New Orleans, Louisiana; May 3, 2015—With visions of Saturday’s human gridlock dancing in my head, I made my way, on the final day of the 46th edition of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell, to witness Big Chief Kevin Goodman & The Flaming Arrows Mardi Gras Indians. Would this day be hassle-free like Friday or fraught with Elton John fans who refused to move despite plopping their tarps and lawnchairs down in exit lanes on Saturday?

Human traffic was moving so I dared to criss-cross the perimeter to catch half of Feufollet’s set and half of the Storyville Stompers Brass Band’s set. Both were transcendently magnificent, carrying me up and away into a collective cloud swirl of horns, accordions, French lyrics and saints that just kept marchin’ in.

I knew The Meters were on the Acura big stage so I cut my dancing short, started a crawfish run, hit the press tent and wandered over in the sun—dazed and happy—to catch this most classic of Bayou funk bands. The Meters started in 1965. It’s them on oh-so-many hits by Dr. John, Paul McCartney, Robert Palmer, Lee Dorsey and Allen Toussaint. It’s them who—along with James Brown—propelled funk into the national 1970s conversation. If you’ve never heard “Cissy Strut” or “Look-Ka Py Py,” you’ve got some homework. They’ve had some Neville Brothers in their ranks and they must be the only band in history spawning a tribute band (The Funky Meters) containing band members of the band that they’re in tribute of! Seeing The Meters in New Orleans is like seeing The Beatles in Liverpool, Elvis in Memphis, Hank Williams in Nashville or Nirvana in Seattle. The crowds were getting humongous but everyone was moving. Even if they were standing still.

Suffice it to say The Meters were spectacular.

Over at the jazz tent, John Boutte was crooning so beautifully, women were weeping. He sang Edith Piaf’s 1946 “La Vie En Rose” so transcendently, time itself stopped, and the tent quieted (no small feat). He gave Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On A Wire” the kind of meaning that the author himself couldn’t coax out of his own song. It was a stunning demonstration of vocalese yet when he broke into the Treme theme song, we all got up and shouted it back at him—“down in the Treme/it’s me and my baby/we’re all goin’ crazy/just jumpin’ and havin’ fun”—over and over until it became a mantra. When he left the stage, we were sweating from hearty partying.

Now came the big decision. Lenny Kravitz was at one end of the Fair Grounds Race Course and Steve Winwood was at the other. The walk between them was 20 minutes or so what with the crowds and all. Trumpeter Kermit Ruffins was doing his Louis Armstrong tribute, Big Chief Bo Dollis, Jr. & The Wild Magnolias were in full bloom and The Blind Boys Of Alabama were rockin’ the gospel tent. Still, considering the sun, the crowds, the geography and the fact that if I didn’t go see the legendary patriarch of the Marsalis clan, Ellis Marsalis on his 80th birthday, who knows if I’d ever get to witness his Monk-inspired pianistics ever again? And hey, I figured, maybe his famous sons Wynton and Branford would show up (they didn’t) but his youngest son, drummer Jason Marsalis, put on quite a show. Plus, it was always a good bet to let the headliners siphon off the masses so instead of standing under a broiling sun hundreds of people deep. As a solo, I could peruse the perimeter of the Marsalis crowd and find myself a seat up front. Which I did. The NOCCA Allstar Alumni Jazz Jam was the perfect choice for it was there I got to see the grand old man himself and his pupils, one of which blew me away.

His name is Marlon Jordan. He looks like Louis Armstrong. He moves like Pops too. He has a natural way of entertaining whereby his body twitches with each note of his trumpet. I thought I died and went to heaven to see Satchmo himself. Of course, it was only Marlon Jordan but the effect was mesmerizing and this kid is going to be a huge star long after I’m dust.

There was time for only one more thrill.

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue would seem to be the natural choice. Who knew Lenny Kravitz would be coming out to jam with him? My hero Dr. John was on the other big stage at the opposite end of the racetrack but I knew he was also coming to my hometown a month later. Buddy Guy was in the blues tent. Country singer Kacey Musgraves was on the Fais Do-Do stage. I, though, was headed to see Norbert Susemihl’s New Orleans All Stars & red hot mama Wanda Rouzan when I got sidetracked and ended up back in the jazz tent for the Christian McBride Big Band with special guests Dianne Reeves and Jeffrey Osborne.

Reeves was everything Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald used to be. The Big Band, under bassist McBride’s direction, kicked like an angry mule and blew us all away.

Then came the dopey Osborne. Man, he stunk! It seemed like every song he attempted to sing was too low for his limited key. And he compounded his unworthiness by threatening to sing some of his hits when he was with L.T.D. (as if we would really really want to hear them). Finally, he did, indeed, revert back to his former band but at that point, I couldn’t take him anymore and the 2015 fest was over.

They say “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show” and I ain’t callin’ Osborne a monkey—I would never—but in this case, the 1950 song, as first written and recorded by Stick McGhee, applies. Osborne was truly awful but the music from prior sets is still with me as I sit here and type in Pennsylvania.

Next year’s festival is set for April 22 through May 1 and info can be accessed at nojazzfest.com.

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