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Today, I determined that contrary to most New Orleanians’ general impression, their mayor has not fled the city.
There he was, tall and dapper in a white Panama hat, listening somewhat distractedly to a woman who clearly was not very happy with him. No one else stopped to say “hi,” or “hey Mayor, great job!” or “atta boy!” Nope. Most people just kept right on walking past him.
Maybe they were in a hurry to see Jill Scott, who was getting warmed up at the Congo Square stage behind him. Or maybe to see Bonnie Raitt or Arturo Sandoval or Brad Paisley or Big Chief Monk Boudreaux & the Golden Mardi Gras Indians. The end of a day at Jazzfest is usually pretty tough. The end of 3 days at Jazzfest is like Parris Island and Coronado SEAL training wrapped into one. All those bands I just mentioned were playing simultaneously. You’ve got to be in fighting shape to be able to vault between those stages on a Sunday.
You might find your feet don’t want to move that way. They may not want to move at all. Then there’s the sun, which beat down for the third cloudless day in a row, mercilessly burning the pasty-white cubicle drones who have emptied the offices of the north, east and Midwest for their three-day Jazzfest bender.
My friend Lorna and I found ourselves at the end of the day watching Bonnie Raitt from the sandy racetrack, that banks around the Gentilly Stage, the glinting sun causing us endless misery, but we couldn’t move. That is, until the sarong-wearing dude next to us kept repeating everything we said like some sort of acid-soaked Polly Wanna Cracker.
At first, I thought it was my imagination, due to reasons I’m not at liberty to explain here. We realized pretty quickly that he was tripping, not us. That was a relief.
It was yet another fabulous day of music. Kay and I started our morning with a snack of sushi (including spicy crawfish roll), crawfish-stuffed mirliton (a very tasty squash found here), strawberries, and blue cheese, and iced-cold lemonade served to us by 25-year-old half-naked Brazilian capoeira experts. But not until they finished our pedicures.
I’m sorry, only part of that is true.
We saw a bit of Clarence Frogman Henry, a New Orleans bluesman (and institution) who sounds like Champion Jack Dupree. He did not play any instruments. Just sang and
talked in that smooth voice. He told the crowd this was his last Jazzfest and that he’d brought his children and grandchildren to support him. They happened to be standing next to me in the Acura VIP corral (somebody roped us into accepting VIP passes and the Brazilian boys, what can I say). It was a very poignant moment, especially when he mentioned that one daughter was in Memphis still but that FEMA had brought her back to at least see him. Which I’m quite sure was some kind of pointed joke.
Next we detoured into the Blues tent briefly because Phil wanted to and we do what Phil says. Some delta acoustic blues from Robert Lowery and Virgil Thrasher.
» Click HERE to view image interactively - Ba Cissoko of the Republic of Guinea
I was itching to get over to Congo Square. We were all SO glad we went. I’d say Ba Cissoko of the Republic of Guinea was the highlight of the day. We were riveted. He plays the Kora, a 21-stringed harp/guitar that’s a hallmark of much west African music. His sidekick, Sekou Kouyate, plugs his Kora in and you’d swear you were listening to Eddie van Halen or Stevie Ray Vaughan but with an amazing percussive beat. You’ve never heard someone move their hands across 21 strings with such alacrity. And you won’t see them here for awhile – they’re about to head to Europe.
The sun was starting to wilt all of us at this point. But we trudged over to see the New Orleans Social Club, a relatively new supergroup made up of Cyril Neville, Willie Tee on keyboards, and Leo Nocentelli on guitar. I think Ivan Neville was sitting in with them, too.
We dragged our truly-dragging butts over to the paddock area of the racetrack, where the Lagniappe Stage was hosting Bobby Lounge – yep, a lounge act. He sits at the piano and tells entertaining stories. Lorna and I split off to see Jerry Lee Lewis. Hmmm, methinks they stole a wax figure from Madame Toussaud’s and stuck a grand piano in front of it. That’s probably not fair – the figure did come to life for Great Balls of Fire and Whole Lot of Shakin’ Goin’ On, but the crowd seemed more interested in rehashing his long-ago infamous marriages to 14-year-old cousins than appreciating his songcraft.
At this point, the order in which I saw things tends to get very fuzzy. Actually, I wouldn’t trust much of what I just wrote, but I’m not getting paid to tell the truth, at least not the entire truth. Actually, I’m not getting paid at all, come to think of it.
But we did see the Mexican Mariachi/Klezmer band called Banda El Recodo. There were 4 trombones, 5 clarinets, a sousaphone, 4 trumpets, a singer, a couple of drummers.
They reminded me of Brave Combo without the hipster look.
But the matching white western wear suits and blue shirts were very cool.
Saw some of Gillian Welch, but we were mostly trying to cool ourselves under a shade tree, so we were too far away from the stage to appreciate her old-timey stuff. Caught a glimpse of Pete Fountain at the Economy Hall Tent, which I generally have a standing no-go order for, and it actually sounded good. I listened for a minute or two to give props to my friend Tom McDermott, a fantastic pianist who was sitting in with Fountain.
Then we caught the beginning of Arturo Sandoval, a Cuban-born trumpeter who’s also a Latin jazz superstar. In keeping with club tradition, his show started about a half-hour late. That’s not in keeping with jazzfest tradition, however. It was standing room only, and only standing outside the tent. I loved what I heard, but no one was dancing because the Jazz tent can be uptight and it was just plain steamy in there. And not in a good way.
Then it was on to Jill Scott. She wows me with her presence and her powerful voice. We stayed for a bit and then ended with Bonnie Raitt, with Jon Cleary pounding the keys for her. She is the consummate performer and has such an ease with the crowd – there are few people I’ve seen who have that kind of rapport with an audience – Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, come to mind. She dedicated her set to Ed Bradley, the recently departed 60 Minutes correspondent who’s ghost is clearly haunting the Fairgrounds.
Our rocket-artist friend Jimmy Descants was wearing a button yesterday that had Bradley’s picture and the words “We Lost Ed” on it. Only in Jimmy’s world it was “We Losted.” I think I prefer his version.
Cause I know our whole crew is feeling pretty Losted about now.
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