Jazzfest 2010 recap, Jazzfest bands, Jazzfest highlights, Jazzfest music, Jazzfest blog
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New Orleans. God's thrown everything at that city but a plague of locusts, and they're still dancing. To quote a Thomas Dolby song – one which, not coincidentally, takes place in New Orleans – there is a spirit here that won't be broken, which explains why New Orleans is one of the few cities in America to host more than one major music festival each year. We've been hearing about Jazzfest from our friends for years, and this year, we grew tired of getting second-hand stories. Greg Schwartz, Bullz-Eye's official concert hound of the southwest region, spent five days in the Big Easy and took everything the city threw at him, even when it meant gigs that ended shortly before five in the morning. That is not a typo.



Lettin’ it ride in the Big Easy: Jazzfest 2010 recap, Part V: it's time to chill

I was the first one up after obtaining maybe five hours of sleep, and I quickly rushed back off to the fairgrounds. It would have been nice to get more sleep, but I didn't want to miss Delfayo Marsalis. The skies were still overcast and threatening rain, and it misted throughout the day. But, in a great gift from the music gods, it didn't actually rain until about 20 minutes after the end of the festival.

The tent was packed for this 1:35 pm set and rightfully so, as the trombone ace from New Orleans' first family of jazz led a 15-piece horn section through a set of swinging jazz numbers with a classic and classy vibe. Younger brother Jason Marsalis played drums and the set featured one crowd-pleasing number after another, with round after round of applause. This was the best jazz set of the weekend in this reporter's view.

Pianist Ellis Marsalis followed his son's group with his own quartet for another great set, again featuring Jason Marsalis on drums. The songs were a little more subdued than Delfayo's set, but the playing continued to sparkle. Jason delivered a stellar drum solo during one tune that won a huge round of applause, while all the band members soloed with great skill on a superb reading of “My Favorite Things.” It's too bad that Wynton and Branford couldn't be summoned for an all-Marsalis family jam, but getting to see Delfayo and Ellis in succession with Jason was another great Jazzfest treat.

Jack White led his new group on drums in a hot set before a big crowd in the mist at the Gentilly Stage. White is a snappy drummer and every project he's involved in oozes the blues, but the Dead Weather mix that old school blues vibe with a heavy indie rock sound that is just plain tantalizing thanks to lead vocalist Allison Mosshart. The former singer of the Kills appeared as some sort of dark, avenging angel, and she captivated the crowd on every tune. The new “Hustle and Cuss” featured a groovy syncopation that went over well. The set peaked with “Treat Me Like Your Mother” from the band's first album, a flat-out bad-ass rocker that saw the energy soar as Mosshart owned the stage. White also played guitar on one tune, treating fans to some of his bluesy shredding, before he and Mosshart sang a duet on a slow, dark simmering blues to end the set in haunting yet breathtaking fashion.

I never would have found this hidden gem of a stage inside the racetrack concourse if a friend hadn't pointed it out, and I was glad he did. It's one of the most intimate stages, but easy to miss if you don't venture into the concourse. It's got a little courtyard with the stage in the center and Los Po-Boy-Citos were funking it up in a big way. You could take advantage of seats to relax, or dance in the middle of the courtyard as many fans did.

This was a highly anticipated set for anyone who is a fan of the sax legend's seminal work with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and with Miles Davis on several mid-‘60s classic albums like and . It was a tough call for funk fans since the Neville Brothers were on the main stage at the same time in the festival's final time slot, but I'd never seen Shorter before so I had to check some of this out. The quartet features Brian Blade, John Patitucci and Danilo Perez, and is surely a great unit. But it seemed liked it was taking them a while to warm up, as the first 20 minutes of the set were of a slow, ambient variety. If this had been in another time slot I probably would have stayed. But I was still feeling energized from the epic Galactic show the night before and felt like some high-energy music was necessary to close out the fest. I also wanted to see Cyrille Neville again, so I made my way over to the main stage.

The New Orleans legends were funking it up to a big crowd on the classic “Iko-Iko” when I arrived, with Cyril Neville leading the way on vocals and percussion. “Hey Pocky Way” and “Fiyo on the Bayou” kept the funky good times rolling, as the band of brothers did their best to pump up the crowd on what was now becoming a dreary day. The band was rocking, although they definitely were not approaching the energy that Galactic had been putting out. These guys are all over 60, however, and their voices still sound great. But I definitely felt blessed to have caught Cyril Neville doing his thing with a backing band like Galactic the night before.

A friend advised that I catch some of the Wild Magnolias at the smaller stage that had featured brass bands all weekend, saying that the group was a great one to close out the festival with. After a while I decided to take a look.

This band of Mardis Gras Indians was funking it up big time with a high energy sound that had the crowd moving and grooving. With their elaborate costumes and funky sounds, it was plain to see why this group is considered a local classic. It was amazing to think that all this music was going on at the same time – not just Wayne Shorter, the Neville Brothers and Wild Magnolias, but also the Radiators, B.B. King and Richie Havens as well. So much music, so little time.

I'd been to New Orleans before, but never for Jazzfest, which caused me to fall in love with the Big Easy all over again. There's no doubt that Jazzfest is one of the greatest music events in the world, at least comparable with any other festival. Many would argue that Jazzfest is the greatest festival of all and it's definitely something that any serious music fan should make a point to experience. Viva New Orleans!

Lettin’ it ride in the Big Easy: Jazzfest 2010 recap, Part IV: Up all night

Lettin’ it ride in the Big Easy: Jazzfest 2010 recap, Part III: Lady Soul bailed out by three of the four elements

Most of my comrades decided to take this day off, since Friday seemed to present perhaps the least best overall lineup of the weekend. But they missed out on some great stuff. It was an overcast day that threatened rain, but the weather gods were most kind as the precipitation held off until just after the festival ended on Sunday.

Jazzfest brings in lots of great rock bands to up the fun factor and sell more tickets, but I was definitely of a mindset to catch some jazzy jazz too. The Astral Project's 1:30 pm set delivered in a big way. In contrast to the main stages, the jazz and blues tents feature rows and rows of seating. It can still be hard to find seats though, and the tent was pretty packed for this performance. But there's an usher who works to help stragglers find seats, and it was nice to get one after the late night out. Local daily paper has called the Astral Project the city's “premier modern jazz ensemble,” and there were few who would disagree after this great set. Drummer John Vidacovich, saxman Tony Dagradi, guitarist Steve Masakowski and bassist James Singleton form a dynamic quartet. The songs were mostly up-tempo with lots of changes, hot solos and just plain great playing that received numerous rounds of applause from the appreciative audience.

Trumpet ace Kermit Ruffins came up with the Rebirth Brass Band (which he co-founded) and now fronts his own unit. Ruffins and his current band mix the jazzy jazz with elements of funk, pop and hip-hop for a genre-bending unit that has become a New Orleans classic. Some might also recognize Ruffins from a recurring role on HBO's new show “Treme,” which takes place in New Orleans. A groovy take on “I Can See Clearly Now” was a hit with the crowd in the mid-afternoon time slot. The sky was gray, but with no rain it felt indeed like a “bright, sunshiny day.” The smooth horn lines sounded great over the upbeat groove, while Ruffins' vocals conjured a nostalgic big band era. Ruffins then stepped up and delivered one of the best trumpet solos of the weekend, exploring the melody with full jazzy flair.

This small stage near the main entrance of the fairgrounds featured a series of great brass bands throughout the weekend. Almost any time you walked by, there was a brass brand making sure things stayed jazzy and funky. The Forgotten Souls had a big lineup and a classic sound that drew in most who walked by.

Allen Toussaint is one of the patron saints of the New Orleans music scene and as such, drew a huge crowd to the main stage. The man is a legend, having worked with a practical who's who of music legends. He had a big band that entertained the crowd with a classic sound that mixed jazzy elements with rhythm & blues, led by Toussaint on piano and vocals. Toussaint's stylishly melodic piano playing had the ladies dancing with some great grooves. I definitely would have liked to see more of this set, but it conflicted with what seemed like another must-see event.

I also would have liked to have caught some of the Nicholas Payton Sextet in the Jazz Tent, but this supergroup demanded to be seen. The tent was packed with fans waiting to see the group, which featured bassist George Porter Jr., and guitarist Leo Nocentelli from the Meters with keyboardist Ivan Neville, piano man Henry Butler and drummer Raymond Weber. It was an hour-long funk fest that quickly became the Henry and Leo show. Butler stole the show on multiple occasions with his charged piano solos that energized the crowd time and again, with Nocentelli following most of those with incendiary guitar solos that burned up the fretboard. Musicians know him well, but the general public is behind in recognizing this guy as one of the hottest guitarists on the planet. “Talkin 'Bout New Orleans” was a super funky highlight, where Neville also laid down a jamming keyboard solo. He followed that with deeply soulful vocals on a way groovy cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's “Fortunate Son,” a song that seems tailor made for New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Trucks and Tedeschi followed up their stellar with another superb 75-minute set to close out the festival on Friday. The tent was jammed with fans who wanted to dance, packing the one aisle that wasn't cleared, while fans that wanted to sit battled with them over blocking their line of sight. How so many people could stay seated while this incredible band was rocking the stage remains a mystery. The band opened the set with Eric Clapton's “Coming Home” to get things going, and then ran through many of the same new songs they played the night before. It still felt fresh though, with Trucks throwing down one beautiful slide solo after another. Tedeschi's compelling vocals impressed again on “Don't Drift Away” and “Nobody's Free,” as well as on the smoking cover of the Beatles' “I've Got a Feeling.”

But the highlight of the set came toward the end with “Midnight in Harlem.” The tune had dazzled early in the show on the previous night, but went to an even higher level here at the end of the set, as bassist Oteil Burbridge led the band on a huge jam that was simply transcendent, as it seemed to keep going deeper and deeper into ecstatic groove ecstasy. Everyone in the aisle was moving and grooving to this stellar jam that is sure to become a classic, because there's never going to be a day when this fantastic melodic groove isn't going to hit the spot. Trucks' stellar slide work continued to wow throughout the set and especially on this incredible jam.

Aretha Franklin was supposed to be headlining the main stage to close the day, but canceled at the last moment, with rumors saying that she had found herself unable to perform after a tour of New Orleans' blighted 9th ward left her overcome with emotion. Jazzfest moved quickly to pull in the legendary Earth, Wind and Fire to fill the bill, though. They were supposed to end at the same time as Trucks & Tedeschi, but it was pleasing to see that they were still playing so fans could see the end of the set. I'd been wanting to catch this group ever since “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (“When are those Earth, Wind and Fire tickets coming in? Because I'm going to take my little brother, you know.”) The band was throwing down some funky grooves with great multi-part harmonies, and the crowd was loving it.

After exiting through the main entrance to the fairgrounds, it was less than two blocks before I came upon a brass band playing on a street corner while some enterprising locals were serving up fresh-made mojitos for $5 – score! Then as I continued down Esplanade, I traveled past a young keyboardist who was putting on a live show in front of his house for family and friends. Soon thereafter, I came upon a Hare Krishna church that was serving up free vegetarian food while what looked like a husband-wife-daughter trio played some ambient Krishna jams. The music was everywhere.

My accomplice and I were scrambling to get across town to this show after discovering that Bill Kreutzmann's 7 Walkers were going on at 7:45 pm, an unusually early start for Jazzfest evening shows. But the theater apparently has an actual curfew (as opposed to most venues in the Big Easy.) We were out on the street trying to find a taxi when a local musician by the name of John William picked us up and drove us over there for free! New Orleans hospitality got us there by the set break, but too late for 7 Walkers, unfortunately. I'd been looking forward to seeing them again after their recent Austin show, as Kreutzmann and Louisiana/Austin guitarist Papa Mali conjure a festive mix of Grateful Dead songs with Southern flavor and new material written with longtime GD lyricist Robert Hunter. The sound is a unique mix of West Coast and Gulf Coast. With his gray dreadlocks, rotund figure and melty licks, Papa Mali brings to mind how Jerry Garcia might have turned out if he'd grown up in New Orleans instead of San Francisco.

Gov’t Mule came out and got right back to the hard rocking, bluesy business they'd thrown down at the fairgrounds the day before. A “Third Stone from the Sun” tease was appreciated early on, and Warren Haynes went deep into the blues well on Led Zeppelin's “Since I've Been Loving You.” The first set proceeded in somewhat underwhelming fashion though, as I started to get the same feeling as the past few times I've seen the band. This feeling was that the band's covers are always amazing, but that their own material seems to be stagnating a bit. Haynes is an undisputed guitar master and has been one of the hardest working men in rock 'n' roll over the past 20 years, but after witnessing the fresh sounds of the Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi Band, I couldn't help but feel that the Mule is coming up a little short these days. Most of their new material tends to fall into the same hard-edged blues rock territory, with less and less in the way of song diversity, as opposed to the wide range of classic rock the band covers with such aplomb. Of course Trucks is in his prime at age 30 while Haynes is 50, but it just feels like Mule's bag of tricks has become too small.

Haynes upped the ante when the band opened the second set with an epic cover of Doors classic “When the Music's Over,” which electrified the assembled. Haynes has become one of rock's greatest chameleons and you could feel the presence of Mr. Mojo Risin during this spine-tingling rendition of the epic ode to music and revolution. A later jam on the Dead's “The Other One” recalled the '60s once more, while “The Shape I'm In” was a rocking homage to the endurance it takes to do Jazzfest right. Eric Krasno popped up yet again for a hot jam on “Sco-Mule,” followed by Funky Meters guitarist Brian Holtz sitting in next. The encore saw Ivan Neville join Mule and Holtz for “32/20 Blues,” which raged with intensity before the band closed it out with “Broke Down on the Brazos.” Serious Muleheads might beg to differ, but it once again seemed like it was the covers that stood out over the band's own material. After the show, we retreated to Fritzel's on nearby Bourbon Street again for more jazz.

Lettin’ it ride in the Big Easy: Jazzfest 2010 recap, Part II: Bringing the 'phunk

Lettin’ it ride in the Big Easy: Jazzfest 2010 recap, Part I: Pre-festival tuneups

There are a lot of great festivals out there vying for the dollars of music fans these days, proof positive that the market for great live music is as strong as ever. When you start comparing them, there are several factors to consider: the strength and diversity of the lineup, location, food and amenities, availability of late night entertainment, and finally overall value. (better known as just Jazzfest) ranks highly in each category. As an MC said at the end of each day, “The best thing about Jazzfest is that when you leave here [the fairgrounds], you're in New Orleans.” While the Jazzfest format may be similar to other major festivals, the fact that it takes place in New Orleans makes it as unique as the Crescent City.

“New Orleans is the opposite of America, and we must hold onto places that are the opposite of us. New Orleans is not fast or energetic or efficient, not a go-get-'em Calvinist well-ordered city. It's slow, lazy, sleepy, sweaty, hot, wet, lazy and exotic,” wrote author Mark Childress in The New York Times shortly after Hurricane Katrina.

But rookies and amateur music fans beware – New Orleans and its many musical attractions are geared toward professional party animals. It's all too easy to wear yourself out with one late night on the town, and if you're not careful, it could drag you down for the rest of the weekend (or at least until you catch up on sleep.) The music at the fairgrounds ends at 7 pm each day, a bit early by general festival standards. But there's a reason for that – when you're walking out of the fairgrounds, your night is just beginning. There's any number of evening shows going on all over town, of both the marquee and free varieties, followed by the late late shows that don't even start until at least 2 am. This is something of a double-edged sword, since it means you're going to spend more money on food, drinks and taxis than you have at any other festival. But when you're in New Orleans for just a short time, you've gotta live it up. The food at the festival is simply amazing – from the po-boy sandwiches and gumbo to the crawfish monica (zesty macaroni and cheese with crawfish tails) and exotic desserts, you're not going to beat these culinary offerings at any other festival. It's only a shame that Miller Lite was allowed to corner the market on beer sales, meaning you couldn't have a tasty local Abita ale with your local food. This should be changed. But the rest of Jazzfest has got a great thing going.

Most of the bars stay open all night and you can drink on the streets, which means the fun doesn't ever have to end on anyone else's schedule. Drinking becomes almost like breathing, since you don't need to worry about whether you're staying or going to the next spot before you order that next drink. But when there are bands you want to see early the next day at the festival, then comes the conflict. Stay out having fun, or go back to home-base and try to get some sleep? Once you fall into the orbit of the night owls, it's increasingly difficult to pull away from their nocturnal agenda. But if a night owl is what you are, then there's no other festival that presents as much opportunity to spread your wings as Jazzfest. Sure, some other festivals have late late shows too, but not as many, not with such free-flowing booze and not with that “Nawlins” charm. There's something special about New Orleans, and for serious music fans, Jazzfest is the best time of year to experience it.

My accomplice and I drove from Austin to New Orleans on Wednesday, ready for four days of festival action. We were staying with some comrades in a house just a few blocks from the fairgrounds, rented through a team member that used to live in the neighborhood. We soon learned that staying in this nest of night owls would practically require flying in their nocturnal rhythm. So it was that we found ourselves on Frenchman Street after midnight, one of the city's top musical hotbeds. The music welcomed us as soon as we got out of the taxi, as two competing horn sections blared their jazzy sounds at each other from opposing street corners while people danced in the streets.

Then it was on to Maison, where guitarist Eric Krasno was playing. Known for his funky acid jazz work with Soulive and Lettuce, Krasno has clearly built up quite a rep over the past decade as no less than Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann and Allman Brothers Band/Gov't Mule guitarist Warren Haynes both sat in with him at the cozy club. Kreutzmann was in town for a gig with his new band 7 Walkers, who would be opening an evening show for Gov’t Mule on Friday. He played on several tunes and seemed to be enjoying himself immensely, which was great to see from a rock legend in his 60s. Then Haynes sat in on a groovy arrangement of Jimi Hendrix's “Manic Depression” that was more Band of Gypsys-style, and which saw Haynes and Krasno trading licks in a smoking jam. Haynes followed this by singing a lively rendition of the Jerry Garcia Band standard, “That's What Love Will Make You Do.” Later, Krasno and his band threw down a super funky instrumental take on the Beatles' “Get Back.” Krasno has a new album out and it seems like he's primed for a big year.

It was a late night out, and well after 4 am by the time we returned home. The night owls who had been in town since the previous first weekend of the festival said this was the earliest they'd been home all week. Local radio station WWOZ played on our little stereo when we got home and all week, and we all quickly fell in love with this fabulous station. They play funky soul jams in the early part of the evening to get you going when you're getting ready to go out, and ambient jazz when you get back in the wee hours to lull you off to sleep. The playlist covers everything from the oldest vintage jazz to the newest funky stylings.

Coming up next: Thursday, and the party officially begins.

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