The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
Weekend Two, May 5-9,2011
As everyone knows the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presents more than jazz music and the second weekend of this year’s event was an indie rock bonanza as Wilco, Arcade Fire and the Strokes were featured in headlining slots. It was a move that had some festival goers scratching their head as they asked “Arcade who?” while delighting those who preferred these young hipper acts over artists like Jimmy Buffett.
Festival veterans Wilco closed the main Acura stage on Thursday, playing a set that featured some of the band’s better known material. The group’s current lineup is a well oiled machine and they know how to deliver a tight, well constructed show that bodes well with a sun soaked crowd. Opening with “Ashes of American Flags,” they delved into material from their vast catalog, favoring catchy rockers like “I’m the Man who Loves you,” over more experimental songs. Wearing shades and a dark jacket, front man Jeff Tweedy joked with the crowd and later treated them to a three song encore that concluded with perennial favorite “Heavy Metal Drummer.”
Arcade Fire had closing duties on Friday and delivered a phenomenal set that made them one of the most buzzed about acts at the festival. Fronted by Win Butler and his wife Regine Chassagne, the seven piece outfit performed material off all three of their albums with a passion and intensity unrivaled by more seasoned festival acts. From the punky, “Month of May” to the laidback “Modern Man,” Arcade Fire have a penchant of reinventing themselves with each song. The band seemed genuinely thrilled to be at the festival and made frequent refences to their love of New Orleans. The fun continued when during their encore they brought Cyndi Lauper on stage to sing her classic “ Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” Lauper stuck around to back the band on “Spraw II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”
Things didn’t bode so well for the Strokes who had the disadvantage of following hometown favorite Trombone Shorty, and then started their set 15 minutes late. Lead singer Julian Casablancas wore a black leather jacket despite the scorching heat, as he led the band through material off all four of their albums including some selection from their latest, “Angles.” The band clicked on songs like “Is that It” reminding us why they were once the next big thing, but overall they seemed like nocturnal creatures frightened by the sunshine. The band confirmed this by ending their set early.
The final day of the of the 2011 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was yet another day in the festival’s two weekend, seven day run that featured not only fantastic music but fantastic weather.
The day started off on a strong with a frantic performance by local rockers Cowboy Mouth. Lead singer/drummer Fred LeBlanc is a force to reckon with and kept the crowd moving from the minute the band took the stage. His intense energy was rivaled only by reggae rocker, Michael Franti, who was a non-stop whirlwind of motion- jumping, waving his arms in the air and frequently running out into the crowd.
In addition to being a day of all out energy the festival was marked by collaborations. Kid Rock brought local fave Trombone Shorty onstage to back him on “All Summer Long”, Robert Randolph welcomed slide guitarist Sonny Landreth for a series of songs including a blistering “Purple Haze,” Franti teamed with fiddler Amanda Shaw and Win Butler and Regine Chassagne of Arcade Fire joined RAM from Haiti, a band they have worked with in the past.
But the festival ended on its usual high note with hometown heroes the Neville Brothers closing out the event. But this year, the Neville’s annual performance was a bit eclipsed as 80 –year- old saxophone great, Sonny Rollins delighted the jazz fans and New Orleans based roots rockers, The Radiators made their final festival appearance after being a Jazzfest mainstay for many years. (After 33 years together the band will formerly call it quits in June.) The Radiators were joined by Warren Haynes, members of Bonerama and others making for a powerful show that proved a fitting farewell.