Eric Clapton easily drew the biggest crowd of Jazz Fest’s first weekend with yesterday’s headlining set at the Acura Stage. The legendary guitarist and his band—Andy Fairweather-Low (guitar), Henry Spinetti (drums), Dave Bronze (bass), Chris Stainton (keys), Sharon White and Michelle John (backing vocals)—delivered a low-key, blues-heavy set that was surprisingly short on his classic original material. While the show did feature original staples like “Tell The Truth” and an acoustic “Layla,” as well as classic covers like Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads,” JJ Cale’s “Cocaine” and Jimmy Cox’s “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out,” much of the massive audience was left disappointed by the lack of energy, especially after the performance wrapped up ten minutes ahead of schedule. Inconsistent sound in the back of the field didn’t help either, often leaving Charlie Wilson’s nearby show on the Congo Square Stage more audible than the main attraction.
While Clapton’s performance ended up being something of an anti-climax, the day was not without its musical highlights. New Orleans jazz virtuosos Astral Project brought a fantastic set to the Jazz Tent early in the afternoon. The quartet—Johnny Vidacovich (drums), Steve Masakowski (guitar), James Singleton (bass) and Tony Degradi (saxophone)—reminded everyone why their progressive, genre-bending style has been welcome at the festival for over 35 years.
North Mississippi Allstars introduced the crowd to their “world boogie” on the Acura Stage early in the afternoon as well. The trio, who are now touring with Lightnin Malcolm on bass, were followed by New Orleans soul/gospel/R&B icon Irma Thomas. Thomas—as much a Jazz Fest veteran as anyone—was backed by a 10-piece band for her set, which featured a great take on her 1960 hit “You Can Have My Husband But Please (Don’t Mess With My Man),” in addition to crowd-pleasing renditions of “Iko Iko” and Allen Toussaint’s “It’s Raining.”
Galactic rounded up a sizable crowd of their own around mid-afternoon for a high-energy show on the Samsung Galaxy Stage (formerly known as the Gentilly Stage). The funk-jam powerhouse got an extra boost from the indefatigable Mike Dillon, who joined them on percussion for the duration of their set. The band was also helped by frequent collaborator Maggie Koerner, who sat in for “Heart of Steel” and the recently released “Dolla Diva.” The band was then followed by the stage’s headliners—indie stars Vampire Weekend. Other acts that competed with Clapton included Charlie Wilson and Rodriguez, with the latter backed by local musicians Alex McMurray (guitar), John Fohl (bass) and Russ Broussard (drums) in the Blues Tent.
After things came to a close at the Fairgrounds, the music moved elsewhere. Marco Benevento, Skerik, Robert Walter, DJ Logic and Adam Deitch teamed up for a “Worship My Organ” show over at the Blue Nile early in the night. The quintet was then followed by a trio consisting of Eric Krasno, Stanton Moore and Wil Blades. Krasno had just returned from the Fiyawrapper Superjam, which saw him join forces with Dominic Lalli, David Murphy, Fred Wesley, Ike Stubbliefield, Jen Hartswick and Nikki Glaspie for a funky riverboat ride down the Mississippi River. Blades, on the other hand, had just returned from a “Beyond Jazz” show with Nicholas Payton, Donald Harrison and Mike Clark at the Little Gem Saloon.
Other late night parties included the Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and The London Souls at The House of Blues, as well as Tab Benoit, Sonny Landreth and Little Freddie King at the Rock ‘n’ Bowl. The Maple Leaf once again kept things going til sunrise, as Ivan Neville, Jon Cleary, Tony Hall, Raymond Weber and Big D Perkins’ “Maple Leaf Allstars” show was followed by a 3am performance by Deitch, Nigel Hall, Calvin Turner, Eric Benny Bloom and Ryan Zoidis.
The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival will continue on Thursday with a headlining performance by The String Cheese Incident.