(Photo by Zack Smith)
New Orleans, Louisiana. May 1, 2015—The Fair Grounds Race Course had first been dumped with rain at the outset of the April 24-May 3 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell. My three days at the end were beautiful and as I made my way to the Gospel Tent to start the festivities with the Zulu Male Ensemble, I could already smell the crawfish beignets calling out to me. Strolling over to catch trumpeter Chris Clifton, I noticed a traditional Second Line breaking out that snaked throughout the crowd. It was still morning but I ran to buy an umbrella. Brought to Gulf Coast ports from Africa hundreds of years ago, any Second Line is just the folks who are digging the music enough to follow the band on parade (the band being the first line). And most second liners twirl a small umbrella while parading along. It’s a joyous occasion. Racing back to the stage with my umbrella in my hand, the set was over but I vowed to not go home until I danced on one of those lines.
The High Steppers Brass Band sure got me dancing but no lines broke out.
On the big Acura Stage where the headliners played, we stood and watched Johnny Sketch & The Dirty Notes, a rambunctious party animal of a band who had us constantly in motion under the hot sun while sippin’n’spillin’ frozen daiquiris. But my passion centered on regional wonderment so off I went to find The White Cloud Hunters Mardi Gras Indians. Festooned with plumage, their colorful costumes were the perfect dazzle in which to sway to their percussive call’n’response folk soul. I was in the tradition! Thrilled to soak it all up. Let the May 1 headliners—No Doubt, Chicago, Galactic featuring Macy Gray—suck up all the people, I wanted the real thing. Hell, I was in the Crescent City! The Big Easy! I had watched enough episodes of Treme wide-eyed and envious at the people grooving to Cajun, Zydeco, Americana, Blues’n’Boogie and real jazz to know that my third time in this magical town would be my debut at the one American festival that would be pure heaven for me.
Then I lost my hat.
I knew I couldn’t survive three days in the Deep South elements without my backpack of bottled waters, towel, meds, lip balm, sunscreen and other assorted creature comforts. I had been ordered to get my $84 Tilley hat by my dermatologist. It’s waterproof, sunproof and could survive a zombie apocalypse and I had left it in the press tent. My search caused me to miss most of saxophonist Donald Harrison’s set but upon finding it (what were the odds of that?) after an hour of panic, I groooooooved to the great man’s finesse, utter cool and he even had some Big Chiefs onstage with him.
Trekking to the blues tent was no problem. The crowds were HUGE. The sun was ferocious. The people were friendly. And The Voice Of The Wetlands All-Stars were ending the first day with some power-packed blues. This collective, depending upon the day, is a supergroup that often includes Dr. John, the swamp-rock bluesman Tab Benoit, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, singer/songwriter Anders Osborne, Cajun fiddler Waylon Thibodeaux, harmonica/accordion player Johnny Sansone and percussionist Cyril Neville of the Neville Brothers.
The day ended with Rockin’ Dopsie, Jr. & The Zydeco Twisters at the Fais Do-Do Stage.
Tired from eight hours of sun-drenched festing from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., we had our gal pick us up on Gentilly to continue the party that night on Bourbon Street in The French Quarter. Little did I know that the following day of musical heaven would veer close to hell.
[Continued Next Week]