JazzFest is a place and a time. A place and a time where you try to tell your body that sleep and sustenance are no longer required... that you can love this life for four days and enjoy the intensity of it all before having to return to the sanity of the real world. A place where your nights blend into mornings, and you do your best to heighten all of your senses in full enjoyment of the phenomenon known as NOLA.

We rode the ferry across the Ole’ Miss to the Old Point Bar, and arrived in Algiers Point to find Stanton Moore sporting a big smiley face... the yin being combated by the yang of the Astral Project's drummer, Johnny Vidacovich, flashing menacing grins right back at Stanton.

The stage is set with drummers flanked up front. Stanton to the right, Johnny front left, with Galactic's keyboardist, Rich Vogel, supporting Stanton and the maniacal Kramer hair-doed upright bassist Jim Singleton (also from Astral Project) behind Johnny, plugging away at the lengths of his strings. On sax and flute was Karl Denson, strategically positioned between the two halves as the balance and lead between the two tumbling sources... bleating leads, dashing in and out where he sees fit, darting his lines through the counter-punches.

At one point leading Karl led with a throaty flute solo, then rapped: “New Orleans in an uproar: 2001!” looking for a call and response to get the crowd to chant along. Hmm... I can only imagine we’ll be hearing that chant again before the weekend is over.

Stanton counted off “1,2,3,4!” then the quintet broke into: Be-nu-buh-dow-duh... dow-duhnuh, duhnuh... cranking out the “Cissy Strut” lead made famous by the Meters, a riff that resonates ever so familiarly to all those that enjoy the funky jams of NOLA. As this version rolled on, we wandered outside and gazed upon the amphitheatered hillside where the soundscape resonated off of the levee. Groups of music aficionados dotted the hillside, enjoying the aural waves that filtered from the doors of the Old Point.

I never thought I’d see it done, but somehow the Astral percussionist found the best of Stanton, coming out on top of the drum duels with punch and grace Stanton fans have grown accustomed to. Maybe Stanton was just saving himself up for his late-night gig at the Parish.

The extended setbreak brought the supergroup back to the stage just after midnight, and roused the crowd up with a traditional New Orleans favorite, teasing "My Baby loves shortenin’ shortenin’, my baby loves shortenin’ bread." The second set proved to be as energetic and entertaining as the first, but there was too much else going on out there in the Crescent City, so we headed on into the night. We made our way out of the Old Point, and with the ferry no longer willing to float us back across the river, we waded into a cab with a friendly couple just as excited as we were about the night to come.

We found our way back to the French Quarter where our late night Moore and More tickets awaited. Stanton and Karl were due to play their late night shows side-by-side at the House of Blues and the Parish just a couple of hours later. Seemed like an awful lot of people hanging out looking for tickets with Stanton and Karl still pounding away across the river.

We donated our Moore and More tickets to the cause, giving them away to the legions of hopefuls searching for a late night Karl Denson ticket for the House of Blues. Well, if they can’t get into Karl, hopefully they’ll find their way into as much fun as we did earlier in the evening with Stanton at the helm.

We’re off down Bourbon Street to round up our crowd who’s looking to head down to the Maple Leaf to catch Robert Walter's 20th Congress. We hop in a cab and roll uptown to find a horde of frenzied partiers stranded outside the Maple Leaf, waiting for the staff to clean up the madness left there by Jacque-Imo’s Café All-Stars just minutes before. Once they decide to open the doors, we filter into the Maple Leaf, a venue characterized by a long thin layout, deeply colored walls and an intricately patterned ceiling.

As we wandered in, Robert fired up the night by cranking and wailing away on "My baby loves shortenin’ shortenin’, my baby loves shortenin bread." That permeable riff following us all the way across town and playing itself to all the Robert fans at the Leaf as well. The “Yodel” also seemed to resonate through the night, its aptly named theme resurfacing repeatedly much to the enjoyment of the Robert fans.

Momentary relaxation breaks in the bar area are required, gasping for a decent breath of air, away from the steam of dancers in the adjacent room. The band’s sound is twirling and twisting, mangling sonic themes only to resurrect them once again. The Congress navigated through all the aural space they desire, but the legions of listeners are packed in tight, looming over the band on its 6-inch riser of a stage, providing an intimate and inescapable venue for the fans and band to see eye-to-eye. The crowd is *loving* the waves of crescendos, some seconds apart, some 15 minutes apart as one musical theme weaves into another, riding those peaks down to the troughs between.

Robert’s eternally long set is phased into the morning when and where everyone decides to play their hand as it comes. Some were twisting with the groove and riding into the sunlight, others conceded and rode into the PM of their mornings, spilling out into the sunlight of the streets.

A “Lovelight” jam rumbles out of the madness here, then fades back into the din, and when everyone had thought that Robert would let us return to the morning, melodically resonating our ways back to our hotels, he rose from the ashes with a thundering “Good Times, Bad Times” that no one expected but everyone was ready for. The driving loop of the bass somehow staying on target and leading us through the deep red velour curtains that shone morning sunlight on the other side. The bassist, Chris Stillwell, peeked through, snaking back the drapes to reveal the mask of morning on the other side of the stage.

A break in the music, now’s our chance. The band looks up, at each other, and then at the crowd. They mistake the hoots and hollers as requests for an encore. Really, we’re all just looking to thank the band for a wild roller-coaster of a night, but somehow the band musters up and draws themselves back to their instruments.

We couldn’t take it any more, wandering into the foreign sunlight to find ourselves driven from the night, fugitives of the evening from which we entered. We’re begging Robert to let us down easily and back into our sanity, but as we wander from the halls of the Maple Leaf, here he comes at us again, with melodies and grooves pouring into the 6 AM street. We hear him beckoning us back inside, but we all need to get out of the Maple Leaf and stroll somewhere towards sanity.

Pay no mind to the weaving breezes or the clamoring street cars as the cabbie whizzes us by. Don’t let the “Igor’s” enthusiasts trying to convince you that you need a Bloody Mary at 6:30 AM stray you from your ultimate goal. For maybe the BAND beat us out tonight, but we do indeed need to ride ourselves into tomorrow. The cab cruises us back to the Quarter with the “Yodel” echoing through our heads and into our dreams, following us down the path to slumber.

Lee Bouyea
JamBase at JazzFest
Go See Live Music!


[Published on: 5/9/01]

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