elaborate plans to offset conflicts with the Jazz Fest schedule, but I never even looked at the lineups in advance of each day. I will probably miss my favorite local band, Astral Project, at the Jazz Fest this year, but I see them close out French Quarter Fest every year so that wasn’t something I needed to think about.
The highlight for me on Friday was Debauche. I’ve seen the “Russian mafia band” a few times before at small venues. Cramped clubs like Siberia are admittedly more appropriate for their take on gypsy punk, but the pleasant outdoor setting offered a less intense experience that was welcome for an aspiring party pooper like me.
My mom was along with me most of Saturday. After we arrived we met up with my Aunt Lauren at the Jackson Square stage where Tim Laughlin was playing. We wandered with her for a while and ended up at the Palm Court Jazz Club where we saw Lars Edegran’s New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra and Tom McDermott and His Jazz Hellions. We had seats well off to the side of the stage so I didn’t shoot many pictures there. Later after Lauren left for the day Dad joined us and we went to El Gato Negro near the Old US Mint for something to eat. Not long after dinner I parted company with my parents. I was intent on heading home for the night but I liked what I was hearing from Jackson Square and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra. Terrance “Hollywood” Taplin was filling in for Delfeayo Marsalis as orchestra leader. It was a great set featuring some of the best brass players in town. Any band with a large horn section usually does it for me. After I got home, I went out again for a second dinner with Lindsay at Sake Café.
On Sunday I made it out of bed early enough to catch John Boutte open the day at Jackson Square. I stuck around for Leroy Jones afterward, and then Jeremy Davenport. Like Saturday, I wasn’t interested in braving the crowds on the riverfront and I was content with the lineup there. After Jeremy’s set I gradually made my way towards the US Mint. I caught the better part of John Mooney’s set before Astral Project closed out the festival. As always, they played an excellent show in front of an enthusiastic crowd.
I was better behaved with the picture taking this year as compared to last. I took “only” 3,000 pictures over the weekend. I was a lot better about stopping after I thought I had the shots I wanted. That said I always wish I had shot more pictures of the people attending the festival instead of just the performers. I am looking for those shots more than I used to, but I don’t often find them. I will have plenty of opportunity to look some more in two weeks with the 2017 Jazz Fest rolls around.