New Orleans Jazz Fest 2014: A Journey Through Celebration (Show Review)

At this point in time it’s a well-established fact that the city of New Orleans, Louisiana just isn’t like the rest of America, or the whole world for that matter. Like the grid system of the city itself, everything is just slightly off-axis when it comes to the notion of normalcy most people have. Stand on the corner of Frenchman and Chartes Streets with a drink in your hand while a horde of revelers dance along to the brass band playing on the corner and your instinct will say, ‘wait a second, this doesn’t make sense, how can this be real?’ Yet, when you’re in that place in that moment in time it all makes perfect sense, and suddenly you’re hit with the realization that this is precisely what makes New Orleans the city that it is.

Perhaps the ultimate celebration of the unique music and culture of New Orleans is the Jazz & Heritage Festival, which embarked on its 45th year just this past weekend. Though the festival has come a long way from the early days when it featured a lineup consisting of actual jazz and other music originating from the state of Louisiana, there is still a feeling you get at Jazz Fest unlike any other festival. Sure, the presence of big name acts like – in the case of this year – Santana, Eric Clapton, Vampire Weekend, and Bruce Springsteen, has a tendency to downplay the jazz, blues and gospel to a sort of second thought for many, it is still there to be savored. Even for the marquee acts, just being in New Orleans is infectious enough to creep into their sets, and you can feel a different type of energy emanating from performers, no matter how mainstream, that you would never get if you caught them in whatever arena they happened to play across the world.

From Eric Clapton to Phish, there is a mutual sentiment between artist and audience at Jazz Fest that each moment is special because we are all absorbing this mysterious place and its rich, magical culture.


The same can be said for the seemingly endless stream of festival after shows, which often showcase as many out of town acts as local. For those who are more jam-oriented, New Orleans becomes a musical playground from dusk till dawn and well into the next day. Miss out on the night shows throughout the week of Jazz Fest and you’re only getting half the experience. The first weekend this year was a smorgasbord of jam and funk-centric happenings. Selection can be difficult, but for this writer it was easy to embark on the Headhunter’s River Jam. Ain’t no party like a riverboat party, right? That’s right, down and dirty funk on one of those old time riverboats most people only know from Mark Twain novels. Eager party-goers still riding the high off of Santana’s electrifying set at Jazz Fest boarded the Creole River Queen and cruised down the mighty Mississippi dancing along to the funky sounds of an all star band consisting of members of jazz fusion pioneer Herbie Hancock’s band the Headhunters (yeah, we got that “Watermelon Man”), British funkateers the New Mastersounds, New Orleans’ own Papa Grows Funk, and the fantastically badass sax-playing Nigel Hall.

The following night those who had been properly fried by Phish’s three-hour festival set gathered at one of the city’s recently restored venues; the gorgeously white washed Civic Theatre. moe. is through and through an east coast jam band, but the legions of people in town to catch Phish certainly weren’t complaining when the band announced a two-night run in the Big Easy. On the second night of their run the members of moe. set out to prove that they were worthy of playing in America’s most musical city with a rampaging set of relentless shredding that ran upwards of three and a half hours and included local percussionist Mike Dillon going head to head with moe.’s Jim Loughlin on the most intense xylophone duel this writer has ever seen.






4/26/14 ~moe.  Civic Theatre ~ NOLA  –

I: Y.O.Y., She, Mar-DeMa, Tubing The River Styx > The Pit > Don’t Fuck With Flo, Big World > Ricky Marten > Time Ed

II: Zed Naught Z, Rainshine, Suck The Head*#, Buster*, Runaway Overlude, Yodelittle, Bearsong > Billy Goat

Enc: Time (Pink Floyd)

{* w/ Mike Dillon on percussion
# LTP > 9/01/01}

On that last night when you’ve been pushing it from noon until 5AM for the last four days and just want to assume the fetal position in a dark, silent room, you have to tell yourself that there’s only one…more…show. Powering through was well worth it for The Word, a supergroup of sorts that, for their show at the Joy Theatre, featured brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson plus their band the North Mississippi Allstars’ original bassist, the mighty Chris Chew. Personally, seeing the North Mississippi Allstars with Chew, who hasn’t played with the band consistently for several years, would have been enough for me, but the heavy-hitting presence of pedal steel badass Robert Randolph as well as John Medeski on keys made for a lineup you just can’t touch. While the group followed a loose setlist consisting of songs off their 2009 self-titled album, this marathon show was mostly free form on-the-fly improvisation that can be best described as a Southern take on dance music.


Leaving New Orleans without a hangover is not easy, but leaving without a sense of cultural enlightenment is damn near impossible. The week of Jazz Fest undoubtedly tests your endurance in every way, whether it be alcohol consumption, gluttony, or sleep deprivation. In the end it’s worth it because it’s all about the celebration and taking in the culture of a place where people have no problem ditching the monotonous routines of daily life and just enjoying themselves.

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Photos by Arthur VanRooy

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