The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival kicked off this past weekend with gracious southern hospitality from the Crescent City and its rich musical landscape. Over the next ten days, the cool heat of New Orleans will be where the sonic vibes are very alive, a cauldron teeming with the pure essence of live music!

Everything good about life will swirl around you at The Fest, as the samba from one stage segues so smoothly into a creative creole crawfish casserole. You will then find yourself melding seamlessly into another performance of deep grooves as musicians from around the world converge for your listening pleasure. To put it for you in one sentence, New Orleans JazzFest is a blissfull combination of the greatest music and food in the world - enjoy!

Arriving at the Fairgrounds Friday morning, we immediately headed to the Soft-Shelled Crab Po-boy tent, site of last year's top food experience in our book. This dish gave us the solid foundation needed to begin our fest quests. Within a few hours of arriving we had consumed healthy portions of Crawfish in a Sack, Crawfish Etouffe, Crawfish Bread, Crawfish Pie, and Boiled Crawfish, as well as White Chocolate Bread Pudding, Sweet Potato Pone, Blackberry Sorbet, multiple Mango Freezes, and hundreds of Strawberry Lemonades to wash it all down. Lets of course not forget the ultimate mouthwatering southern delight, our good old friend and lover, the one, the only - Crawfish Monica. Moving through the days on the fairgrounds, our bellies would continue to stay filled with musical explorations from generations past and present.

The morning gospel of The Showers Family started the day and gave way to local fixtures like Clyde Kerr (with his incredible band of students, Univision) and notable nicknames Clarence "Frogman" Henry and Kapori "Babywolf" Woods. The big names were there too, as legends like B.B. King and The Reverend Al Green rocked to tens of thousands of enamored fans on the largest of the festival's dozen stages.

The highlight of the day was clearly the incredible Super Rail Band of Mali on the Congo Square stage. What an amazing combination of textured guitar grooves and african tribal drumming, perfect for this hot afternoon. Their mixture of primal sounds and electric licks kept everyone grooving throughout their 80 minute set.

And that was just the first half of what seemed like a neverending 72 hour day! Friday night we kicked off the first of two consecutive late nights (and early mornings) at the Howlin' Wolf with Sound Tribe Sector 9. Aligning the forces of the weekend, the Sound Tribe transmitted their sonic wavelengths of positive energy with hundreds that stayed up until dawn broke.

Saturday began a bit later with breakfast of iced cafe au lait and beignets and the morning check of your soul at the Rhodes Gospel Tent. This morning it was The Heavenly Sent into The 2nd Nazarene Gospel Choir. "It feels good to watch happy people," said one little munchkin after her rendez-vous at the Gospel Tent. Some of the day's notable sets were turned in by Jon Cleary and The Absolute Monster Gentlemen, Los Hombres Calientes, and Buckwheat Zydeco. We caught the washboard blues of Jude Taylor and his Burning Flames for the 4:20 set before catching the end of the Funky Meters set on the big stage. I felt like I had just kissed my baby. Max Roach, along with Nicholas Payton's Louis Armstrong Centennial Celebration were two clear highlights in the jazz tent. You could feel the honor and tension in the air as one of the greatest jazz drummers of all time told from his archive of stories, reflecting on his experiences with some of the most respected jazzmen in history.

Once the festival ends for the day, you are set free to explore the music bustling out of the rest of the city. Besides all the favorite national acts that are in town, JazzFest veterans will tell you that it's all about the local musicians. There is no place beside New Orleans that you would find George Porter, Jr. kicking out a superbad "Sneakin' Sally" downstairs at the Rock N' Bowl while another band of raucous New Orleans funk was being thrown down upstairs, much to the delight of the midnight bowlers. After four hours of funk power, there's still no time for sleep, cause that was just the early show and there's plently more to come! Our "Sunday Morning" with The Disco Biscuits began at 3:30am and their signature trancefusion beats would ricochet off the walls until past 7am. While this show warrants its own novel, the short story reads as follows: It was sick!

As the show let out, people pondered aloud whether to sleep or go right to the fairgrounds. We killed a few spare hours with a rooftop swim before migrating back to the fairgrounds for the day. Sunday afternoon at the fest was packed with more great sets from New Orleans locals like Snooks Eaglin, The Iguanas, New Orleans Juice and the Rebirth Brass Band as well as Dr. John and Van Morrison closing out the day on the main stage. Our highlights were Femi Kuti over at the Congo Stage and Henry Butler, whose band just tore up at the beautiful Lagniappe stage in the Grandstands.

Garage a Trois was the early show of the night aboard the River Boat Cajun Queen, bringing new meaning to the word "rocking." The combination of Stanton Moore, Charlie Hunter and Skerik is so special one wishes there would be more opportunities during the year for these three to get together. Add Mike Dillon Critters Buggin, HairyApesBMX) on percussion to the mix and you have a unique and inspiring set by our own contemporary jazz supergroup with four of today's most innovative musicians. Finishing off the three day run with a late night Sector 9 show at the House of Blues seemed to bring everything full circle. Encoring with the "Baraka," they left us with a blessing to go off into the next morning...

The daze between which await will no doubt be filled with musical treasures of all kinds. In the meantime, we'll be getting some much need sleep as Thursday morning will come quickly and its back at the fairgrounds to start Weekend #2.

Check out some more photos from the fest!

[Published on: 4/30/01]

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