By Mark Saluke (Photos by John Larson )
While the sun attempted to scorch the fans, it only fueled the vibes at the 2002 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Regardless of the record-high temperatures, this year’s Jazz Fest once again delivered an eclectic mix of music ranging from jazz, reggae, gospel and funk to Cajun, zydeco, bluegrass and much, much more.
More than 500,000 people crowded into the Crescent City for the 33rd annual seven day festival that celebrates New Orleans music and culture. Taking place on April 26-28 and May 2-5, the festival also overflowed with an array of mouthwatering local cuisine featuring items like jambalaya, red beans and rice, crawfish tails, and oyster po-boys.
Also, centuries of history packed into a variety of traditional arts and crafts that offer glimpses into other cultures and traditions, not to mention the expanded Native American Village and the Kids Cultural Village complete with a huge mural for youngsters to paint.
And then there’s the book tent, with several scheduled book signings from local authors. So there is a lot to experience at Jazz Fest, but it’s the music that started this celebration, and this years line-up featured a list of performers long enough to satisfy even the hungriest musical souls.
The second weekend looked promising with names like Karl Denson, Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers and Henry Butler all slated for gigs, Actually, May 2-5 was full of great jazz talent, which makes perfect sense in a city that hails itself as the birthplace of jazz and prides itself on the local talent.
New Orleans definitely has a certain vibe about it, an aura that seems to surround the city during Jazz Fest. Maybe it goes unnoticed at first, but eventually it’s there—in the streets, in the venues and clubs, in the faces and movements of tourists and locals making their way down Canal Street, it begins to manifest everywhere.
There are 12 stages at the fairgrounds, so while there’s certainly no shortage of music, it might be a good idea to keep some space free for a new musical adventure or two, because a big part of the Jazz Fest experience is about finding new music.
An early highlight of Thursday included just such a performance when New Orleans based Los Sagitarios performed on the Congo Square stage. This Latin Dance band put on a good performance that was fresh and full of energy, which was apparent from the audiences reaction and energy.
Stumbling onto the Lagniappe Stage in the enormous grandstand turned out to be a great find. The stage is enclosed in a courtyard area, which is surrounded on all sides by the grandstand seating, creating a bit of a wind tunnel that provided a much needed breeze, not to mention that the area was mostly shaded with an upper balcony and plenty of seats.
Micaela y Fiesta Flamenca finished a performance driven by the artful dance movements of the female members as they moved across the stage.
The remainder of the day was spent in the WWOZ Jazz Tent awaiting the Charles Mingus 80th Birthday Tribute Orchestra, which turned out to feature the Mingus Big Band and some added instruments. The tribute featured songs including “Blue Sea” and “Tonight at Noon,” also the title of Sue Mingus’ new book.
Thursday’s main highlight actually happened earlier that day when New Orleans own Storyville Stompers Brass Band performed in one of many parades that took place over the course of Jazz Fest.
This was a great opportunity to experience first hand the depth and range of the Brass Bands that have played such an important part in New Orleans history and culture. The band was founded in 1981, and they are led by sousaphonist Woody Penouilh, Jr.
In the tradition of many of the second line marching bands that are deeply rooted in New Orleans culture and history, the Storyville Stompers, who were an important part of the brass-band revival of the ‘80s, didn’t need a stage for their performance. They paraded past the grandstand, pausing in a few different spots before proceeding directly through the fairgrounds, and as spectators joined the tail of the line, dancing and grooving behind them, it was a picture perfect example of the spontaneity and improvisation on which so much of the New Orleans brass-band history is based.
On Friday, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band took a break from their 11 consecutive late night shows with DJ Logic to perform on the Sprint PCS Mobile Phone Stage. The band currently consists of nine players, four of which are founding members. The name Dirty Dozen stems from the Dirty Dozen Social and Pleasure Club, where the band originated in 1977.