With heavyweights such as Florence and the Machine, Jimmy Buffet and Esperanza Spalding headlining the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on Thursday, there was a lot to like about the opening of the second weekend.
But it wasn’t all about those acts residing at the top of the bill, as several other performers offered standout showings.
Here’s a look at some other outfits that caught our eye:
Irish singer/songwriter Glen Hansard was an early star of the Acura Stage. The Swell Season and The Frames frontman’s show was just him and a guitar, a feeling he called both “terrifying and exciting.” Hansard played a few hits such as The Swell Season’s “Low Rising” and “Come Away,” which he contributed to The Hunger Games movie.
Another highlight was a cover of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks,” which came before he finally got around to a track off his debut solo album – Rhythm and Repose – called “Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting.”
Hansard peppered his performance with lots of stage banter revealing his appreciation for the opportunity.
“We just came from a coffee shop just outside the festival,” he said, three songs into his hour-long set, “and I look up and there’s Aaron Neville ahead of me in the queue. And I thought, ‘It’s a good (expletive) day.’”
Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk
Ivan Neville created Dumpstaphunk back in 2003 specifically to fill a solo slot at Jazz Fest, and the band has only honed its super-funk to a sharp point since then. Armed with bassists Tony Hall and Nick Daniels, guitarist Ian Neville and powerhouse drummer Nikkie Glaspie, Dumpstaphunk got the Gentilly Stage crowd rattling with head-nodding cuts like “Put it in the Dumpster” and “Everybody Want Sum.”
Honey Island Swamp Band
Forming when four friends were stranded in San Francisco in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana natives brought a funky roots-rock vibe to the Acura Stage. The packed crowd noodled along with the grooves while preparing for the Buffet solo show later that evening. Kudos to Chris Mulé for some killer slide guitar work on “Prodigal Son,” while Aaron Wilkinson showed his chops on the harmonica on “Chocolate Cake” from 2010’s Good to You.
Singer/songwriter/poet Ani DiFranco took the Sheraton New Orleans Fais Do-Do Stage midway through the day just as the sky began threatening rain. But that wasn’t enough to break the spirits of the large audience gathered to see the prolific artist. Donning several acoustic guitars, DiFranco drew a few songs from her early catalog, opening with “Names and Dates and Times,” but tossed in “Unworry” and “J” from her latest album, ¿Which Side Are You On?, as well.
When the Preservation Hall Jazz Band came out for a few tunes towards the end of DiFranco’s set, everyone was happy they challenged the ominous clouds.
The legendary New Orleans pianist was simply on fire in front of his incredibly tight band. Butler’s set might have run a little bit over the time limit, but the blind musician riffed that the clock he looked at was wrong. It didn’t matter.
An epic closer of Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round In Circles” had the audience at the Congo Square Stage wildly cheering him away, and tight shots on the big video screens showing his nimble fingerwork highlighted his talent.