Day 5 / Sunday, May 6

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Uh oh. We awoke to the sound of rain on the window. This could complicate things. From everything we had read, the Fair Grounds gets pretty sloppy in the rain. But if you look to the right side of the picture above, in the general direction of Gentilly and the Fair Grounds, the sky is noticeably brighter. We held out hope that it wouldn’t be too bad. And we did have our trusty umbrella, which could convert from sunshade to rain protection if needed. So we dutifully got up, got ready to go, even slathered on the sunblock, and got our stuff together as if nothing was happening. When we arrived at PJ’s, it was still raining, so we both got coffee and Laurie got something to eat on the bus. I was hoping to find breakfast and sunshine at Jazz Fest.

On the bus, the host knew we all knew the drill, and everybody knew it was the last day, and nobody was happy about it, so it was pretty quiet. Because we didn’t eat at PJ’s, we arrived at the Fair Grounds right at 11. The whole place was quiet as people poured in from all over. It was damp, but not raining. There would be occasional brief, light showers through the early afternoon, but these were actually welcome, because the sun that burned through the clouds on this day was brutal, the kind of sun that when it hits your skin it gives you chills!

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Day 5-2I was ready for my breakfast right away, so we headed to Congo Square, where a sweet potato turnover from Marie's Sugar Dumplings of Marrero, Louisiana, had my name on it. I think I got the first batch of the day because I had to wait a minute for the frosting to heat. Wow, was it good. Perfect to munch on as we made our way to the Blues Tent. An iced café au lait from Café du Monde added to the enjoyment.

The Sunday cubes contained a dizzying array of music, and the choices were as hard as if not harder than yesterday’s. Just to give you an idea, in the next-to-last performance block, the choices were Foo Fighters, Bonnie Raitt, David Sanborn, Asleep at the Wheel, and the Rebirth Brass Band, among others!

However, the opening slot was pretty easy to decide upon. Dege Legg, also known as Brother Dege (pronounced 'Deej'), was going to do some down-in-the-bayou blues, accompanying himself on the Dobro and a bass drum. Born and raised in the swamplands of Louisiana, Dege pushes the slide guitar into the 21st century by mixing the traditional slide of the Mississippi Delta blues masters with the post-modern expressionism of Sonic Youth. His songs take you from the south’s haunted past on to the great unknown of its future. This video is 30 minutes but you will be mesmerized, I guarantee.

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Dege is one of those artists that you hear one day and the next day you start listening to everything of his you can get your hands on. Listen to this improvisation and also House of the Dying Sun and you’ll probably do the same. His performance twisted and turned and wailed and moaned until it finished with The Battle of New Orleans:

Hold now, the water rising.
Coming as the storm arrives.
Katrina come to sink the city,
Bust the levee a hundred wide.

Some come to save the city,
Ruin and rage keep pouring down,
Flood born of blood and pity.
The Angel of Death soon hear me now.

Climb toward the roofs and shelter,
Raise your arms to the sky
Women, children, mothers, daughters
Fathers, sons - done left behind. 
War between God and man.

Man and man with world no end.
Oh, man he chose to build a city
Of sinful mind. God pulled it in.

Hold now, don't break the levee down.

Who now will take the Battle of New Orleans?

After 10 minutes of this powerful song, during which he loops the Dobro, Dege morphed it into The Star Spangled Banner à la Jimi Hendrix (on the Dobro it sounded gorgeous, and I'm told this instrument is incredibly difficult to play electric) and then just left the stage while the Dobro feedback-resonated. The irony in this was just mind-blowing, although I must say I don’t think half of the audience got it. This was a tremendous start to the day, a performance after which you wanted to just sit and let it soak in for awhile. However, we had to move on ... 

... Because Kermit Ruffins and the Barbeque Swingers were about to light up the Gentilly Stage! Ruffins is one of the younger generation of New Orleans musicians who are channeling the old school with touches of hip hop and funk. He’s doing what Louis Armstrong would be doing if he had been born 80 years later. Ruffins’ music is as easy as the Big Easy, deceptively great. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun, too. Check him out here at the Louisiana Music Factory for 20 minutes or so ... crank it up and enjoy. The BBQ Swingers are Kevin Morris on bass, Jerry Anderson on drums, and Yoshitaka Tsuji on keyboards.

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Day 5-5As you can see, Ruffins personifies the laid-back vibe of New Orleans. But he did not come by his gifts easily. He developed his stage persona and musical act by studying artists who came before him. He watched video of Armstrong and Cab Calloway until the tape wore out and apprenticed on stages with local legends “Uncle” Lionel Batiste and Danny Barker. While still in high school, he co-founded the Rebirth Brass Band (see later today), the group that revolutionized the brass band community in New Orleans with songs like Do Watcha Wanna that have become anthems. 

When he went solo, few young musicians were playing traditional jazz. Now, Kermit and the BBQ Swingers are a beloved institution – a must-see for every New Orleans visitor and a favorite of local critics and music lovers. Dozens of young musicians and bands are essentially playing the same music Ruffins has pioneered. And he is also a TV star, on the HBO series Tremé, playing himself. You can just tell that he really enjoys playing his laid back, under the influence of whatever, good-time music.

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Day 5-7We had a blast at this show, but had to dance away a bit before it was over because we had an appointment to get some heavy duty funk from Galactic over at the Acura Stage and had to get some lunch on the way to the other side of the Fair Grounds. For me, that would be a fried catfish filet po’boy from Galley Seafood Restaurant, the same people who did Laurie’s soft-shell crab yesterday. Laurie had crawfish strudel from Coffee Cottage of Harahan, Louisiana.

Day 5-8At the Acura Stage, the Neville Brothers have always closed Jazz Fest, thus they get the last cube of the day there. So on Sunday, the big-name headliner is next-to-last. Today that would be Foo Fighters. The crowd at the festival by this time today was immense, especially in the area of the Acura Stage. I can only imagine how it must have been last week with Bruce Springsteen there. We approached the huge stage from the track side because the infield walkway was already jammed. But once again, we found a good spot fairly close in and with a congenial group of people around us. As the last day of Jazz Fest progresses, the party atmosphere really ramps up. 

The Jazz Fest organizers make a point of leading into the big national acts with New Orleans acts. Today they chose to send Galactic out in front of Foo Fighters. They chose well.

Galactic is a collaborative band with a unique format. It’s a stable quintet (Ben Ellman on horns, Robert Mercurio on bass, Stanton Moore on drums and percussion, Jeff Raines on guitar, and Rich Vogel on keyboards) that has been together for 18 years ... so long that they are telepathic when they perform. 

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What is unique about Galactic is that for all that time they have never had a lead singer, yet they are not purely an instrumental group. Rather, because they self-produce, and because they are part of a diverse community of musicians, they have the luxury of experimenting. So they create something that’s a little like a funkified revue, a virtual show featuring different vocalists (mostly from New Orleans) and instrumental soloists each taking their turn on stage in the Galactic sound universe. 

If you listen to Galactic’s recordings you’ll hear a virtually complete cross-section of what’s happening in contemporary New Orleans – all of it featuring a hard grooving beat behind a range of styles that glides from one surprise to the next.

Day 5-10So during this show, not only did we get Galactic, we also got Corey Glover handling vocals on a number of songs, including Cult of Personality, one of my favorite songs by his band Living Colour (a complete version of that song leads off part two of a complete show from the Louisiana Music Factory, here in two parts: part one and part two). Glover was all over the place, as you can see, on the speakers in front of the stage, running from one end of the giant stage to the other, and even diving into the crowd.

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Other guests included Trombone Shorty (video here), trumpet star Shamarr Allen, percussionist Pedrito Martinez (the same from yesterday in the Jazz Tent), and Big Chief Juan Pardo (left, with Trombone Shorty). Wow. This show was another highlight of the weekend. For just a little bit more, here's 20-plus minutes of Galactic and Glover in the studio of KEXP, a Seattle radio station.

No time to linger, though, after this great show ended, because we had to squeeze our way out of the crowd and get back to the Gentilly Stage for the last half of the Funky Meters performance. More liquid refreshment was found along the way. And guess what, even the beer concessions have a vibe at Jazz Fest. Almost all of them are run by local organizations and all of the proceeds go to those groups.

Day 5-13Day 5-14History lesson: The Meters originally formed in the late 1960s. While not all that successful in the mainstream, they are considered a major contributor to the funk genre. During their heyday, they played with acts as big as Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones. The original group consisted of Art Neville, George Porter Jr., Joseph "Zigaboo" Modeliste, and Leo Nocentelli. Though the Meters broke up in the late 1970s, Neville (keyboards) and Porter (bass) reformed in the late 1980s with Brian Stoltz (guitar) and Russell Batiste Jr. (drums) under the name Funky Meters. All of the band’s members individually enjoy flourishing careers, which makes the sum of their respective creative abilities mind-boggling. They tap into the roots of the Meters musical heritage while taking the sound well into the future, blending funk, blues, and dance grooves with a New Orleans vibe. This was more great music for a hot afternoon at the Gentilly Stage, interrupted by a very brief, actually cooling rain shower. Like Friday, it would have been easy to camp out here for the rest of the day, especially with Bonnie Raitt and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band to come. However, we had other plans.

Here are onetwothree excerpts from the Funky Meters performance at Jazz Fest. For something more substantial, here is an entire show (part one and part two) from the Bear Creek Festival in Florida in 2011.

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Day 5-15The master plan was to eat first and then try to fit in at least parts of two more shows before Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings took the stage in the Blues Tent to close out the festival. The food we landed on was to share the Super Combo from Chef Pat Gallagher’s Catering of Covington, Louisiana. What is the Super Combo, you ask? Well, it is Pecan Catfish Meunière, Seafood Mirliton Casserole, and a Fried Crab Cake with Smoked Tomato and Jalapeño Tartar. Gallagher also runs a restaurant in Covington.

Day 5-16The crabcake speaks for itself, although the menu doesn’t tell you it’s panko crusted. The meunière sauce for the catfish is prepared with lemons, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and whipping cream and that’s over the pecans and cajun spices used to cook the catfish. Seafood mirliton casserole is like a stuffing of crab, shrimp, and crawfish with mirliton, also known as chayote, a pear-sized squash that native to Louisiana. Here are recipes for a pecan catfish meunière and seafood mirliton casserole in case you want to try for yourself. This was a rich, earthy meal, perfect for our last stop of the weekend at the food vendors. It was really starting to sink in that this experience was almost over, and it won’t surprise anyone to hear that we were already talking about "next year!"

At the food area where we were eating, you could hear the roar of Foo Fighters coming from the Acura Stage, and some of Asleep at the Wheel coming from Fais Do Do and Los Hombres Calientes from the Jazz and Heritage Stage. Incredible. We made our way into Congo Square, where the Rebirth Brass Band was about to add to that mix. The crowd here was larger than at any time in the previous days, even spilling out onto the track, the attraction being Frankie Beverly and Maze in their traditional final cube at this stage. 

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Rebirth is another of the young brass bands taking the music of the traditional New Orleans second line into the 21st century with no holds barred, only they have been doing it longer than all the others, since 1982 when they were founded by brothers Phillip and Keith Frazier and the aforementioned Kermit Ruffins with fellow members of Tremé’s Joseph S. Clark High School marching band. Their blend of funk, jazz, soul, and hip-hop led to a Grammy award in 2012 for Best Regional Roots Music Album. The Grammy goes with them everywhere. Here is a two-part performance by Rebirth at the Louisiana Music Factory (part onepart two). The link above is to a very interesting article about New Orleans brass bands in general and the Rebirth Brass Band in particular.

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Day 5-19The combination of the heat and the crowd at Congo Square caused us to leave for the Jazz Tent a little sooner than we had planned, but the end result was good, because we got to see more of David Sanborn and Joey DeFrancesco.

David Sanborn and his alto sax have been associated with smooth jazz, but he disavows that genre (hey, I read Downbeat), and Joey DeFrancesco is one of the best B3 players around, so I knew this would be a solid set of straight-ahead jazz. The performance built and built to a great finish. A B3 combo can do that, especially when it has players of this caliber. Bryan Landham was on the drums.

One more cube to go. I don’t think it had hit us, that this was the end, because we were so busy trying to juggle the schedule for maximum music. I thought we did a masterful job of it today, indeed all weekend, considering we were new at it. So we grabbed a last beer and headed off to the Blues Tent for the Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings revue. When I saw that Sharon Jones was going to be at Jazz Fest, that pretty much sealed the deal. I’d been wanting to see her show for a couple of years now. Here are one and two examples why.

The only problem was that the Blues Tent was already packed to the rafters. And it doesn’t even have rafters. As a guy I was talking to while Laurie stepped out agreed, the secret of Sharon Jones is definitely out. We did find chairs way off to the side toward the front, obstructed view at best. But we gave those up because (a) we couldn’t see the whole stage and (2) the chairs are so packed in that you couldn’t stand to dance if your life depended on it. So now we’re standing at the side of the tent, with a view that’s still not that good, with the late afternoon sun beating down on us. Then the show started ... and the sound in that location was horrible, too. So we quickly decided to cut and run.

Day 5-20We high-tailed it over to the Gentilly Stage, where we wedged our way into a pretty good spot for the celebration of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s 50th anniversary - with a host of guest artists. This may have been our best move of the whole weekend. A New Orleans institution was the perfect way to end four days of music in New Orleans.

The band derives its name from Preservation Hall, the venerable music venue located in the heart of the French Quarter. Since 1961, the band has traveled worldwide, spreading their mission to nurture and perpetuate the art form of New Orleans jazz. The intimate venue, whose weathered exterior has been untouched over its history, is a living embodiment of its founders' original vision. To this day, Preservation Hall has no drinks, air conditioning, or other typical accoutrements (not even bathrooms!). All it does is welcome people of all ages who want to have one of the last pure music experiences left on the earth.

Day 5-21During this show we got to see glimpse of Bonnie Raitt and Jim James (of My Morning Jacket), two of our biggest "misses" of the weekend. Not to mention Allen Toussaint, Trombone Shorty again, the Rebirth Brass Band again, Ani DiFranco, and Steve Earle. Also Trixie Minx and the Fleur de Tease dancers (video here). At the end they welcomed 100-year-old trumpeter Lionel Ferbos and the Preservation Hall Junior Jazz Band, thus crossing at least four generations.

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Trombone Shorty did a killer version of It Ain’t My Fault with the Hall’s trumpet player, Mark Braud. DiFranco did a spirited version of Freight Train. Rebirth did their Do What You Wanna and Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On (more here). James was stupefying with his take of the old chestnut St. James Infirmary.

Raitt and Toussaint did an original homage to Preservation Hall, and Earle did Tain’t Nobody’s Business, after which he said, "I have the best @$%# job in the world!" Here's the band alone doing Basin Street Blues. Everybody was on the stage for the finale, a rousing take on When the Saints Go Marching In and then my personal New Orleans favorite, I’ll Fly Away.

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When it was over, you just felt too good to feel bad that it was over. That is, until you were taking the long bus ride back to Canal Street and realized there wouldn’t be a bus tomorrow.

Day 5-25There was one more stop to make today, and that was a quiet late dinner at the Aron Sanchez Crossroads Restaurant at the House of Blues. Like the music hall, the place was covered with folk art. Laurie had pan-seared jumbo shrimp simmered in chipotle garlic cream sauce layered over a crispy grit cake and served with sweet teardrop tomatoes, while I had braised short ribs brushed with a chile glaze served with an andouille corn pudding and fresh vegetables. Desert was a very decadent bread pudding cooked with bananas and white chocolate, finished with a bourbon caramel sauce topped with fresh whipped cream. Hey, we earned it today!

Over dinner we looked at the cubes and once again marveled at the diversity of music that one can indulge in here. Part of our vow for "next year" is to get out into the clubs and get a feel for the local music scene. But the last word today is: we now know what it means to miss New Orleans. 

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© Jeff Mangold 2012