Day 10 / Saturday, May 4

10-11


Hard to believe, but the 2013 Jazz Fest experience is winding down. Once again the 2013 drill was executed: get up, get ready, scrounge food at the Staybridge breakfast buffet, go back to the room and slather on sunblock and gather tickets and cameras and phones and our trusty black and blue umbrella, meet Ellie and David, and head out to walk to the shuttle buses at the Sheraton. The sun block was actually useful today, as the sun was shining and there literally was not a cloud in the sky. Temperatures were still unseasonably cool, and there still was a persistent breeze, but the sun was so very welcome. 

The Jazz Fest team did a great job of preparing the grounds for today's throng (and I do mean throng, as the headliners today were Fleetwood Mac, Phoenix, and Frank Ocean). There were still plenty of sloppy spots, especially in that miserable trench around the turf track, but all in all the Fair Grounds were in pretty good shape and getting better by the hour.  

I must tell about an experience at the Staybridge this morning. Getting into the elevator to head down to the lobby and onward to the shuttles, we encountered a couple, definitely older than us, but these days I hesitate to talk about age with any certainty. Anyway, they were obvously heading to Jazz Fest, due to their tie-died sweatshirts and the fact that they were carrying chairs. The woman of the couple took one look at my feet and said, "It's obvious that you haven't been at Jazz Fest ... your shoes are too clean." On the contrary, I replied, recounting how I had already lost one pair of shoes and that I was just being extra careful yesterday. That seemed to satisfy her.

This being day number 10 of our two years of Jazz Fest, we went back to the place where we had started many others, the Fais Do Do Stage. There is something about this stage in the morning – the way the sun is on the crowd, the type of artists playing there, the two-steppers ... I don't know exactly what it is, but it's always been a great place to start the day.


The Saturday cubes told us that Goldman Thibodeaux and the Lawtell Playboys from – where else – Lawtell, Louisianawould be opening Fais Do Do today with their old-school Creole La La, the acoustic Creole house party music with its roots in the 1920's and 1930's. Thibodeaux (pronounced tib-a-doe) is one of the last living links to a bygone era of Creole musicians who laid the foundation of contemporary zydeco. He has been performing La La, which captures the spirit of Creole life, both its joys and its sorrows, since 1946.

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Born in 1932, Thibodeaux grew up in a time where rooms were cleared to make way for house dances. While he is vocalist and accordion player for his band now, the first instruments he played were the scrub board and t-fer (triangle). 

Like the Creole musicians from those earlier eras, he is rarely heard playing in a studio, festival, or club; instead, you will find him at rural church dance halls and fundraisers, or at his home, playing and singing on his porch.

The Lawtell Playboys were started in 1946 by Goldman's uncles, Bébé and Eraste Carriere. Bébé, who made his first fiddle from a cigar box and a broken window screen, played alongside his brother Eraste, on accordion, for many years. Eraste became ill and aged and passed the position on to Delton Broussard, who played with Bébé for many years. Due to age, Bébé passed the position of fiddle player to Eraste's son, Calvin Carriere.  

Goldman played scrub board in these early bands. He didn't learn to play accordion until he was in his 50's. Calvin (Goldman's cousin) and Delton played with him often to help him learn. Delton then passed the accordion position to Goldman. Calvin and Goldman played for many years but were not recorded until 2001. 

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Calvin and Delton have since passed away, and the Lawtell Playboys now consist of Goldman on accordion, Shamus Fuller on fiddle, Courtney Fuller on guitar, Barry Cormier on drums, Ray Deville on bass, and "Zydeco Joe" Citizen on scrub board.

I wonder why so many Cajun and Zydeco bands are named Playboys. Anyway, here are one, two, three, four nice videos of Goldman, and here is mine from Jazz Fest, and here are one, two, and three front porch songs that really capture the essence of Creole La La. Look, I admit it doesn't take much for me, but I can't listen to music like this by artists like this without getting chills. You can search YouTube for "Rendez-vous des Cajuns" and find lots and lots of videos like this, preserving a culture through music.

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Another space that has given us enormous pleasure over the 10 previous days of Fest-ing has been the Blues Tent. We headed over there to see the performance by Kenny Neal and his swamp blues band. Born in New Orleans in 1957 and raised in Baton Rouge, Kenny learned the basics from his father, singer and blues harmonica player, Raful Neal. Family friends like Lazy Lester, Buddy Guy, and Slim Harpo also contributed to his early musical education. He mastered the harmonica, bass, trumpet, piano, and guitar. At 13, he joined his father’s band. Four years later, he was recruited and toured extensively as Buddy Guy’s bass player.

Following Buddy's advice to concentrate on his guitar playing, Kenny relocated to Toronto and, along with his brothers Raful Jr., Noel, Larry, and Ronnie, formed the Neal Brothers Band, honing his chops backing up visiting blues stars. He eventally got back to Louisiana and established a solo career, known for his musical gumbo of swamp-boogie, jazz, R&B, and straight-ahead blues. Here are Something on Your Mind, The Things I Used To Do, and Hooked on Your Love from a club in Detroit (longer playlist from this show here). 

The lesser known blues artists are a real treat at Jazz Fest because you can get up close at the Blues Tent and enjoy the sound and the interactions and personalities of the artists. Once the Blues Tent gets crowded, it loses a lot of its allure. 

Food time! I had been wanting to try the PQA since last year, and the opportunity finally presented itself. PQA is pheasant, quail, and andouille sausage gumbo, prepared by Prejean's Restaurant of Lafayette, Louisiana. I couldn't say it any better than this: "It’s as though they have access through a Cajun wormhole to another dimension of flavor. I mean, damn." It's really that good.

Prejean's owner Bob Guilbeau makes this particular gumbo only for Jazz Fest. He calls the recipe a gift from above. Much of the flavor comes from a dark, silky, and nutty roux spiked with a blend of peppers. Add to that tender chunks of pheasant, quail, and andouille sausage. "When we first made it, the chef and I looked at it, smelled it, tasted it, and realized we had never cooked a gumbo that good in our whole lives," Guilbeau says. "It was a gift from God." He cooks the gumbo in 30 gallon batches for Jazz Fest at the restaurant. He’s been selling the stuff at the festival for 20 years. This year they prepared more than 1,000 gallons.

Laurie had a grilled veggie pita from Gambian Foods of New Orleans. The pita contains a combination of cabbage, carrots, peppers, onions and peanuts, topped with peanut sauce. Very yummy. 

Tejan Jallow and Charlie Mendy have been cooking and serving at the Gambian Foods booth for 18 years. They also serve a cool and refreshing yogurt-couscous dish. Mendy is a jovial guy with a giant smile. Born in Gambia, he's either 42 or 43 years old. He doesn't know his actual birthday, and by looks, he could be in his 20s. He wears a blue bandana to hold back his dreads.

As a boy, Mendy moved to France. He grew up, graduated from culinary school, and went to work in restaurants in Paris. His brother, a physician living in New Orleans, tried to coax him to the Crescent City. "He kept saying, 'You've got to see this place,'" Mendy said. "I was living in Paris, why would I want to go anywhere else? But finally I was curious. "When I got here, I never left. I didn't even go back to pack." He owned two restaurants, but now sticks to catering and managing real estate investments. 

Our next stop was the Lagniappe Stage, where we sat in on some of Luke Winslow-King's set. Born in Cadillac, Michigan, he learned to play the guitar before adolescence. He attended Interlochen Arts Academy, then studied music theory and composition at the University of New Orleans. While there, he won a scholarship to study Czech music at Charles University in Prague. He picked up blues and folk music playing live on the streets of New Orleans as an accompanist to jazz singer John Boutté. He has written scores for theater and film productions and worked as a music therapist with the Institute of Applied Human Dynamics in the Bronx, New York. He also has taught music at the Lavelle School for the Blind

King's music is spare, but fascinating. He plays guitar accompanied by bass, washboard, and sometimes piano and trumpet, and specializes in pre-World War II blues. But he also writes new music, demonstrating that the genre, in the care of skilled practioners, is still vital. 

Early on, he and his combo trotted out Bukka White's Jitterbug Swing. Winslow-King worked his guitar's neck with a slide, his playing fleet and nimble as traced the song's rolling rhythm. 

For You Don't Know Better Than Me, he harmonized with Esther Rose, his washboard player and significant other. Ben Polcer dressed up the song with piano and trumpet. Polcer also inserted a majestic trumpet solo in the ballad Last Night I Dreamed of You.

"Thanks for visiting us. We'll come see you next time." Old-school manners from a new school bluesman. This is another artist worth looking for. Really nice. Here's a long video, recorded in a radio studio in Boston.

At this point Laurie decided she needed some alt-rock, so she went off to hear something called MUTEMATH (why they need to shout it I have no idea). 

I stepped out to the Jazz and Heritage Stage, relatively dried out by this time, to hear some of Cha Wa's show. You'll remember that Cha Wa was at Shorty Fest the other night, but we didn't really get an opportunity to see much of them because of the crowd. What I found here was a sound that could only come out of New Orleans: the music of Mardi Gras Indians mixed with the meditative drone of early blues. It mashes up into a wall of sound, funk style, and is absolutely mesmerising.


The band's name comes from a slang phrase used by Mardi Gras Indian gangs in New Orleans. On Mardi Gras Day, you would have heard the call of spy boys confidently yelling, "Cha Wa," meaning "we're coming for 'ya!"

Cha Wa features legendary Mardi Gras Indian singer Eric "Yedi" Boudreaux and Irving "Honey" Banister on vocals, J'Wan Boudreaux (another Indian), Adam Crochet on guitar, Bill Richards on bass, Tom Worrell on keyboards, Kerry "Boom Boom" Vessell on bass drum, and Joe Gelini on drums. Appearing when they can are Colin Lake on lap steel, Danny Able on guitar, and August Jepson on congas.

Here's eight minutes of Cha Wa doing Shallow Water from the 2012 Jazz Fest. And here's Injuns Here They Come, recorded at Tipitina's.

I still had some time to kill before meeting Laurie at the Gentilly Stage, so I went back to the Lagniappe Stage. One of the nicer things I discovered on these last two sunny days of Jazz Fest (note that I did not say sunny and warm, but I would say sunny and warmer) was that there is a booth selling a draft beer from Coors called Batch 19 between the Gospel Tent and the Grandstand entrance. That beer was pretty good compared to the cans sold around the grounds. Draft beer can also be found in the grandstand itself and at a booth in the Heritage Square area outside the Blues Tent. The latter has Abita.

Anyway, at Lagniappe were Sharde Thomas and the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band. To which you might be entirely justified in saying, "What?" 

With a cane fife and a trio of drummers, Sharde Thomas took us from Jazz Fest to northern Mississippi. Or West Africa. The 23-year-old led her band in a surprisingly lovely, trance-inducing program. Her set made it clear that she has inherited a lot of the soul of her grandfather, the legendary Otha Turner

She also added her own twists to that tradition, taking familiar material (Wild Thing, The Saints, Sitting on Top of the World) and some glory-charged spirituals and making them sound new with fresh harmonies and loping, off-kilter rhythms. Her pure soprano voice mimicked her fife improvisations. With both, she stretched across bar lines and snaked amid the rolling parade rhythms of her band – two snare drummers and a bass drummer. Unique? Absolutely. And thoroughly enjoyable, too. Experience and enjoy for yourself.

So I grabbed a Batch 19 on the way out of the Grandstand and walked on the track over to the Gentilly Stage, where I found Laurie and we staked out a pretty good spot to experience the Saturday afternoon highlight, that being the set by Galactic. I discovered that she had a Chocolate Turbo Dog gelato, made from Abita's beer and, what else, chocolate, from the La Davina Gelateria booth. Hmmmm ... beer from beer or ice cream from beer. I will take the former. One of the highlights of last year's Fest, and one helluva way get the Instruments-a-Comin' show started last Monday, there is not much more to say about Galactic, but to save a few clicks ...

Galactic is a collaborative band with a unique format. It’s a stable quintet (Ben Ellman on harps and 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. 

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 the most complete cross-section of what’s happening in contemporary New Orleans anywhere — all of it featuring a hard grooving beat behind a range of styles that glides from one surprise to the next. 

Today, Galactic's performance at the Gentilly Stage featured Cory Glover of Living Colour (on the right), David Shaw of the Revivalists (on the left), Corey Henry of yesterday's Tremé Funktet (above, on trombone), and Henry’s daughter, Jazz, joining her dad on trumpet. For your enjoyment, here is the entire showNothing more needs to be said. Wait for When the Levee Breaks. Unbelievable.

Late addition for the Galactic afficianado: two parts (one, two) from a club in Indianapolis in April 2013. A full two-hour set. These are posted by the FunkIt Blog, which is a place where you can waste a lot of time if you are into music like this.

After this show we got some food. I had, and I am not kidding, a fried gator po'boy from Sharon and Guilherme Wegner of Gretna, Louisiana. It did not look like this: 


The Wegners are among the vendors who don't have restaurants or catering operations; they just serve food at Jazz Fest. They serve two alligator items, the alligator po-boy and Guil's Gator, which is a basket of lightly breaded and fried gator nuggets, onion strings, and jalapeno peppers. The po-boy consists of the same filling on Leidenheimer bread. It is really good.

Wegner began serving the alligator po-boy in 1996. The nuggets started the next year. He will fry hundreds of pounds during the festival. The price of alligator meat is now making some of the farmers who raise the reptiles just for skins turn to processing the meat, Wegner said. One problem they have, though is that "You don't have a nice distinct cut of meat, like a ribeye steak or something. You do have a center tenderloin piece that comes off the tail, which is the premium part. But that is surrounded by other meat that is probably better prepared in something you're going to cook for a while, like sauce picante or gumbo." 

The texture of alligator was similar to pork, not as tender as chicken, with a mild flavor. Guil agrees: "I don't think it tastes like chicken. Alligator has its own flavor."  'Nuf said about that. It really wasn't all that exotic, to be honest. But it was good.

Laurie had the platter with seafood au gratin, spinach and artichoke casserole, and sweet potato pone from Ten Talents Catering (see last Saturday). After the gator, Laurie's plate seemed rather mundane. But when you think about it, that plate has things that are almost as unusual, or at a minimum peculiar to the South.

At this point Laurie was off to see another alt-indie band, Phoenix, which I wasn't really all that interested in, so we parted ways again, she to the Gentilly Stage again, and I to parts unknown. 

I decided to sit in the Gospel Tent to review my options. While there I heard the Johnson Extension, a family band that spans four generations and has been singing for almost 25 years under the leadership of Reverend Lois Dejean. The Johnson Extension started when family members, choir directors themselves, tried to get the family together to sing. Now there are kids, grandkids, and even great-grandkids singing traditional and contemporary gospel music with the older generation. As I always say, any time you pass the Gospel Tent, stop by for a minute and you will be amazed at the music. Here are some excerpts of a Johnson Extension performance at Jazz Fest in 2010.

I wandered over toward the Jazz Tent, thinking I might catch George Duke and Stanley Clarke, but the crowd was overflowing. (Dang, too, because we lost George Duke this year. I should have shoehorned my way in.) I turned the corner on the track toward the Acura Stage and heard a couple of minutes of Fleetwood Mac. Really good, but not worth wading into that throng. I headed back along the tents and caught a few minutes of Los Lobos in the Blues Tent, but it was the same overflow story there. I finally opted for outdoor listening at the Fais Do Do Stage. On the way over, I heard a couple of minutes from the Free Agents Brass Band on the Jazz and Heritage Stage. Because it is conveniently located, I stopped at the WWOZ Mango Freeze booth and had a late afternoon refresher before the show.

Closing the day at Fais Do Do were Sunpie and the Louisiana Sunspots. Zydeco can always provide a home for the wandering soul (or Jazz Fest attendee). 

Bruce "Sunpie" Barnes grew up in Benton, Arkansas, where blues was a part of his life. His dad, who instructed him in the harmonica, was a blues harpist who impressed upon his son the importance of education. Good times like picnics and other family get-togethers revolved around the harmonica playing of the elder Barnes and other regional blues musicians, including Sonny Boy Williamson. In addition to the influence of his father and Williamson, Barnes draws inspiration from Carey Bell and Lee Oskar.

Thanks to his athletic ability as a youth, he earned a football scholarship to Henderson State University in Arkansas and had a brief career as a professional football player with the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs. Acting jobs in commercials and on Hollywood movie sets, too, have come his way. The entire time he was working elsewhere, however, music was always a part of Barnes' life. Even when football provided a handsome paycheck, he was playing gigs.

His lifelong love of music finally drew him to Louisiana. Adept at seven instruments (including piano, percussion, harmonica, and accordion), he learned from some of the best, including Fernest Arceneaux, John Delafose, and Clayton Sampy, and has established a worldwide reputation for his sizzling blues and zydeco music. When he made the leap to become a professional musician, he supported himself with a day job, putting in hours as a ranger in Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve in Louisiana, where he also served in the capacity of a naturalist. Evenings found him on stage in New Orleans.

Barnes teamed up in 1991 with Harold Ray Brown, former drummer with the group War, and the two of them put together the current band, Sunpie and the Louisiana Sunspots. This was their 22nd consecutive appearance at Jazz Fest.

Sunpie's versatility includes zydeco, blues, Creole, Caribbean, rock, gospel, jazz, and more. "I call it Afro-Louisiana music," he says. He tells stories, as music is intended to do. "One of the best ways history is told is through the music of people. "They're going to tell their history honestly through music."

Sunpie also is deeply involved in New Orleans parade culture and takes his music to the streets. He is Second Chief of the North Side Skull and Bones Gang (that's him in the picture to the left), one of the oldest existing carnival groups in New Orleans, and he is a member of the Black Men of Labor Social Aid and Pleasure Club. Occasionally he will take Big Chief David Montana's spot in the Mardi Gras Indian Orchestra (see the April 26 entry). 

Here's my video of Sunpie and the Sunspots from Jazz Fest. That's his son playing the scrub board with bottle openers of all things. It's obvious that these guys have a lot of fun when they get to play together. I know I enjoyed it. The late afternoon sun at the Fais Do Do stage is completely different from the morning, but it, too, gives a distinct feeling to that stage.

We all met at the appointed place when our closing shows of choice ended, hit the shuttle bus for the ride back downtown, and had a bit of time to refresh at the Staybridge before heading out to Emeril's NOLA restaurant, the one in the French Quarter, for dinner. On a Saturday evening, this place was bustling and it is not the quietest place because of its three-story open concept. Then again, on Saturday night I'm not sure that anyplace in New Orleans is all that quiet. 

I started out with oysters, and for the entree I had the hickory-roasted duck with whiskey-caramel glaze. It is served with buttermilk cornbread pudding, natural jus, haricot verts, a fire roasted corn salad, and candied pecans. Quite the extravaganza. Laurie had a roasted-beet salad which featured petite greens grown for Emeril by Sheaux Fresh Sustainable Foods, 
house-made cheese, crispy 
tabasco pecans, and apple-moonshine vinaigrette. She followed that up with Emeril's New Orleans style crabcake, with creole corn maque choux and green tomato chow chow.

       

For dessert, we shared white chocolate and blueberry bread pudding with lemon poppy-seed ice cream, blueberry compote, and candied lemon zest. Ridiculous.


One more day of music to go, with an ending I've been looking forward to for weeks.


10-28

    

© Jeff Mangold 2012