Jazz Fest | 04.24-04.26 | New Orleans, LA

Sunday | 04.26.09

Big Chief Monk Boudreaux :: Jazz Fest 2009 by McCullough
Sunday morning was best spent in search of cloning technology, as organizers created an unfortunate scheduling conundrum: how to see a quintet of heavyweight acts all around the same time. Dave Matthews Band, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Hugh Masekela, Earth, Wind & Fire and Etta James & Roots Band were all set to perform headlining sets on stages scattered throughout the fairgrounds. It was enough to incite longtime festivalgoer Andrew Levy to make a t-shirt telling the "jackass" responsible to "go funk yourself."

But great music festivals often present a scheduling challenge to attendees, and the loaded back-end of the first weekend was a sign that Jazz Fest had returned to its pre-Katrina strength. Sunday's earlier sets were loaded as well, as Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indians served up a potent afternoon cocktail of deep, dubby funk, and Mexico City-based electro-rock outfit Kinky got people shaking their tailfeathers at the Acura Stage. Drummer Herlin Riley, born and raised in the Lower Ninth Ward, had played Jazz Fest numerous times over the years. But his mid-afternoon set was his first Jazz Fest show as a bandleader performing his material. "It sure feels good," he said, dedicating the set to guitarist and New Orleans musical legend Danny Barker, who would have been 100 this year.

The Avett Brothers drew the biggest crowd the Fais Do Do Stage saw all weekend. The quartet (guitar, banjo, upright bass and cello) made up for some early technical difficulties with loads of feeling. But they also showed themselves to be much more than just the "country with punk energy" tag they've been branded with in recent years. The songwriting on several tracks was outstanding, particularly "The Laundry Room," where Scott Avett sang loaded lines like, "Teach me how to use/ the love that people say you make." The band has been serving as the opening act on the Dave Matthews Band's spring tour, and deserves more ears.

Etta James :: Jazz Fest 2009 by Grayson
Mavis Staples could take you to church just by singing the ingredients off a box of laundry detergent. At the Gospel Tent, where one day earlier she ripped it up with Irma Thomas and Pamela Landrum in a tribute to Mahalia Jackson, Staples dove into spirituals like "Wade in the Water" and an achingly soulful cover of The Band's "The Weight." In introducing the song "Why Am I Treated So Bad," she told the tale of her father Pops Staples' decision to write and record Freedom Highway, saying he got the idea after taking his daughters to hear Dr. Martin Luther King preach at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in 1963. "If he can preach it, we can sing it," she recalled her father saying.

While Staples channeled the spirit, Etta James' performance at the Gentilly Stage posed a question: how is it possible for a 71-year-old woman to be overtly sexual and for it not to seem comically awkward? In her cover of "You Can Leave Your Hat On," her hips swiveled and she had a two-handed grip on her breasts as she added the line, "You can leave your bra on." Later, she covered Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart," an ironic twist that put James' colossal career into perspective. Another septuagenarian, South African legend, Hugh Masekela, led his group through tight instrumentals like "Grazin' in the Grass" and fist-raising protest anthems like his 1987 hit "Bring Him Back Home," a call to free Nelson Mandela.

Fellow South African Dave Matthews led his troupe through an entertaining set that proved why they have remained one of the biggest touring acts around for nearly two decades. At the Acura Stage, Matthews told the crowd about the band's decision to record their forthcoming new album, Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King, in New Orleans. The album is a tribute to longtime saxophonist LeRoi Moore, who died in August 2008 from complications from an ATV accident. In addition to hits like "Ants Marching," the band played several cuts from the new record, including the bluesy "Why I Am" and "Funny The Way It Is."

Although its set too often veered into smooth jazz territory, Earth Wind and Fire rolled out its own litany of hits in its set at the Congo Square Stage. "Shining Star" was a gem, with the entire crowd chanting the chorus. Given the number of big-name closing sets, it was surprising that every one of them was packed, a great sign for festival organizers. The clash of titans also made for some telling moments. If you stood in the right spot on the racecourse, you could hear EWF singer Philip Bailey singing the chorus to "After the Love Has Gone," while DMB performed "Stay," on which Matthews playfully invites a lover to stay a bit longer. If only...

Dave Matthews Band :: Jazz Fest 2009 by McCullough

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