Building up from its roots of traditional jazz, blues and folk, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival has evolved into something almost beyond anyone’s expectations. With it’s closest ancestor being the Newport Jazz Festival, which is celebrating it’s 60th anniversary this year, the New Orleans Jazz Fest has clung to traditions of old while accepting and celebrating the newer generations of rock & roll.
Celebrating #45 is no small feat. Sponsors alleviate financial concerns and during a press conference on Friday, with the Mayor of New Orleans in attendance, it was announced that Shell would continue as the presenting sponsor through 2019, when the Fest will celebrate 50 years. And why not? Thousands of visitors come from all over the world just to walk the Fairgrounds; people watching, eating spicy Cajun food with weird names like Cochon De Lait, boudin balls and crawfish remoulade, and happening upon new musical treats that they may have never experienced before. For seven days, spreading over two weekends, the Jazz Fest is a city unto itself during that time span. You make friends on the buses shuttling you over from City Park or with the people spread out on a blanket next to yours, and the vendors remember your face and what you like to eat.
An exciting part of the Jazz Fest this year was it’s celebration of Brazil: the music, the culture and the food were on dramatic display throughout both weekends. An exhibit tent highlighted crafts and history and traditions unique to the South American country. Vibrant colors and flamboyant rhythms tantalized all your senses. Selecting Brazil was an excellent choice by the Fest organizers.
The music line-up for 2014 was exemplary. Who better to pop the cork and blow out 45 candles than legends Santana, Robert Plant, Eric Clapton, Chaka Khan and John Fogerty, with the biggest bang coming from Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band, performing 3 hours in the hellish heat. If you thought the fans ran to mark their spots the first weekend for Eric Clapton, you should have seen them form a massive ocean before Acura opening artist Marc Broussard had even began his set. It was an incredible vision to the eye, almost unimaginable. If Springsteen should come back again to perform, the Fairgrounds won’t be able to contain the crowd inside the boundaries.
But The Boss wasn’t the only music at Jazz Fest. With eleven stages and other various performances scattered around, Weekend Two had so much to offer. So much so, we couldn’t possibly see and experience everything, although we tried. Ask anyone leaving the grounds at the end of the day who they loved the most and you got many different answers, which proved that an amalgam of artists brought people through the gates.
We’ve created a list of some of the top 10 highlights of the second weekend, starting with Glide’s Best Of Jazz Fest List..
Four days, four energetic performances. We knew from the start that these artists would not disappoint you: Colin Lake, Mia Borders, The Revivalists and Big Sam’s Funky Nation all delivered with gusto, not to mention offering some special surprises: Revivalists’ lead singer Dave Shaw brought out his Grandma Betty on her birthday and had the crowd sing to her; and Big Sam went down on one knee to propose to his girlfriend.
Best Stage: The renamed Samsung Galaxy Stage (nee Gentilly Stage) continues to grow as the best stage to be at: John Fogerty, Alabama Shakes, Lyle Lovett, the aforementioned Revivalists and Johnnyswim all cranked it up and it’s getting harder and harder to find a spot up close. The crowd is already swelling past the perimeters and onto the sandy track.
Best Stage #2: Fais Do-Do, the home of zydeco is swinging. You will find more people dancing at this stage than any other. John Hiatt performed here last week with grand success. This week saw The Savoy Family Cajun Band, with Arhoolie Records president Chris Strachwitz watching front and center. Feufollet, Andrew Duhon, Robert Earl Keen, Lil Nathan & The Zydeco Big Timers, and BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet were all frisky fun for young and old alike.
Best Surprise: The performers from Brazil. With colorful costumes and exhilarating rhythms, their music was a part of all stages. Os Negoes Of Bahia Brazil, Tizumba & Tambor Mineiro of Minas Gerais Brazil and Ivoire Spectacle featuring Seguenon Kone were just a few to keep you moving to the beat visually and physically.
Best Surprise #2: Younger bands doing strong sets without resorting to over the top dynamics. The husband and wife duo known as Johnnyswim, The Head & The Heart, and Hurray For The Riff Raff were classy tops.
Still Worth Seeing: The Mardi Gras Indians. No matter if you saw them last week, last year or ten years ago, never pass up the opportunity to witness the immaculate handmade costumes and local heritage they represent.
Best Age-Means-Nothing Moment: That’s actually a hard one because between Chaka Khan (61) heating up the Congo Stage, Johnny Winter (70) burning up the Blues Tent, Allen Toussaint (76) tickling the ivories on the main Acura Stage, Chick Corea (72) in the Jazz Tent and Charles Bradley (65) whooping it up on Friday, age absolutely does not hinder the fire that burns inside these legends.
Best Peacock Moment: Big, bright and bold, these stars spread out their tail feathers: Christina Aguilera divaing in black & white & baby bump; Cowboy Mouth’s Fred LeBlanc stormkicking the drums and not settling for anything less than total crowd participation; Arcade Fire with their second-line of famous “heads” and straight-face seriousness; and Flow Tribe’s KC O’Rorke’s lively spasmatic dance moves.
Best I’m-Going-To-Jam-With-You Moment: Would it be John Fogerty joining Bruce Springsteen or Jimmy Buffett joining Allen Toussaint?
Best Use Of Hair As An Accessory: Johnny Sketch and Marc Broussard rocking full beards; Aguilera, Solange and Chaka Khan with masses of big bouncy tresses; and Myles Weeks with his handlebar mustache playing stand-up bass for Andrew Duhon.
It’s-A-Given: You’re going to get sunburned, you’re going to get blisters on your feet and/or sand in your shoes; and you’re going to gain weight no matter how much you walk because there is delectably enticing food EVERYWHERE.
Best Of Fest (out of both weekends): North Mississippi Allstars. Hands down.