Review | Photos | Jazzfest Weekend 1 | New Orleans

Words by: Kelsey Foster
Images by: Adam McCullough

JazzFest:: 04.26.13-4.28.13 :: New Orleans Fairgrounds :: New Orleans, LA

Full review below photo gallery!

Jazz Fest 2013 proved as colorful and diverse as New Orleans itself- from the throngs of muddy, die-hard Dave Matthews Band fans slipping and sliding in front of the Acura stage to the hand-raising, hymn-belting Gospel Tent over to the two-stepping Cajun baby boomers catching their favorite Zydeco at the Fais Do Do stage, there was something for everyone in the Big Easy.

Saturday saw the largest crowds with weather perfect for any musical festival. Warm weather and sunny skies drew thousands to see a line up heavy on local favorites with major headliners Billy Joel, Jill Scott and Ben Harper, each bringing in a unique demographic to close out the day.

Surprising many who had come to hear the Piano Man sing his classics, Jill Scott proved to be the most impressive performer of the day. Scott’s incredible vocal talent, stage presence and audience engagement made it almost impossible to pass the Congo Square stage en route to see either of her fellow headlining closers perform. At one point, Scott heckled the constantly growing crowd around her stage, calling them “disrespectful and nasty,” prompting even louder cheers for her and her band.

Ben Harper played with Blues Hall of Famer and the rumored inspiration for Dan Akryod’s Blues Brothers character Charlie Musselwhite. Perhaps best suited for the pace and appreciation of fans in the Blues Tent, the tempo seemed a little slow for the Gentilly stage but left absolutely no doubt about the talent of either artist. Musselwhite may have been an unknown name for fans there to see Harper, but no one left the show without noting this master with a gravely voice and a rich, nuanced steel harmonica.

Billy Joel undoubtedly saw the day’s largest crowds, getting many long-time fans off their feat with “My Life” before dedicating “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)” to the victims of Hurricanes Sandy in his hometown of New York and New Orleans’ own Hurricane Katrina 7 years ago. Joel changed some of the lyrics to his iconic 25-year-old ballad to reflect the damage from the storm, “I've seen the lights go out on Broadway/I saw the Empire State laid low/The storm went on beyond the Palisades/Out in The Rockaways, the oceans overflowed”

Sunday saw significantly smaller crowds especially early in the day as rain hit hard, turning the festival grounds into Louisiana swampland. The weather cleared for most of the afternoon, leaving folks to enjoy shortened lines and smaller crowds for a day of local favorites like the Honey Island Swamp Band, funk-rock brother set Better Than Ezra, and trumpeter Kermit Ruffins who played his familiar set of New Orleans classics with a little extra energy.

Sunday’s set was equally heavy on closers, pitting festival favorite Dave Matthews Band against blues legend B.B. King, Earth Wind and Fire and the Willie Nelson of Chicano music -Little Joe Y La Familia.

Just in time for the day’s headliners to take the stage another storm blew in, scattering festival-goers towards exits and tents. Legendary blues guitarist B.B. King played a set that left the audience feeling like children on their grandfather’s knee. King turned the Blues Tent into the Gospel Tent for a crowd that gathered to watch this god of blues perform as though they were attending a sacred ritual of jazz. King’s band played a fairly lengthy warm up before his assistants aided him to the stage. New Orleanian Allen Toussaint joined the stage for a few minutes of friendly chat before King started into the set. His extended guitar solo on “The Thrill is Gone” proved he’s still got blues in his heart. King ended his session to a packed house with praise for New Orleans musicians and a rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” In closing, King addressed the audience, “My name is B.B. King. I’m 87 years old. And I love you.” I have no doubt that no one regretted the decision to duck into that tent to escape the rain.

Not everyone hid out in the Blues Tent however, with hundreds choosing to brave the weather for a chance to watch the Dave Matthews Band play in their music festival element. Perhaps it was the rain and mud, but DMB’s set seemed slightly shortened and fairly lack-luster compared to previous appearances. For many die-hard festival fans it seemed as though the mud and rain only added to the experience.

Overall, the first week of Jazz Fest was a hit, if a wet one. New Orleans is the perfect city for a festival celebrating not just jazz, but blues, gospel, zydeco, Native American drums, Mardi Gras Indian beads, brass bands, cold beer and good food.

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[Published on: 5/20/13]

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