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1. Ray Nagin is so damn Safety Third. See photo for explanation. Our new, and best, friend Kelly, managed to slap a Safety Third bumper sticker (see www.safetythird.com for a partial explanation of what it’s all about -- it’s an attitude, really) on the New Orleans mayor as he made his way to the stage in the Blues tent. He was a bit surprised, as you might imagine. It would probably not be good P.R. for the mayor who couldn’t get his constituents the hell out of town during Katrina to be sporting a “Safety Third” sticker.
2. I feel so damn good, I’ll be glad when I’ve got the blues. So singeth Jon Cleary (N.O. musician and keyboardist for Bonnie Raitt), and it was particularly apt for us Sunday, both for the festival and because we ended the day at a crawfish boil thrown by Jon and his wife at their fabulous ramshackle house in the Bywater area of town.
3. Musicians have a special place in heaven. Sunday started on a sad note with the passing that morning of Alvin Batiste, an N.O. jazz pioneer and clarinettist who was supposed to appear that day in a tribute with Bob French, Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick, Jr.
» Click HERE to view image interactively - Harry Connick, Jr.
It was a day of exhilarating music and energy-sapping heat. I’d guess it hit close to 100 degrees with the temperature and humidity combined. We were at the festival before noon because we had an agenda: Must see Elder Edward Babb & The Madison Bumble Bees.
Everyone had been buzzing (i hate puns, but it’s true) about this group from Winnsboro, S.C., which had already played several times. Gospel as interpreted by 10 trombones, a trumpet, a tuba and what appeared to be a French horn, though I’m horrible on my brass identification. It was inspiring, uplifting and sanctified. I kept expecting Elder Babb to stage-dive off Congo Square. The spirit did finally move him to walk down into the crowd, kind of like Prince at the Super Bowl, receiving his admiring throngs.
By the time their set ended, I had completely sweat through my entire outfit. Looks like I chose the wrong day to wear the pants that weren’t quick-dry. Remarkably, no one, except Kay, mentioned the suspicious-looking sweat stains around my crotch. She’s such a good friend.
We took a quick lay-down in the grass...which smelled like an Amarillo feedlot. Didn’t stay long.
On to Eric Lindell, a blue-eyed-soul-rock hottie who found a measure of fame in N.O. and has been touring nationally. It was a smoking set in the Blues tent. Then we walked over to see another N.O. hottie, Anders Osborne. Anders can be very hit or miss, but he was right on the mark, slipping into a groove backed by Kirk Joseph on sousaphone and John Gros on keyboards. About three-quarters of the way through their set, they blew the sound out. End of show.
I felt like I had to see Steely Dan, one of those groups that tours so rarely that you have to pay through the nose for tickets. Here they were just part of the smorgasboard. Might have been the wilting heat, might have been the too-laid back groove, but I couldn’t buy a thrill. Betty and I hightailed it back exactly where we’d come from, walking about a half-mile or so to see the pop-soul sensation, 19-year-old Joss Stone.
You could tell her voice was great, but she ENDED HER SET 20 MINUTES EARLY. Bad form. Way bad. Someone needs to get that girl a new agent.
We then walked another half-mile or so back across the track, stopping briefly to see the Soul Rebels brass band. They were making some noise and kicking up a second-line groove. But we were near-dead from the heat.
The gospel tent was calling. Strutting around stage in a sparkly purple dress was Dottie Peoples, a gospel superstar who has been compared to Aretha Franklin. She was belting them out, lifting us up out of our chairs. I caught hell from a bunch of cops for trying to get a photo of Ms. Peoples from up front. Guess the Lord doesn’t like idolatry. Or graven images.
We topped off the day by almost passing out while watching Taj Mahal’s trio in the stagnant Blues tent. That required an emergency infusion of frozen cafe au lait. I thought we might get a breeze over on the racetrack near the Acura Stage, where N.O. poster boy Harry Connick, Jr. was doing his lounge lizard act. Despite that honey voice and baby-silky-face, he just couldn’t pull off a Festival-ending show in my opinion.
About to go face down in the dirt, Betty, Kay and I trudged towards the Jazz tent, just looking for some way out of the relentless heat. We hit the jackpot. The tent was almost empty, letting in a cooling breeze. Up on stage was some of the city’s finest brass musicians: Big Sam (Big Sam’s Funky Nation), Trombone Shorty, Donald Harrison, part of Rebirth Brass Band, plus torch singer John Boutte, among others.
They were throwing themselves a good-old second-line party. Fantastic way to end our Jazzfest experience!
» Click HERE to view image interactively - Jon Cleary and Gang Impromptu
But it wasn’t quite over. Without even a shower to slough off the 20 layers of accumulated effluvia, we headed over to Jon’s. He’d brought in an expert team of crawfish boilers from southwest Louisiana. Not only had they hauled a dozen or more sacks of mudbugs, but they came equipped with their own tubs of resinated Tabasco -- the powdered remnants of that liquid condiment, gathered from the factory at Avery Island. Those were some tasty critters, succulent and tangy.
Jon hired an a cappella group he’d seen performing in the French Quarter. These 4 gentleman serenaded us as the sun dipped down and the tiki torches came up. Everyone elbowed into the crawfish pile and doused the spice with ice cold keg beer. Eventually, Jon and some friends played an impromptu set with piano, drum kit and horns out on the sidewalk.
We couldn’t have felt fatter, drunker or happier.
» Click HERE to view image interactively - Jay-Ray & Gee - A'Capella New Orleans