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Saturday was notable for 2 things: the heat and the crowds. Well, maybe 3. Because the line-up was a dream. Or 4, cause at least 2 of us were severely hurting from the night before.
Friday’s horrific storm cleared, but the humidity now came on full bore. As we arrived at around noon, lines snaked around and out the gate to buy tickets and to get through “security.”
Hypothetically, you’re not allowed to bring in anything except an unopened bottle of water. In practice, the rules are openly flaunted openly and the legions of yellow-shirted security staff pretty much looks the other way. Guns, knives, flasks, even a Camelback bladder full of margaritas may make it through the gates. But there’s never been any Altamont-esque incidents that I know of.
We crawled into the fairgrounds and made our way across to Congo Square to see the Gangbe Brass Band of Benin, West Africa. Somebody had described it to me as Rebirth meets the Motherland. Very strange to see a bunch of guys in dashikis playing African polyrhythmic music on sousaphone, trombones and trumpets.
They were one of the few groups this year given more than one timeslot at the festival. Generally, a group only plays once – so if you miss them, you miss them. Since I hadn't had my dance on since the night before, I dragged us over to Fais Do Do to see Brian Jack, a zydeco group. A smallish crowd had gathered and the dancers to the right of the stage had already pounded the formerly mushy surface into uneven hardpack. The zydeco/creole musician Sunpie Barnes was there, enjoying himself after a long week of gigs. As always, there was a crowd of women nearby hoping to either dance with him or see him flex his biceps. Not that I'd be one of those women. I did get a few dances in.
We'd seen Brian Jack in Catonsville at a dance and he was good, but he was really amped up for jazzfest. A high-energy show. Snooks Eaglin was next up -- one of the elder statesmen of New Orleans blues. He was accompanied by George Porter on bass (ex-Meters, now of N.O. Social Club and his own trio) and John Gros on keys (Papa Grows Funk). The blues tent's acoustics robbed Snooks, ricocheting his melodic voice into a warped muddle. Then the day got very, very tough.
A walk to Gentilly stage took maybe 20 minutes instead of 10. It was our friend Betty's first Jazzfest and we threw her right into the cauldron of heat, spice and stank. It was the kind of day when you wish you were 3 again and your parents were pushing you in a stroller. Sheer punishment to move around. We schlepped to see Cowboy Mouth and were not disappointed. Lead Cowboy Fred LeBlanc was indeed all my friend Dusk had said he would be -- he was alternately raucous and moving. But we did not see him scale any scaffolding or taunt anyone in the crowd, as he had in previous years, according to Dusk. Gentilly stage is too far removed from the crowds for that kind of stuff now. (Even so, K and I awarded Fred with a Safety Third bumper sticker on Sunday as we spied him ducking into the Porta-John -- he was pleased.)
Saturday was just the most damn pleasurable day of music. We felt so fortunate and privileged to walk from Cowboy Mouth to Stephen Marley and then to the Allman Brothers. K hit the Holmes Brothers in between. Then there was John Mayer, John Legend and Deacon John. Now that’s getting your money’s worth.
Stephen Marley, along with half-brother Damian Jr. Gong Marley, have their fathers’ singing genes and charisma. Besides their own excellent soul/hip-hop/reggae tracks, they belted out a few Marley standards, including “No Woman, No Cry” - a sure-fire winner with a drunk and stoned festival crowd.
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I was shocked and pleasantly surprised at how good the Allmans sounded -- Greg is like a lumbering ox, but a talented one, and they sure get a boost from the wizardry of Derek Trucks on slide. I could have stayed for the entire 2-hour set, but....
We cruised on to see John Mayer, who was talented but a bit too theatrical (and the screaming 14-year-old girls didn’t help), and then to Deacon John, a New Orleans legend who doesn’t play much but swings like crazy, man. As the Deacon wrapped it up, a scruffy, tank-topped young man got up on stage, accompanied by a young woman in a bikini top and short-shorts. I couldn’t hear much of what he was saying, but it became obvious when he reached into his pocket and then got down on one knee. The lucky lady said yes.
Another beautiful end to another beautiful day at the Festival.
We capped it off at a crawfish boil Uptown at my friend Marianne and Dave’s house. But since we didn’t get there until 10:30, we kind of missed out a bit. I then finished it off with a nightcap at Dos Jefes with a friend -- we saw Rick Trolsen from Bonerama do a more trad-Jazz kind of thing with Washboard Chaz and some other New Orleans players. I was done at the wimp-out hour of midnight or so.