Jazz Fest Weekend One: Startin’ Some Big “Mess” Here Today
April 27-29, 2012
Fair Grounds Race Course, New Orleans
There are lots of worthwhile music festivals out there these days. Coachella, Bumbershoot, Bonnaroo, Rhythm and Roots, and Lollapalooza are annual destinations for many, just to name a few. They all have one thing in common: they all studied, and to varying degrees mimicked, the multi-stage model of the New Orleans Jazz Fest.
But Jazz Fest has one thing that one thing that can't be copied: the Gulf region's built-in talent pool. Even though Hurricane Katrina scattered the city's cultural base, and some of the fertile urban funk has been gentrified, there still ain't nothin' like New Orleans. Or Jazz Fest.
The first Friday here has always been a favorite; it's like the Fest's musical spring blossoming after a barren winter. This year's opening day offers a full helping of true blue Louisiana fare, and I'm happy to see that Cajun dance "floor" that has formed to the right of Fais Do Do is especially full of two-steppers during another masterful set from Cajun kings Beausoleil.
Still, it's a shame that acts like Muddy Waters piano man Henry Gray, the brassy roots Revivalists, and the long-time gospel sanctifiers the Electrifying Crown Seekers take the stage before noon, before most Fest-goers' ears have fully arrived.
Me? After my 15-hour drive (who can afford to fly these days?) I head straight for the fortification of a dish of Crawfish Monica. Sufficiently energized I can now sway to the sharply arranged trumpet and slide trombone interlay of the Young Pinstripe Brass Band. Their sousaphone low end adds an extra street kick as they work Marvin Gaye's "Mercy Mercy Me" on the Jazz & Heritage Stage. Nearby Geno Delafose's incredibly dependable nouveau zydeco is already kicking the Fais Do Do crowd's butts to a higher ground. I'm one of them, so I miss Dee-1's politically fired raps over at Congo.
I follow the strutting parade and Mardi Gras chants of the Blackfoot Hunters over to catch jazz singer Leah Chase, daughter of bandleader/restaurateur Dooky Chase, and the top-shelf vamping of her band. As fans of American Idol's judges might point out, Leah's gutsy vocals have a tendency to be a bit "pitchy." But on "Baby Do Something" and a smoky version of Patsy Cline's "Crazy" that turns the Jazz Tent into a cool cocktail lounge, it really doesn't seem to matter.
I catch a little of soprano-voiced NOLA hard rockers Zebra and UK rock-poppers Gomez --always cool, even at Jazz Fest. Then mid-day I become fixed in front of what will prove to be the weekend's best find: Seun Kuti and the reformed Egypt 80 band. Suen leads his dad Fela's seminal group in a severely rhythmic rawness, with an echo of Fela that has kind of a Nigerian punk-hop edge. Instead of hardcore guitars, there are horns punching it out over charismatic poly-beats. Instead of hip-hop's booty shaking, the rear ends on stage pulsate so wildly that their fertility dance could coax flowers from a rock.