It has been three long years, but the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is back after cancellations, delays, and disappointments due to the pandemic. While the 2022 edition of the festival itself takes place from April 29 to May 1 and May 5-8, the clubs, special event venues, and outdoor parks abound with live music.
Diehard Jazz Fest warriors from out of town come in before the first weekend and leave after the second weekend to experience the unique vibe. They mix with the locals to enjoy boundlessly, inspired musical-collaboration-filled shows that happen across NOLA as the fest unfolds. Yet it’s after dark when many of the memorable musical moments unfold…
GETTING OUR BLUES ON IN THE PARK
On Wednesdays in Lafayette Square Park all during the spring and summer, the Young Leadership Council of New Orleans puts on a free concert series called “Wednesday at the Square.” On April 27, Tab Benoit brought his unique style of bayou blues to the park. Benoit has been pumping out fiery, passionate, and danceable blues tunes for over 25 years and he is still a master guitarist and vocalist.
The crowd in the park enjoyed his electrifying guitar solos and soulful vocals. Bassist Corey Duplechin and drummer Terence Higgins have been with Benoit for years and add powerful rhythms to all of the songs. “Night Train,” really thumped and felt like a locomotive passing through the crowd. “Power of The Ponchartrain” and “We Make a Good Gumbo” recalled Benoit’s rural roots. “I Got Loaded” had a fast, catchy beat and “Medicine” featured the guitarist’s passionate vocals and impeccable guitar chops. It was a great show to get the Jazz Fest marathon started.
KINGFISH AND ANDERS OSBORNE – GUITAR MASTERS
On Thursday night April 28, there were two shows that were hard to choose between, so we attended both. At the historic Saenger Theater, new blues sensation and recent Grammy winner Christone “Kingfish” Ingram showed why he is getting rave reviews. Maggie Rose, the country crossover vocalist opened the show and gained new fans. She showed off her vocal range with sweet country songs, soul ballads, and light rock tunes. She did a scorching version of “What Makes You Tick,” a song she co-wrote with Marcus King.
Kingfish is a throwback to the first generation of blues artists like B.B. King and Muddy Waters, but he includes Hendrix and Prince as influences. His show at the Saenger showed off his smooth baritone voice and incendiary guitar skills. He did a masterful job of moving from slow, passionate ballads to rapid-fire and blurry finger-picking frolics. While he played songs from 662, his Grammy winning album, and covered B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone,” the show highlight was his Buddy Guy-like stroll through the crowd as he wailed an extended solo.
While it was tough to leave Kingfish, Anders Osborne was playing across town at the equally historic Tipitina’s. Osborne is a prolific songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist known for his exhilarating live performances. He and his stellar band put on a great show at Tipitina’s. Osborne traded licks with second guitarist Jonathan Sloane all night. Osborne’s intense vocals and creative solos were especially gratifying during “On The Road To Charlie Parker,” as he bounced around the stage and wailed on his guitar. He usually brings out unannounced guests at Tips and this show was no exception as Papa John Gros sat in as well as singer/guitarist Shannon McNally, who had opened the show. McNally and Osborne did an excellent duet on Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl.”
GALACTIC PLAYS AT HOME
On Friday night, April 29th we went back to Tipitina’s for the Galactic show. The band has played at the club hundreds of times, so when they bought the venue in 2018, it officially became their home base. Some of their gigs at Tips have become legendary for going all night and bringing out famous guests, so expectations were high for this show.
The band came out hot and never let up. Vocalist Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph blasted out many of their popular songs like “Clap Your Hands,” “Higher and Higher,” “Hey Na Na,” and “Right On.” All of the band members had moments to shine. Saxophonist and harmonica player Ben Ellman performed breathtaking solos, as did guitarist Jeff Raines. The wildest solo was done by bass player Robert Mercurio who used a giant, pulsating glow stick to play his strings.
Guests included percussionist Mike Dillon who stayed for the entire show and pounded on a variety of drums, cowbells, and rhythm sticks while sitting alongside drummer Stanton Moore. Vocalist Boyfriend came out to do a stunning duet with Jelly on “Dance At My Funeral.” Local Bounce artist Ha Sizzle rapped on “Getcha Sum” before the show ended with Jelly gyrating around the stage as she sang “Dolla Diva.”
LETTUCE LIGHT UP THE NIGHT WITH PSYCHEDELIC FUNK
Lettuce has been doing late-night shows in New Orleans during Jazz Fest for years. This year, they were at the Joy Theater on Saturday night April 30th. They had the Soul Rebels deliver their unusual blend of brass band and hip hop to warm up the crowd. Lettuce came out and delivered a pyrotechnic light and audio extravaganza.
Eric “Benny Bloom” and Ryan Zoidis pumped out distorted, funky horn solos while the laser lights and strobes rotated from the stage through the hall all night. Adam Deitch and Eric “Jesus” Coombes thumped the theater with chest-shaking rhythms, while Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff played intense guitar solos.
While the band is mostly about intense instrumentals, keyboardist Nigel Hall was mesmerizing on the few vocal tracks the band played. His voice was deep, smooth, and passionate. He crooned on a world premiere of the inspiring song “Everything is Going To Be Alright.” The band also played a super trippy, brand new instrumental called “Vamanos.” Their intensely funky version of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” nearly brought down the house.
The first weekend of shows around New Orleans is just the start of the marathon of music performances throughout the city. We’ll do our best to stay upright and conscious while we cruise around town checking out the shows. Look for our recap of the days between Jazz Fest weekends and second-weekend events.
Live photos courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©2022