Celebrating New Orleans’ Native Tongues: New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival – Weekend 1
Henry Gray’s keyboards are first thing I hear upon arriving at my 27th (or is it 28th?) straight Jazz Fest. It reminds me of a time a few years back, at an early Ponderosa Stomp, when I leaned on Gray’s piano while listening to him reunite with other blues legends from Muddy Waters’ and Howlin’ Wolf’s groups. It was spectacular. “This is the sh*t that inspired the Yardbirds and Stones to pick up guitars,” I thought, “and I’m hearing it like they did.” Recalling that revelation reminds me that even as the number of big touring acts included in the Fest lineup grows and grows, I still make the annual pilgrimage for the Henry Grays among the 500-plus acts performing at the New Orleans Jazz Fest over seven days divided between two weekends, acts that provoke my annual mad darting from stage to stage around the Fair Grounds Race Course where the festival is held. And it’s time to Start The Dart.
I catch some of the Friendly Travelers, who are in the Gospel Tent churning out churchy grooves that have a Gil Scott Heron smoothness, and hear some of Jamal Batiste’s JAM-ALL, a soulful hiphop big band, “do the right thing, just like Spike Lee.” I catch a the zydeco -soul strains of Charmaine Nevilles’s “Green Juice Man” at Congo Square as I crash over to hear the Soul Rebels at the big Gentilly Stage. But I can’t get closer than a few hundred feet to hear the brass-band kings – in sharp contrast to their gig last night at Le Bon Temps Roule, an Uptown watering hole. So I make my way over to the Fais Do Do stage for the Bruce Daigrepont Cajun Band.
Daigrepont’s crew, Tipitina’s Sunday house band for 27 years, is a Jazz Fest fixture. And today, their set reminds me that, while my goal is take home a handful of new-to-me musical experiences from Fest every year, encore performances can be just as satisfying. Daigrepont’s Cajun two-step party is rock solid, one of the best I’ve ever heard from him. And I’m happy to find that the set is one that is being recorded live and available on CD, for me to take home. Next up, Corey Ledet & his Zydeco Band keep up the heat with their own tight party-band grooves, and I’ve just heard two more Fais Do Do acts that could turn even a morgue into a dancehall.