Thunder, lightning and heavy rain marked the first day of the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage. The downpour started early Friday afternoon and continued until around 5 PM. Though most of the day’s Fairgrounds entertainment continued as planed, the festival’s outdoor stages were temporarily shutdown. Fans flocked to JazzFest’s many covered tent performance spaces to seek shelter and braved the rain to see groups like George Clinton & P-Funk.
The weather started to clear before the festival’s late afternoon headliners took the stage. Lionel Richie, one of the festival’s few mainstream headliners, closed JazzFest’s main Acura Stage with a parade of hits from both his solo career and work with The Commodores. In-between sing-along songs like “All Night Song” and “Brick House,” Richie referenced the rain and thanked fans from weathering the storm. “I was telling the band, out West it rains and the show is canceled,” Richie told the crowd. “Down South you only get louder.”
He appeared in good spirits, alternating between piano and a wireless microphone for most of the show. His band also teased Van Halen’s “Jump” partway through its set. “This is the Jazz Fest—you know the songs better than I do,” Richie said while encouraging the crowd to sing with him.
Elsewhere, the Black Crowes headlined JazzFest’s Gentilly Stage with the southern rock jamband’s own variation of a greatest hits set. The performance kicked off a year-long tour that will culminate in an extended hiatus form the group in December. The band relied on its best known material—the show opened with “Sting Me” and included “Jealous Again,” “Twice As Hard,” “Soul Singing,” “Thorn in My Pride,” “Hard To Handle,” “She Talks To Angels” and “Remedy.” Black Crowes guitarist Luther Dickinson and keyboardist Adam MacDougall stayed around the area and sat in with Hill Country Revue later in the night at Tipitina’s French Quarter. Hill Country Revue featured members of Dickinson’s other band, North Mississippi Allstars.
Jazz Fest’s opening day also featured marquee sets from blues guitarist Elvin Bishop, reggae veterans Steel Pulse, New Orleans rockers Rotary Downs and local pioneer Dr. John.
New Orleans’ musical late night offerings continued throughout the city’s maze of clubs. Eric Lindell, Anders Osborne feat The Stanton Moore Trio and Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers all performed at the Rock ‘N’ Bowl. Marco Benevento led a band at Tipitina’s French Quarter that featured drummer Billy Martin (MMW), bassist Dave Dreiwitz (Ween) and local trombone favorite Mark Mullins (Bonerama), while George Porter Jr. played an extremely late night show with one of his current projects the Runnin’ Pardners at the venue.
Legendary New Orleans clubs The Howlin Wolf and Tipitina’s hosted somewhat interlocking shows. The Howlin Wolf’s headliners included soul-revivalists Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings and New Orleans funk-torchbearer Ivan Neville and Dumpstaphunk. Both groups invited numerous girls onstage to dance during their performances. Still visibly tired from their recent travel complications—the group was marooned in Europe due to complications stemming from the recent volcano in Iceland—Jones and company played a tight 90-minute set that culminated with the title-track of the band’s previous release, 100 Days, 100 Nights. Dressed in a sequenced green dress, Jones sounded as polished as ever though and even apologized to the crowd for “being a little tired today.” Dumpstaphunk kicked off its set of loud, dirty funk around 12: 15 AM and welcomed numerous guests to the stage, including saxophonist Skerik and Cyril Neville of the Neville Brothers. Ivan Neville also reminded the crowd to “pace themselves” and mentioned that he planned to “get some sleep and go on a diet” when the festival was over—in two weeks.
As Dumpstaphunk’s set came to a close, Galactic kicked off its 2:30 AM performance at Tipitina’s. The oversold show featured the group’s recent collaborator Corey Henry on woodwinds and vocals, as well as appearances by both Cyril and Ivan Neville (they arrived at the club right after their show came to an end at Howlin Wolf). The members of Galactic proudly declared that Cyril Neville was “home” when he took the stage and proceeded to play the first song the singer recorded in 1969. Music stretched until sunrise.