New Orleans Jazzfest: 4/23/2010 & 4/24/2010
Day One: Psychotic Medication
The 41th annual Jazzfest kicked off today on a wet and wild day in New Orleans.
I started shortly after noon by taking in some traditional blues and ragtime played by Clive Wilson’s New Orleans Serenaders featuring Butch Thomson. Some fine trombone, clarinet, and trumpet playing highlighted by a pair of Jelly Roll Morton numbers.
More outstanding local talent followed with Kenny Neal in the Blues Tent and he was putting on a clinic on guitar…as you would expect from someone whose guitar teachers included Buddy Guy and Slim Harpo. What started as a drizzle as the show was beginning, however, turned into a colossal downpour to the extent that water flooded the tent! It was about five inches deep and people had to laugh it off or spill out to another area of the fairgrounds and take their chances. I did both. After Kenny wrapped up, I decided to leave the relative security of the Blues Tent but I still had to choose between Dr. John and the Lower 9-11 on one Stage OR George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic on another.
I started with Dr. John and he was in absolute top form. He was ranting on stage and pounding the keys on his piano which was topped by a couple of skulls! He made references to being on psychotic medication and said that these days he says a lot of things people don’t want to hear but he doesn’t care. He advised, “When you say something, mean the Mother*&@#$*!” The Lower 9-11 was stellar to the point that I had to tear myself away to go get a look at George Clinton. I gave it about 10 minutes but the energy wasn’t near what the Dr. was delivering so I hurried back for the end of the latter’s set.
It’s turned into a muddy, absurd experience…I’m barefoot in the press tent now using a computer. I’m soaked to the bone but I’m going to get some Crawfish and at least take in a few minutes of Steel Pulse before I get back to the hotel. I may try to catch a little of the Black Crowes and I would have liked to have caught a little of the Elvin Bishop set too but I have to draw the line somewhere. I really need a shower.
Day Two: Jubilation: We Love Them Again
As evidenced yesterday by Kenny Neal and Dr. John, I try to feast on at much local New Orleans music as well as food so I began today with the always entertaining Cowboy Mouth and their adorable bass player Regina Zernay. This group really knows how to party even if they are playing at 2 in the afternoon. However, as this is Jazzfest, I was determined to spend some quality time in the Jazz Tent…and it turned out to be well spent. I got turned on to a mean guitar player named Steve Masakowski who had many talented pals billed as Guitar Workshop with Todd Duke, and Jake Eckert.
Steve was playing a custom nine string and the highlight was a Wes Montgomery thing that was very tasty.
More essential N’awlins music followed with the Funky Meters led by Art Neville on keys and his son Ian Neville now on guitar. Ian is absolutely worthy of the gig and they were laying it down in a manner befitting their legendary status.
However, I didn’t watch all that much as I was curious about Terence Blanchard back in the much more intimate Jazz Tent. I felt good about my decision when TB’s band, which represented Cuba and Nigeria among other locales, rolled through a set that was dynamic, nuanced, versatile, and compelling throughout. Towards the beginning they were dreamy but not sleepy but near the end the sax and trumpet were getting involved in spirited duels. The rhythm section and piano player (who had two other keyboard rigs set up atop the baby grand and which he occasionally played simultaneously) were equal to their bandmates. Dynamite set…but as the last note rang out I had to scamper to the main stage.
Lastly, and at last, it was Simon & Garfunkel! After not touring for over 20 years, these two reunited for a tour at the end of 2003 and in the summer of 04 but then they weren’t seen again in the States with the exception of last year’s special re-opening of the Beacon and the R&R Hall of Fame concerts at Madison Square Garden.
This was the opening night of 13 dates the duo from Forest Hills has announced for 2010!
My Morning Jacket was playing on another stage but I couldn’t walk away from S&G. The shine was shining after local weather gurus forecasted rain at an 80% probability.
After a short time, I began to suspect Art’s voice was not at 100% and it was confirmed soon after when he confessed his voice was “a little elusive.” This had little effect on the enthusiasm of the crowd that was among the largest for a single act in the history of the festival. It was Art’s first trip to Jazzfest and he said there was no way he would miss it. The fans sloshing in the mud represented supporters from around the States and around the world.
Paul give his old amigo a rest and did a set solo that featured Diamonds and Bubble from Graceland and Only Livin’ Boy in New York! He also included Slip Slidin Away and My Little Town from his solo body of work. When Art rejoined, the energy in New Orleans spiked and the remainder of the concert was thrilling. Paul asked him if he was going to make it and Art said he didn’t know! Having Art’s voice crack a little on Scarborough Fair or another classic somehow did not take anything away from the enjoyment of those songs. Perhaps the imperfections even made the performance more emotional because we were all routing for him to hit the high notes.
When Art nailed the first verse of Bridge Over Troubled Water, the fairgrounds erupted but Paul had to relieve him and do the second verse. With Paul’s hand on his shoulder, Art rejoined on the third and it was magical. Their arms raised in triumph, locked together, at the conclusion caused some wetness in the eyes of more than one fan.
Sound of Silence, The Boxer, and Celia followed as encores. Those will be the last notes I’ll hear in New Orleans for the 2010 Jazzfest but Levon Helm, Shawn Colvin, and the Allmans lead the charge tomorrow and next weekend’s performers include Pearl Jam, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Government Mule, Widespread Panic, Aretha Franklin, Gipsy Kings, Jeff Beck, and The Dead Weather. I’d love to stay but I’ve got to get back to NYC…