2012 was yet another amazing year for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Besides the festival, there is music all over the city around the clock. Neil Ferguson ventured down to the Big Easy to get in on the fun. Photography by Andy Pareti and Neil Ferguson.
Photo gallery below review!
New Orleans is a city possessed by an understanding of the simplest yet richest experiences in life. Eating incredible food, sipping refreshing cocktails while strolling a street lined with magnolia trees, and seeing music music music… There’s an understanding in this city that the culture of a place needs to be embraced and shared among it's inhabitants, and not paved over to make room for Disney Land. With it’s long and colorful history, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival may be the embodiment of the Crescent City, and if you take what makes New Orleans magical and bottle it all in to one festival that is what you get.
It’s not just the music that makes Jazz Fest a different experience. Find me another festival where you can order a crawfish pie, crabmeat stuffed shrimp, or pecan catfish with meuniere, and enjoy that savory dish while watching a parade of vibrantly colored Mardi Gras Indians march through the festival grounds. Festivalgoers treat the event as a holiday and when you’re inside the gates you are part of a collective spirit that shares a love of music and the city of New Orleans. Which brings me back to the music…
With so many stages and acts, Jazz Fest is a perfect storm of music, melody, and revelry. Major headliners like The Beach Boys, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, and Bruce Springsteen bring in hoards of dedicated fans and put their best in to playing because it’s New Orleans and anything less than the best would be a disappointment. Seeing actor John Stamos (yes…from Full House) introduce The Beach Boys and play drums, guitar, and even bongos with them was a hilariously bizarre concert moment that will most likely never occur again anywhere else but Jazz Fest. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band delivered a nearly three hour performance that was filled with passion and undying love for the Crescent City. The Boss played a mix of old and new songs while preaching to his loyal audience. He even brought out the legendary Dr. John to administer some musical medicine with the R & B tune, “Something You Got.” If Bruce ran for president I’m pretty sure he would get the votes of every single person in that crowd.
The same energy you will find seeing headliners can also be found at the smallest stages, where bands keep the “Jazz & Heritage” portion of the festival alive. Drifting from a soulful sermon at the gospel tent to bluesman Eric Lindell rocking out thoroughly and getting people jumping out of their seats in the blues tent. Passing by the brightly colored Comanche Hunters Mardi Gras Indians as they lead the crowd in traditional chanting and drumming is something you will never witness at any other festival, and at Jazz Fest it fits perfectly in to the environment. Leaving Bruce Springsteen to enjoy the soothingly sensual sounds of Al Green, only to end up catching Sunpie & the Louisiana Hotspots as they hold their International Accordion Summit and get people from all walks of life dancing out the first weekend of the festival in zydeco bliss. All of these moments are special and set Jazz Fest apart from the loads of generic festivals that all share the same lineup and have become standard entertainment fare for the masses.
Nighttime is the right time during the week of Jazz Fest, and if you make it through the day and still crave more music, than you can fulfill that desire all over town. On Friday we chose to do it up proper with a late night Galactic show at the legendary Tipitina’s in Uptown. Galactic has become a major touring act, and with the help of the two Corey’s (Corey Glover of Living Colour and Corey Henry of Rebirth Brass Band) on vocals the band is able to hit funky highs like never before. After seeing this band for years all over the country it comes as no surprise that the band are at their finest when playing under the Professor Longhair blessed roof of Tipitina’s. Playing until almost 5 in the morning, Galactic and the two Corey’s ripped through song after song of that gritty New Orleans funk.
Saturday night was a triple bill featuring Anders Osborne, 7 Walkers, and Leftover Salmon; a mini festival in itself. Anders Osborne kicked off the night with his own brand of psychedelic Louisiana blues. Supported by his hard-rocking and hard-working band Osborne is that rare type of musician who is both an incredibly talented songwriter and guitar player. 7 Walkers gave the crowd their dose of Dead tunes infused with Papa Mali’s laid back swamp jams, but were strangely missing George Porter Jr. on bass. They managed to fill in the bassy backbone of the music with Kirk Joseph of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band blowing away on his sousaphone. Classifying themselves as “polyethnic Cajun slamgrass,” Leftover Salmon were ideally suited to headline this show at the Howlin’ Wolf. For lovers of bluegrass and Cajun music, Leftover Salmon brings the best of both worlds. Drew Emmitt on mandolin and Andy Thorn on banjo keep the bluegrass sound prevalent, but the band’s love for Louisiana music shines during any set. Balancing Jazz Fest and all the late night shows is a challenging feat that requires just the right amount of alcohol and perseverance, but if you know how to pace and have the right spirit you can see music 24 hours a day for the entire week of the festival, and that ain’t bad!
Jazz Fest brings in massive crowds and is often met with disdain by locals who feel that as the festival continues to grow and cross in to the mainstream it is losing character. This may be true, but I can take comfort in the fact that I didn’t spot a single Apple computer on stage or see one fluorescent tank top wearing frat boy throwing glow sticks. Until they start booking acts like Kanye West and Skrillex I can’t imagine the festival will lose too much character. The food and music are still great, and the amount of scenesters found in abundance at similarly sized festivals like ACL and Coachella is low. With that, I bid adieu to Jazz Fest…until next year! Les bon temps rouler!
Follow The Horn Media and Music on Twitter!