Photos by Dino Perrucci
After a three-day break, music resumed on the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival’s fairgrounds on Thursday, May 2 for four final days of music in the 44th annual celebration. This year’s JazzFest might have been marked by wet, muddy and cold weather, but that certainly didn’t take away from the many stellar performances that brought this year’s festival to a spectacular close.
On Thursday, May 2, coinciding headliners Widespread Panic and Patti Smith attracted throngs of festival-goers to their respective stages for shows that were plagued by steady rainfall throughout the evening. Widespread Panic delivered a set filled with extended grooves for two-and-a-half-hours on the Acura Stage, in a show that was almost twice as long as any other performer on Thursday. The Southern jamband giants’ dedicated fans did their best to ignore the inclement weather and enjoy the marathon show, which included an appropriate version of the song “Hatfield,” with numerous lyrics referencing rain and mud. (Highlights from the show are available here )
Meanwhile on the Gentilly Stage, proto-punk legend Patti Smith kept her fans enthralled during a set that started and ended with tracks from her highly-influential 1975 debut album, Horses (“Redondo Beach” and a cover of Them’s “Gloria,” respectively). Before playing “Distant Fingers,” Smith regaled the crowd with a story about her time at CBGB’s, and she dedicated “Ghost Dance” to all those in New Orleans who were affected by Hurricane Katrina. Apart from several tracks from last year’s Banga, Smith also performed a sublime cover of Neil Young’s “It’s A Dream” as well as a string of ‘60s garage-rock classics including The Seeds’ “Pushin’ Too Hard” and The Blues Magoos’ “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet.”
Friday’s performers included afternoon and early evening sets from Louisiana locals Papa Grows Funk, Marc Broussard and Tab Benoit, while Maroon 5, Willie Nelson & Family and Jimmy Cliff all held down headlining slots. Willie Nelson’s fans held up numerous signs wishing him a happy 80th birthday, and the country giant and his backing band cruised through a set that opened with “Whiskey River” and included classics such as “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Crazy,” “You Were Always on My Mind,” and a nod to the host city with a version of “City of New Orleans.” Nelson also sang a trio of Hank Williams songs: “Jambalaya,” “Hey Good Lookin’,” and “Move It on Over,” before being joined by Williams’ granddaughter Holly Williams (who also performed an earlier set at JazzFest) and Marcia Ball for the final songs of his show: “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” “I Saw the Light” and “I’ll Fly Away.”
Jamaican reggae pioneer Jimmy Cliff delivered a career-spanning set on Friday night that included songs from his recent Grammy-winning album Rebirth (including a reworked version of his megahit “Vietnam” with lyrics changed to reference “Afghanistan”) and tracks from The Harder They Come soundtrack, which turns 40 years old this year. Cliff also sang a cover version of the crowd favorite “I Can See Clearly Now,” which was especially apropos given the weather conditions that hung over the Fair Grounds all weekend.
On Saturday night, the tens of thousands of JazzFest attendees had their choice of four more big-ticket performers: Fleetwood Mac, Phoenix, Frank Ocean and Los Lobos. The biggest crowd flocked to Fleetwood Mac, who are currently in the midst of a massive arena tour with their almost-classic lineup (minus Christine McVie). The two-and-a-half hour show featured a setlist of hits and rarities, as well as two tracks from the band’s recently released EP. The mega-hits such as “Rhiannon,” “Go Your Own Way” and “Don’t Stop” were all present, but the set climax was arguably “Landslide.” An unexpected treat was Stevie Nicks performing the chorus of her solo song “New Orleans” (from 2011’s In Your Dreams) a cappella.
French pop quartet Phoenix drew the younger JazzFest attendees with their energetic alt-rock set. More than half of the songs played were taken from the band’s 2009 breakthrough album Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but songs from their latest release Bankrupt! were also offered, including set opener, “Entertainment.” At the same time, Los Lobos brought out lap steel guitarist Roosevelt Collier during their set for several songs, including “I Got Loaded” and Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy.” The dueling guitar solos kept fans dancing through the set-closing “Rosa Lee,” before the band’s encore of “Not Fade Away” and “Bertha,” which left everyone in attendance overjoyed.
The final day of JazzFest on Sunday still held a few more surprises and special moments. In the early afternoon, The Meter Men (featuring original Meters George Porter Jr., Leo Nocentelli, Zigaboo Modeliste and Phish’s Page McConnell) took the main Acura Stage for a set of funk with jammed out Meters classics such as “Fire on the Bayou” and “Hey Pocky Way.” The Black Keys took the same stage later in the afternoon for an electric, powerful blues-rock set filled with songs from throughout the duo’s career. The Grammy-winning song “Lonely Boy” from El Camino featured a sing-a-long with the crowd, and an unrelenting, rocking version of “Gold on the Ceiling” was the set highlight.
A highlight of the entire festival was Del McCoury Band’s set with Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The 75-minute set found the bluegrass band performing one song before the jazz band performed one and then the two would combine forces. The contrast created a unique musical experience that left attendees buzzing. Daryl Hall & John Oates, the best-selling duo in the history of music, delivered a headlining set filled with their classic pop hits such as “Rich Girl” and “You Make My Dreams Come True,” offered up with new arrangements that made the familiar tunes seem fresh.
Since 1990, The Neville Brothers have closed JazzFest almost every year, but this year Aaron Neville performed a solo set with offerings from his latest solo album, My True Story, and various songs from both The Neville Brothers’ and his own catalogs, including “Tell It Like It Is,” “Everybody Plays the Fool” and his 1989 hit with Linda Ronstadt, “Don’t Know Much.” Aaron’s five-piece backing band included his brother Charles on saxophone, and the R&B legend also sang stunning versions of “Amazing Grace” and the Sam Cooke classic, “A Change Is Gonna Come.” (Art, Cyril and Charles Neville performed at the Fairgrounds with their new The Nevilles project last weekend.)
While Aaron Neville performed his set, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue delivered their own JazzFest closing performance with twelve songs that touched on jazz, rock and funk that left the crow enraptured. In their first JazzFest headlining slot, the band powered through two opening instrumentals (“Liar Liar” and “Suburbia”) before playing songs such “Mrs. Orleans” and “On Your Way Down.” As Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews marched through the audience at the end of the set with his trombone in one hand and his trumpet in the other before saying goodbye to the thrilled crowd, he left no doubt that he had earned his spot there and single-handedly brought JazzFest 2013 to a close.
For a look at JazzFest’s first weekend, please click here.