New Orleans is a unique, magical and vibrant city and the New Orleans Jazz and Heratige Festival is well in keeping. Just walking around the festival it’s likely you’ll be swept off your feet by a second line of brass and percussion instrumentalists parading down the street fronted by Indian Big Chiefs adorned in their crystal and feather traditional costumes. The food is gourmet yet cheap as chips, with fresh seafood, Creole and Cajun recipes the main feature. People dress as they please, sporting amazing, colorful parasols or bizarre outfits and everyone lives by the New Orleans motto, ‘you gotta do what you wanna!’
The music is no less varied and impressive. With 7 days of music I can’t cover it all but here are some standouts.
Janelle Monae made a big impact in her signature black and white tux and impressive dance moves. Her performance was packed with antics, she did a painting live on stage, had the entire audience and band laying on the ground for a good 5 mins before yelling ‘now get up!!’ with everyone bursting to their feet and gave a nod to the jazz world with an impressive version of jazz standard ‘Smile.’ The highlight came at the end of her encoure where she lept off stage, ran through the VIP section and jumped the barrier to the general admission area where she crowd surfed before running off into oblivion.
Herbie Hancock was joined by an impressive line up of band mates and they started with an original song written by the guitarist called ’17’ in the time signature of 17, which eventually morphed into ‘Watermelon man’ arranged in 17. His moved on to use his Vocoda which was the talk of the festival for the rest of the night., those who saw it gasping with empathetic disappointment for those who admitted to missing the performance.
Feist gave a standout performance, with super high energy and a consuming stage presence, she held the audience in the palm of her hand, talking and joking with them as if everyone there were old friends. She worked musically with the band, playing guitar herself and often turning to face and play off the drummer or other members.
Ne-Yo had the audience jumping and eventually screaming hysterically as he performed topless during his encoure. A security guard even had to break up a fight between two girls each with one hand on the hat Ne-Yo threw out from on stage.
It was a different story over at Rodrigo y Gabriela where the security guards were linking arms are dancing in circles as the audience jumped up and down as one huge excited body.
The Stooges Big Band were packing a mean punch out on the large Congo Square Stage. Combining rapping and R&B vocal melodies with the authentic New Orleans big band sound, they performed the only hip hop songs I’ve ever heard with a sousaphone instead of bass. With their great music and energetic performance they had everyone dancing and I would have loved the chance to see them live again.
Irvin Mayfield and his jazz orchestra presented a polished and highly impressive set with many featured soloists in the band receiving standing ovations at the end of their solos. I was deeply impressed with the set and the professionalism and profound talent of everyone on stage. It was such a pleasure to attend the show.
In truth I only saw the last song in Henry Butler’s set but I was so blown away and I hope to be catching many more of his songs in the future. A super impressive double threat on keys and vocals, this guy has serious soul and did one of the best piano solos I’ve ever heard.
John Boutté was a big talking point of the festival, sadly I missed him but everyone I spoke to said he was fantastic.
Bon Iver impressed with his large orchestral band, delivering a moody and emotional set. Of course my favourite song of his ‘Skinny Love’ went off and it was a truly inspiring moment to be a part of.
Other fantastic acts included Ziggy Marley, GIVERS, Preservation Hall Band, local stars Kermit Ruffins, Dr. John, The Neville Brothers and so, so, so many more.
It was an outrageous 10 days in which I personally got a total of about 10 hours sleep. It’s 7 days at the festival with seperate concerts every night and a 3 day break in the middle which is PACKED with side shows in local venues and a contagious energy. If you can, you should get your ass over to this city and festival, I promise you won’t regret it.