Day 4 / Saturday, May 5

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Here we go again: get up, get ready, slather on the sunblock, get our stuff together, hit P.J.‘s for coffee and the spinach and feta croissant (Jeff) and egg and cheese on wheat bagel (Laurie) (announced loudly), get in line ... No, STOP!

Today, before boarding the bus, we had time to walk down Canal Street and see the reason this city exists, the mighty Mississippi River. We finished our coffee as we sat in the plaza at the foot of Canal and gazed at the swiftly moving water, accompanied by the rather strange sound of the tropical birds housed in an outdoor display of the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.

OK, now we can get in line for the shuttle bus, listen to the host talk about the city, arrive at Jazz Fest, get off the bus, take the long walk to the entrance, and get to the chosen stage before the music starts around 11 a.m. Mission accomplished again.

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First up was the Fais Do Do stage, where Belton Richard and the Musical Aces would be doing some Cajun chansons. Belton Richard, from Rayne, Louisiana (the Frog Capital of the World), is 73 and has been one of the most popular Cajun accordion players since 1959, when he founded the Musical Aces after a stint playing rock and roll and swamp pop. That background enabled him to add a bit of rock ‘n’ roll flavor to the traditional Cajun tunes. He also has written a number of the better known Cajun waltzes. Belton is semi-retired now, appearing only at selected festivals and only in Louisiana with the Musical Aces: Rodney Miller on pedal steel guitar, Chad Cormier on fiddle, Mike Dugas on bass and Joey Savoy on drums. This video isn’t a video at all but is the original recording of Un Autre Soir Ennuyant (Another Lonely Night).

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Day 4-1Belton is a bit of a character. You can tell he still enjoys playing for a crowd and engages in banter between songs. At one point he looks down and asks the crowd "Is it hot out there?" Everyone, of course says yes, because, well, it was. Then he says, "Well, it’s hot up here, too." No sympathy from him! 

At the left is a scene from a video from Jazz Fest that features Belton Richard and ... us! Not really, but as the video scans the crowd while strangely heading over to the woman as it ends, you can see us for a second, live at Jazz Fest. 

Below are pictures of people doing the two-step during the show.

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Day 4-4Next, because of a fortuitous change in the schedule originally printed on Saturday’s cubes, we headed over to the Blues Tent. On the way, we grabbed a snack. I had a Mango Freeze, which New Orleans’ wonderful community radio station WWOZ sells at a couple of locations around the grounds. Here’s the story of this awesome fresh fruit sorbet. Laurie had shrimp bread from Panorama Foods, the same people who do the crawfish bread she had on Thursday.

Arnold 1At the Blues Tent we would see another really good artist most people have never heard of, Mac Arnold, who was playing with his band, Plate Full of Blues. Mac, 70, is from Greenville, South Carolina, and is also an organic farmer.

Day 4-5What caught my eye when researching all the performers was the fact that he plays some of his songs on an electric guitar made from a gas can. The guitar was made for him by his brother in 1947. Check it out here.

Plate Full of Blues is: Max Hightower on keyboards, Austin Brashier on second guitar, Dan Keylon on bass, and Mike Whitt on drums. We joked that Brashier thought he was Eric Clapton, with the way he looked and dressed, then he proved that he could have been with the way he played.

What the heck, here’s another one, The Cackalacky Twang! This was another very good show.

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Day 4-7Day 4-8On our way back over to the Fais Do Do stage, we grabbed some lunch. I had Wally Taillon’s jambalaya. From Gonzales, Louisiana, Wally is President of the Gonzales Jambalaya Festival Association, so trust me when I say he knows his stuff. It was perfection. Laurie, on the other hand, had jama jama (sautéed spinach) and fried plantains from the African Restaurant BennachinDay 4-9 out of New Orleans. This brought about one of the great stories from our weekend. I was off to the front of the stage to take some pictures while Laurie was doing what she does when listening to music. A guy that was standing near her says "Do you want me to hold your greens while you dance?"

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So Laurie was dancing with her greens to Jeffery Broussard and the Creole Cowboys from Opelousas, Louisiana, the Zydeco capital of the world. Broussard is one of the best accordionists in the business, and he has quite a collection of beautiful instruments. Check out the one he’s playing in this video. Broussard was practically weaned on Zydeco. His father, the esteemed accordionist Delton Broussard, played accordion in bands with the Carrière brothers and various family members. Jeffery played with his father’s accordion when he was away, usually until his mother started yelling at him to put it back, fearing that the instrument would be broken. "My daddy didn’t know I played the accordion until I was 15," he says, and by then he was accomplished. The show was nonstop, hard-driving zydeco. Even the waltzes had an edge as Broussard worked the accordion in his white hat and ever-present toothpick.

Note to Jazzfest organizers: A big thank you to the person who changed the schedule to allow us to see both Mac Arnold and Jeffery Broussard! 

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Day 4-11So far we’ve seen three fantastic sets of music. Who could top this? Irma Thomas that’s who! We provisioned ourselves with liquid refreshment (two beers and a bottle of water) and made our first foray into the throng at the Acura Stage. The headliner this day was the Eagles, so the crowd was already huge. But, as we always managed to do, we picked our way through the people to find a pretty good spot fairly close to the stage. We had a wait of about 45 minutes, but everybody around us was good natured and friendly. As it was everywhere. The guy at the left was part of a big group near us ... his shirt is from the Mid-City Lanes, which features music and bowling. We had hoped to get there, but didn’t make it. Next time, for sure. We had a really good view of the stage until just before the show began, when Jerry Garcia parked right in front of us. But how could you be mad at Jerry Garcia?

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It was a real thrill to see Irma Thomas, now 71, perform with her fantastic band, the Professionals. Here she is doing her first hit, from 1960, You Can Have My Husband But Please Don’t Take My Man. Most of Irma’s hits were recorded before soul was a top 40 commodity as it became in the day of Aretha Franklin. But in the Big Easy she already has a bronze statue in the New Orleans Musical Legends Park. She is a stylist of exquisite understatement whose every note rings true and hits home. She isn't just from the city — she's of the city, and her voice reflects that.

"It's just something about the way we, as performers from this city, the way we do things," Thomas says. "We hear extra sounds in our heads — extra beats, extra backbeats, extra rhythms — that people from other parts of the United States just don't understand or get." Amen to that.

Day 4-13Pianist David Torkanowsky says Irma "is sort of ingrained in the genetics of this place. There's no pretense to her delivery or the sound of her voice or how she renders a lyric. And she won't sing anything that she doesn't believe in." You can hear Thomas' conviction and honesty in every song she sings. But her intensity also comes from what she doesn't do. She doesn't get fancy, because she doesn't need to.

"I don't think my fan base [cares] about how many notes I can hit. They want me to sing the doggone song," she says. "If the song doesn't dictate adding all this other stuff to it, then why do it? Sure, I may be able to hit 15 notes in one bar, but is it gonna help the song? No." Witness: Irma doing My House Is a Lonely House

And here’s one more, Done Got Over, featuring the Acura Stage 2012 Second Line! It may seem corny, and it is a staple of every Irma Thomas show. That said, to experience it in person, well, there’s just nothing like it. Irma rules the stage like few others I’ve ever seen. She closes her show by singing Bob Dylan’s Forever Young. "This is a song to my fans," she says. "I’ll always remember the good years because of my fans, and I’m never too big for my fans."

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This had already been one of the best days of live music ever for us, and there was still more to come. We plowed through the crowd coming in for the Eagles show as we headed over to the Jazz Tent, where the Pedrito Martinez Group was playing. This group is planted firmly in the Afro-Cuban rumba tradition but adds the bata rhythms and vocal chants of Yoruba and Santeria. The New York Times summed it up aptly, calling it "complex, blenderized Africa-to-the-New-World funk." This video is an hour long, but the sound quality is excellent. So crank it up, and I dare you not to watch it all!

Day 4-14Day 4-15The group is made up of Pedrito Martinez, from Havana, on percussion and vocals; percussionist Jhair Sala, from Lima, Peru; electric bassist Alvaro Benavides, from Caracas, Venezuela; and wonderfully talented pianist and vocalist, Araicne Trujillo, also from Havana. The seats we found in the Jazz Tent were next to a transplanted lawyer from up north who moved to New Orleans for the music and culture. He knew a lot about the city and was really interesting to talk to during the period between sets, as we waited for Herbie Hancock and his band to set up. He was there by himself and I think he enjoyed having someone to talk to as much as we enjoyed talking to him.

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While we waited, we took turns getting food. I got authentic Creole Filé Gumbo from Li’l Dizzy’s CafeDay 4-17, the same people who made the Trout Baquet Laurie had yesterday. This stuff is the real deal. It was dark, spicy, and loaded with goodies – sausage, shrimp, and half of a crab. It was a bit difficult to eat in the confines of the tent but I managed to not end up wearing it. Laurie came back with a soft-shell crab po’boy from the Galley Seafood Restaurant in Metairie, Louisiana. Owners Dennis and Vicky Patania have been serving their famous fried soft-shell at Jazz Fest for 35 years. Click here to see a video that goes behind the scenes at the booth and shows how they make this great sandwich and also how hot it is frying in 350-degree peanut oil when it’s 86 degrees outside!

Side note: when Laurie returned from her food foray, she reported that the Eagles were doing all their hits and they sounded just like they did 35 years ago on records. Yawn.

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Day 4-20Day 4-21Herbie Hancock ended this day at Jazz Fest. His quartet featured bassist James Genus (who you can see most weeks in the Saturday Night Live band), drummer Vinnie Colaiuta (who also plays in Jeff Beck’s Band), and the West African guitarist Lionel Loueke. They did some of Hancock's classics, like Rockit from the 80's and Chameleon, a song that was featured the only other time I saw him, at Penn State in 1974 with the Headhunters! Hancock, now 72, spent a fair amount of time at the piano, but he also used all manner of synthesized keyboards for wah-wah guitar effects, organ bursts, and even blues harmonica. The result was jaw-dropping funk and African grooves in an incredible set that went on and on, and when it was over you didn’t want it to be over. 

Day 4-23He even dug out a vintage vocoder, here on Come Running to Me, from 1977. What is a vocoder, you ask? Time for a techie minute! it is an analysis/synthesis system, used to reproduce human speech. In the encoder, the input is passed through a multiband filter, each band is passed through an envelope follower, and the control signals from the envelope followers are communicated to the decoder. The decoder applies these amplitude control signals to corresponding filters in the synthesizer. Since the control signals change only slowly compared to the original speech waveform, the bandwidth required to transmit speech can be reduced! Got it? Oh, too techie? Well, then, it makes him sound like a robot!

Day 4-22Colaiuta’s polyrhythmic drumming, like Carrington’s yesterday, never overpowered the music but every now and then you noticed what a great backdrop it was providing. On the bass, Genus at one time went back and forth with Hancock's synthesizer in a twangy, squawky call-and-response exchange that seemed as though they were singers trying to out-scat one another. Loueke’s guitar sounded like any number of instruments which he fit into the songs along with pops and clicks with his tongue and palate.

The highlight of the performance was when the group recast Hancock's funk-before-there-was-funk classic, Watermelon Man, with 17 beats to a measure instead of the usual 16. It wasn't just technically impressive, which it absolutely was. It was magic, another stunning highlight in a weekend full of them.

But wait, there’s more! Even though Jazz Fest was over for the day, there was still more music to come. After the long line to the bus and the ride back to the hotel, we regrouped for a few minutes and then headed to the House of Blues, a short walk (thank God!) to see Nick Lowe and his band.

The concert space at the House of Blues is compact, with a standing area and two bars on the main level and a balcony surrounding above, with a bar, of course. We headed upstairs and watched from the railing. The only drawback to the place was ... no chairs, which seemed kinda cruel after all the walking done during the day. The House is done in a deep blue, and there is quite a collection of Louisiana folk art all over.

There was an earnest, but unmemorable warmup act, then Lowe started out the show with some solo acoustic numbers, including Alison. He then brought out his band: Geraint Watkins (keyboards), Robert Trehern (drums), Johnny Scott (guitar), and Matt Radford (bass). I think they did an especially good show because they seemed genuinely pleased to see a full house at the House given all the competition during Jazz Fest. Here they are doing I Knew the Bride When She Used to Rock and Roll and Raging Eyes. Classic rockabilly. It was a fun evening reliving the past shows at the Bayou and Merriweather Post Pavilion.

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After a couple of encores, it was getting on midnight, and we thought we would just walk down to the restaurant at the House for a late dinner. Not to be, the place was closed. We were too tired and hungry to roam around the French Quarter looking for something, so we headed to Harrah’s Casino and found McAlister’s Deli, where I got a roast beef sandwich and Laurie got a baked potato ... to go ... far away from the casino.

On the way from the House of Blues to the casino, I almost got run over by a skateboarder who lost control of his conveyance. Reflexes surprisingly good considering the hour, the weary legs, and the beverages consumed at the House!

So ended a day of great weather, great music, and great people. We are getting how it works here, and we are really having a ball. 

© Jeff Mangold 2012