Every year, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival seeks to highlight the region’s best and brightest, whether that comes to food, crafts, or indigenous music.
Saturday’s roster of performers certainly took the musical torch of the area and ran with it.
Headliner Billy Joel paid tribute to Crescent City with a jazz- and ragtime-infused set to close out the day, but there were several other standouts that also hoisted that banner.
Here are a few acts that stood out from Saturday’s festivities:
Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite
It was almost an odd pairing to see the tattooed and jammy Ben Harper and the 69-year-old harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite together on the Gentilly Stage, but it didn’t take long for those in attendance to realize that this pairing worked. And worked well.
The duo recently collaborated on a joint album called Get Up!, which was mainly written by Harper.
During their Gentilly set, they played a few tracks from Get Up!, including the electric opening song “Don’t Look Twice” and “I Ride at Dawn.”
Multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird closed out the Fais do-do Stage playing everything from the guitar, violin and glockenspiel, showcasing his uncanny ability to shift genres with the best of them.
Bluegrass, rock, folk and roots were all represented, which was a perfect way to represent the diversity that Jazz Fest is all about.
Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars
Led by Grammy nominee Tab Benoit, the Louisiana supergroup also features Cyril Neville, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Johnny Sansone, Waylon Thibodeaux and Johnny Vidacovich (a few of whom are members of the Meters and Neville Brothers).
In addition, their Saturday afternoon time slot included a spot for local musician Anders Osborne, who brought his excellent guitar chops to the already-eclectic group.
The All-stars seek to raise awareness for protection of the fragile Louisiana wetlands, and after about an hour of heartfelt blues and zydeco tunes in front of an audience in perpetual motion, consider the concert another success in the mission.
Each member had a chance to shine, whether it was Osborne or Benoit’s guitars, Sansone’s fierce work on the harmonica and accordian, or Big Chief’s giant yellow peacock feathers that accented his sequined red, green and yellow suit.
The biggest pop might have come when the band played “Liza Jane,” a standard that has been covered in the styles of rock, bluegrass and folk. This time, however, it was straight-up bayou, sticking close to the song’s roots as Osborne and Benoit traded solos.
Lil’ Buck Sinegal
Taking the stage in a light blue outfit and a navy Kangol cap, Lil’ Buck Sinegal put together an hour-long history lesson at the Blues Tent, tearing up several standards on his Fender Stratocaster and peppering his set with a few originals.
“Johnny B. Goode” was a definite dancer, and “Sleepwalk” from Italian/American rock duo Santo and Johnny certainly pleased the crowd.
Sinegal even brought everyone to their feet with a bluesy version of the national anthem, which was somewhat of a surprise, but also a welcome way to begin Day 2 of Jazz Fest.
The New Orleans funkers utilized every part of their brassy talents in their set at the Gentilly Stage, opening up with a solo for each member, including their three trombone players, Mark Mullins, Craig Klein and Greg Hicks.
The sought-after horn group even aptly covered Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean,” which was impressive considering there was no wailing Robert Plant in sight. The horns added all the wail that was needed.
The Grammy Award-winning Jill Scott charmed the heck out of everyone watching her set which was amped up by a horn section and a few male backup singers to add a little doo-wop to her fierce but innocent voice.
Scott touched on several songs from her hit 2011 album The Light of the Sun, but she also tabbed a few tracks from her debut record Who is Jill Scott? Words and Music Vol. 1.
Scott’s winks and smiles at the audience clearly won over those assembled, not to mention her amazing vocal prowess. A budding show-woman she surely is.
Noticing the two bassists in Ian Neville’s Dumpstaphunk would cause anyone’s head to spin, but with Neville on keys and Tony Hall and Nick Daniels holding down the low end, the effect is intensified. This band is funky. Or “phunky,” as it were.
But it’s also impossible to forget drummer Nickie Glaspie. The woman stole the band’s Gentilly Stage show when she took over lead vocals and belted out a rap-rock song that sampled several well-known rap lyrics. As she was doing so, she also played with the tempo and sped things up as the track reached a fevered crescendo, almost like an EDM club gone analog.
Yellow Bird Indian Dancers
The Yellow Bird Indian Dancers were made up of Native Americans from the Lakota, Apache, Hidasa-Mantan and other tribes throughout the nation, and they performed at the Kid’s Tent on Friday, but on Saturday, one performer offered a traditional hoop dance that was accompanied by an inspiring drum and vocal circle over at the Sheraton Fais Do-Do Stage.