Highlights From Friday At Jazz Fest

Friday at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was even more great fun in the sun – even if this type of sun was much more brutal than the previous weather offered.

Still, the heat didn’t do anything to quell the emotion that can come with these types of gatherings, especially when there were so many poignant performances.

Here is a look at some of the shows that caught our eye and tugged at our heartstrings:

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

The frisky road-experienced rock band took the Acura Stage around 3:30 p.m., just as the humidity seemed to hit a high, but that didn’t stop a huge crowd from turning out to see Potter and her spot-on backing band.

Earlier in the afternoon, news circulated that Adam Yauch, or MCA of the Beastie Boys, had finally succumbed to cancer, and Potter gave him a shout out by imploring the crowd to help her sing the choruses of “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” and “(You Gotta Fight) For Your Right (To Party).”

Potter followed that up with a track off her upcoming record – The Lion The Beast The Beat – called “Turntable” that was “our love letter to every little record store that’s still out there kicking.”

The band wasn’t all serious, tapping into the fan-favorite “Ooh La La” and popular new singles “The Divide” and “Never Go Back.”

By the time it was time to end the show, the navy-clad Potter was in full show-woman mode, inciting the crowd during an amazing version of the “Medicine.”  Potter and the rest of the group even joined drummer Matt Burr on his kit, turning the stomper into even more of a beat-driven dance party.

Sad news and the hot sun could have made the set a downer, but not with Potter and the Nocturnals.

And like a true performer, Potter didn’t even seem to break a sweat.

Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers

The virtuoso musician took over the Gentilly Stage with a noted grace. Even when there seemed to be sound problems early, he joked with the technicians.

The untrained eye wouldn’t have even noticed either, as Hornsby was at his improvisational best.  With a sea of people jamming along with him, Hornsby had a few tricks up his sleeve.

“We never know what we’re doing here,” he quipped.  “It’s always something different.”

Truly, this show was.  Hornsby acknowledged the recent death of Levon Helm, the former drummer and vocalist for The Band, with that group’s hit, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

He also tackled a few of his own hits, stamped by “The Way It Is” accompanied by New Orleans funk-rockers Bonerama.

Zac Brown Band

The Georgia-bred Zac Brown Band offered a contrast of styles during their show at the Acura Stage.

First, they played the Beastie Boys’ “Ch-Check It Out” over the PA system as an introduction.  Then, they ran through a set that covered a lot of country-pop bases, such as their No. 1 collabo with Jimmy Buffet – “Knee Deep” – and the Kenny Chesney-esque “Toes.”

Then the Jazz Fest veterans began to branch out.  Amos Lee joined them on stage for “Day I Die,” which Lee worked on for ZBB’s forthcoming album, Jump Right In, and a Van Morrison “Into the Mystic” tease was built into the ballad “Free.”

Still, it was an explosive encore that set this crowd ablaze.

First, Charlie Parker’s classic “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” got the Zac Brown Band treatment.  A mix of John Mayer’s “Neon” and Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” also made an appearance, as did ZBB’s smash “Chicken Fried.”

But it was Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name Of” that drew the show to a jarring and exciting conclusion.

Mavis Staples

One of the first ladies of gospel, Staples played to a crowd that overflowed the Gospel Stage by the tons.  People were forced out into the outskirts to only look in and catch a glimpse at the legend.

She paid tribute herself to legends like the late Martin Luther King, Jr., for which Staples offered an impassioned politically-charged speech, and Levon Helm.

Coming out to wild applause, the youngest Staples sister soon welcomed Glen Hansard to perform The Band’s “The Weight,” a track her Staples Sisters collaborated with during the landmark 1976 concert film The Last Waltz.

When Staples decided to wrap it up, she tabbed what might have been her biggest hit, “I’ll Take You There.”

“We’ve been taking you there for 62 years,” she said.  “I ain’t tired yet.”

Big Al Carson

A bombastic performer and an even bigger presence, Big Al Carson packed the Blues Stage as the day moved past the noon hour.

As he got riled up, so did the crowd, as it was standing-room only for his run through some blues classics, including an Earth, Wind and Fire cover.

Carson is a fixture in the New Orleans brass band scene, and his enthusiastic set at the early hour was a testament as to why.

Wanda Rouzan and a Taste of New Orleans

Hailed as the “Sweetheart of New Orleans,” Rouzan is one of the Crescent City’s premier vocalists and musical ambassadors, both as an educator and leader of the group, A Taste of New Orleans.

An electric performer, Rouzan’s stellar band helped her bring many in the crowd to the front of the stage with her booty-shaking version of “The Electric Slide.”

Blending jazz and blues, funk and soul, Rouzan and her outfit offered a perfect look at the spirit of New Orleans.

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