Marc’s Musings: 13 Best Musical Moments From My Week at New Orleans Jazz Fest


2) Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band @ New Orleans Arena (May 3)

I’m a Jersey boy. I grew up on the classic rock played on WNEW & WPLJ out of NYC and WDHA out of Morristown, NJ. And although we heard a lot of The Boss & Billy Joel in addition to the Stones, Beatles, The Who and Led Zep; Bob Seger was always in the mix. Then I went to the University of Michigan in Seger’s backyard and you couldn’t get through a day without hearing four or five Seger jams on the air.

Seger played a two set, 25-song show that ran over two and a half hours. He basically played every hit, a couple of new ones and some rarities. Bob has somehow been a bit underrated by the world. This man belongs up there with Bruce, Mellencamp, Dylan (yes I said it), Willie and anyone else that we consider to be classic Americana. If you’ve never seen him, go do it because this tour will probably be his last since he hates the road.


3) Dragon Smoke @ One Eyed Jacks (May 3)

For 10 years Ivan Neville, Robert Mercurio and Stanton Moore of Galactic and Eric Lindell have been meeting up at this great club on Toulouse Street for a night of kick-ass rock and funk jamming. You get some real cool covers, you get a few Lindell originals and some monster instrumentals. And since they MIGHT do it one other time during the year someplace else, you get to see something that very few people are lucky enough to catch.

Jazz Fest has lots of moments of great jamming between musicians who rarely or never play together other than the show you are at. But what made this show extra special is nobody makes more appearances during the ten days than these four guys (other than maybe George Porter). So fly in early, stay an extra two days and remember that I gave you the heads up.

4) Billy Iuso & The Restless Natives @ Sandpiper Lounge (May 4)

Billy is from the Northeast originally, but after 15 years in the Crescent City he is as local as anybody. He gigs with Anders Osborne and The Wild Magnolias, but his own group, The Restless Natives, are a great funky and fun band that plays a little local bar on Claiborne & Charles every Wednesday night at 8PM. It’s an early gig because it’s a neighborhood bar.

Remember the scene in Weird Science when the guys walk into that Blues bar? That’s how you’ll feel at one of these shows. Once the band starts playing, you’ll hear a mix of old school funk, classic rock covers like Willie & The Hand Jive and Magic Bus as well as Billy’s originals in the back corner of the bar as there is no stage. I guarantee you’ll be hooked. And with no cover, it’s one of the best bargains in town.

5) Michelle Shocked – Fais Do Do Stage @ The Jazz & Heritage Festival (May 5)

When I saw Michele Shocked’s name on the list of acts for the opening day of the second weekend and I knew there was nobody else I really cared to see before Wilco, I went to check her out. I’m glad I did. Her energy was infectious. And her songs were fun. The band was great and she brought out several local musicians including Paul Sanchez on guitar and Washboard Chaz. And Jazz Fest is about seeing different things and great combinations of players.

6) Warren Haynes @ Mahalia Jackson Theatre (May 5)

I was VERY excited to see what Warren’s new band of standout musicians with great funk and soul pedigrees could do to get Haynes back to his soulful roots. The answer: they do exactly what they are supposed to. The band is not the one that recorded the album. A few of the players are the same, but the “all stars” of the Man In Motion sessions are not available for a full tour. However, there is NOTHING I can criticize about this band.

Ron Johnson and Terence Higgins lock in to produce a fat bottom end as the rhythm section. Ron Holloway’s sax adds great flourishes to the material. Ruthie Foster, a great singer in her own right, helps to take the vocals over the top. And in Nigel Hall, Warren has a superstar in the making on keys. But this show was all about the guests!

George Porter opened the show on bass and vocals. They did a great version of When Doves Cry that segued into Beautifully Broken. Walter “Wolfman” Washington played on two songs (This qualified as making sure I didn’t leave NOLA without seeing the Wolfman!) But the real highlight of the evening was Trombone Shorty and Brian Stoltz sitting in for Allen Toussaint’s On Your Way Down. Any party Haynes hosts is one worth attending.


7) Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe’s Cinco de Mayo party  @ Tipitina’s (May 6)

If you go to the Fest, please make sure to suck it up one night and catch a 2AM show somewhere. All the clubs have them. They have a regular show, clear the house and a whole different band comes in. This performance was two sets of KDTU in their prime. And not only do the Funkateers know where to take their partying till dawn, but so do the other musicians.

There were plenty of guests on stage: Ivan Neville, Taylor Hicks, Nigel Hall, Terence Higgins (for the whole set), Marco Benevento, Tony Hall and about 50 horn players. There were also a whole lot of them hanging around backstage: Sam Kinninger, Papa Mali, Eric Krasno, Nikki Glaspie. To be honest I don’t even really know who got up and played. It was all a whirlwind. But I do remember Taylor Hicks signing and blowing harp on Wall Of Voodoo’s Mexican Radio. And I do remember the party backstage, side stage and in front of stage for almost four hours. I also recall sharing a cab with a group of beat up partyers at about 6:15AM as the sun was coming up. And if you go to Fest, you should find your own sunrise to experience…ON YOUR WAY TO BED.

8) The Funky Meters & Galactic @ Mahalia Jackson Theatre (May 6)

[Disclaimer: I am a Funk Junkie. And George Porter & The Meters are amongst my main fixes.] I first discovered The Meters as the band along with Lowell George on Robert Palmer’s classic album Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley. I was fortunate to be there in November of 2000 when the original four members reunited for the first time in many years to play the Warfield in San Francisco. However, the version that I saw regularly from college until about five years ago was the Funky Meters line-up of George Porter on bass, Art “Poppa Funk” Neville on keys, Brian Stoltz on guitar and Russell Batiste on drums. But I had never seen them in their hometown!

So here I was at a show that intrigued me: the original & mainly instrumental funk pioneers from N’awlins opening for the white guys that I always thought just wanted to be The Meters. Sure Galactic are ultra-talented. But I never fully got it. And I really never got into their albums or thoroughly enjoyed a show, but I always loved their side projects (see Dragon Smoke above). The Funky Meters were great. After three shows at Brooklyn Bowl earlier in the year and a tour of Australia, they were playing really tight. And as George smiled, so did we all.

Then it was over and I was unsure if I really wanted to see a full Galactic show. What happened next was incredible. Both bands took the stage for a two-song “super jam.” The first was a cover of Allen Toussaint’s Night People made famous by Lee Dorsey (but also covered by Robert Palmer) that Corey Glover fronted. Then they went in to The Meters Cabbage Alley.

After that, Galactic took the stage. And you know what? They were excellent. Their slinky grooves without a lot of that studio effect stuff on their last few albums sounded REAL. Stanton Moore propelled the band along with the help of Robert Mercurio. And Corey Glover sat in for about a quarter of the show. And to top it all off, they were really the only act that I saw in a week who had a real light show with staging. The addition of the colorful lights helped take things to another level, so funk me for thinking any differently before the show. My bad.

9) Blind Boy Roy on the corner of Toulouse & Royal (May 7)

[So you’re getting more like my Top 12. Consider this one a bonus] Street musicians are a big part of what makes New Orleans a special place. And they are all over the French Quarter. It pains me to say that I literally sat on the sidewalk listening shooting and talking to this man for 30 minutes and somehow lost the video clip of him performing his song Till The River Runs Dry just for me. But Roy playing his beat up old Strat through a little Peavy amp was revelatory.

In the half hour I had to kill before walking back into One Eyed Jacks to see the Bear Creek All Stars, I was able to check off the category of street music. Don’t go to the Big Easy and make the mistake of not stopping and legitimately listening to one of these fine musicians.

10) Bear Creek All Stars @ One Eyed Jacks (May 7)

It’s probably worth mentioning that most 2AM shows don’t start until closer to 3AM. Hopefully they are worth the wait. If you are lucky, you will walk into the club to find a DJ spinning killer funk music who also happens to be the guitar player you are about to see. At least that was the case with Eric Krasno.

So who exactly was this band that had me back at what was fast becoming one of my favorite clubs in town? They were: Eric Krasno on guitar, Skerik on saxophone, Ivan Neville on keys and vocals, Alan Evans on drums and Kirk Joseph on sousaphone. They played the usual mix of funk and rock and they are all great musicians. Ivan makes a great ringleader for any party and during Jazz Fest, he seems to be at most of them. Krasno plays guitar like few others. Add in a guest appearance by Kofi Burbridge on keys for a take on the King Curtis classic Soul Serenade and you end up in pure ecstasy.


11) Eric Lindell @ dba (May 7)

Let me start out with two remarks. The first is that Eric is a friend and from his set at the Threadhead party through his Sunday night show back at One Eyed Jacks I saw him five times. Only George, who I also consider a friend, came close with me seeing him three times.  The second is that at least once during your musical adventures at the Fest something will occur that feels like seismic activity. And the best part: you don’t need alcohol or drugs for this to occur!

Eric and his band were playing a great first set at dba. The rhythm section of Will McMains on drums and Myles Weeks on double bass was cookin’. And when Eric’s ringer on sax, Derek Houston showed up a few songs late with his friend Paul in tow, the horns really took the set from a slow simmer to a bubbling stew. But when Lady Tambourine jumped up onstage for Country Livin’ it seemed that the pressure cooker was going to explode. When she reappeared in the second set for a take on Bo Diddley’s You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover her interplay with Will McMains made it seem like the roof might cave in at any moment. Good thing it didn’t. Eric was having as much fun as the audience based on the perma-grin he was wearing. This was my FIRST seismic moment!


12) Michael Franti & Spearhead – Gentilly Stage @ The Jazz & Heritage Festival (May 8)

Franti is one of the most intelligent lyricists around today and he can go from rock to reggae to funk to soul to dancehall and back again in the course of a song let alone the set. Unlike a lot of great lyricists, he actually writes great songs that can garner airplay like The Sound Of Sunshine and Say Hey (I Love You). He also throws in a cover like Steve Miller’s The Joker, runs into the crowd several times to sing and dance and pogo around. This was the single best performance at the field itself during my second weekend experience.


13) Funky Butt Revisited @ Blue Nile (May 8)

I already mentioned how incredible musicians jamming together in unlikely combinations is probably the greatest thing about music during the festival. Count this show as one of the best. I split my time this final night between Lindell at One Eyed Jacks and this great venue on Frenchmen Street. I had yet to see Big Sam all week, and as he is another musical friend of mine, I was feeling a bit of Jewish guilt. I had this one on my calendar for weeks already, and with a lineup like this, nothing short of greatness was expected. But imagine getting a second seismic event?!? Funky Butt was Big Sam Williams on trombone, Maurice Brown on trumpet, Terence Higgins on drums, Doug Wimbish on bass, Marco Benevento on keys and Roosevelt Collier on sacred steel. How’s that for a lineup?

During the time I was there they were joined by a second trombone player I didn’t recognize, Khris Royal on saxophone and Robert Randolph taking over on sacred steel with his sister Lenesha singing. And yes, Randolph was the 7.0 on the Richter scale. Luckily for the citizens of a town practically demolished by Katrina, nobody beyond the walls of the Blue Nile felt a thing. But if you were in there, you knew what you were seeing. And if you were making a Top Ten list, you’d know why this had to be on there as lucky #13!

So those were the 13 best things I saw in New Orleans. I’m like Rob, Dick and Barry. I think about these things all day long. But at the end of the day, how do you choose?

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One Response

  1. This is just too delightful!! YES INDEED YOU HAVE CAPTURED the Shock Awe and Unigueness that is Jazzfest.
    “The second is that at least once during your musical adventures at the Fest something will occur that feels like seismic activity. And the best part: you don’t need alcohol or drugs for this to occur!”
    Yeah You Right! Great Article and Photos

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