Day 2 / Friday, April 26

Last year we figured out a morning drill for getting to Jazz Fest. So why mess with success? We had to tweak the routine a bit because it was a walk of four or five blocks to the shuttle bus stop at the Sheraton hotel. But that was helped by the fact that the Staybridge had a free breakfast buffet, so the stop at PJ’s Coffee for food was eliminated. However, because of our schedule, we usually arrived as the buffet was winding down, so we were reduced to scrounging for what was left. It didn’t really matter to us; we were just looking for a quick bite because we knew there was good food and plenty of it at Jazz Fest. 

So, officially, the drill for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, 2013 edition, was: 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, and head out into the bright sunshine to walk to the shuttle buses at the Sheraton.  

We arrived at the Sheraton at the usual time, but found the line for the shuttles to be quite long, in fact wrapping around the corner onto Camp Street and back. Couldn’t really figure out why, because the buses were loading with the usual efficiency. Bottom line was that we arrived at the Fair Grounds Race Course a bit later than we had hoped. Then, once we arrived, it took for-freaking-ever to get into the grounds because the security was ramped up as a result of the Boston Marathon thing a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately the organizers came to their senses and that did not continue for the rest of the festival. 

Once we got in, to save time we decided to bypass what last year had turned into the traditional iced café au lait or black coffee and head straight for the Fais Do Do Stage. Today’s cubes can be found here, and here is the map of the grounds to refresh you memory of where everything is. There were a couple of changes from last year, but nothing major that affected the music or food. With that, I need to show you this map of the "real" Jazz Fest, which was thoroughly researched by a long-time attendee and is good for a laugh. 

As we passed the Gentilly Stage on our way to Fais Do Do, we experienced deja vu, because, just like on our first day last year, Flow Tribe was playing. And just like last year we stopped for a few minutes to soak in some uniquely funky New Orleans music. Here's an example. We didn’t stay for the whole set because we were due to see Flow Tribe at one of our evening events later in the week.

In the warm mid-day sun at the Fais Do Do stage, the Cajun trio T’Monde from Lafayette, Louisiana, was playing. Nothing fancy here, just guitar, fiddle, accordion, and harmony. T’Monde (TEE-mone, which in Cajun French can mean "little world" or "little people") is described as a group of 20-somethings who play century-old Cajun tunes, and are we ever glad they do. 

The trio are Megan Brown on guitar, Kelli Jones-Savoy on fiddle, and Drew Simon (SEE-mone) on accordion. Brown’s guitar has a sharp, modern edge to it, contrasting with the traditional sound of the fiddle and accordion, and their harmonies are beautifully natural. There are some videos of T’Monde at the bottom of their media page, and here is their take on Kitty Wells’ Making Believe.

Before things get crowded at Fais Do Do, the area in front of the stage is owned by the two-steppers, some (most?) of whom, like the couple on the right, are rather eccentric in the attire. It was fun to watch them arrive on the scene and barely look at the stage to see who was performing before they started to dancing, as if they had a year’s worth of anticipation to let loose. That probably isn’t the case because there seems to be a music festival of some kind virtually every weekend in southern Louisiana. Maybe they were frustrated because of the wait to get in.

The Cajun two-steps and waltzes aren’t all that complicated. In the waltz, with the music in 3/4 time, the most common pattern is simply stepping on each beat, with an emphasis on the beginning beat of each three. In general, it's easy enough to recognize that beat because it's emphasized in the music. Step out on the "one", add a simple two-step, then step out again on the next "one."

The two-step is performed to faster, more lively music in 4/4 time, so it’s basically one-two, one-two, with an emphasis on the first one if you want. In the traditional Cajun two-step there are no turnouts, spins, or other fancy moves. However, the Cajun traveling two-step is a two-step of six or eight counts that lends itself to turns and spins, and the Cajun jitterbug invites flourishes such as the inside turn, hip turn, outside turn, back slide, sweetheart slide, back out, and turn-under. Regardless of the technicalities, it’s fun to watch the dancers at Fais Do Do.

Our next stop was the Blues Tent, but on the way we passed the food area with the Panorama Fine Foods booth. That meant crawfish bread for Laurie and sausage and jalapeno bread for me. We were now officially back at Jazz Fest. There are some who say that one of these cheesy, gooey, and yes greasy treats from Marksville, Louisiana (they also make shrimp bread), should be eaten every day one is at Jazz Fest. I wouldn’t go that far, but I would have one more than once, for sure.

Guitar Slim, Jr. was at the Blues Tent. Despite the fact that his first album earned a Grammy nomination, this guy remains pretty much unknown. The son of Eddie "Guitar Slim" Jones, (here's a sample of his work) his real name is Rodney Armstrong. He has been a fixture on the New Orleans club circuit for the better part of 20 years but for some reason doesn’t get to the big-name venues. Early in his career he avoided his father’s great blues tunes, but now he embraces them and includes them in his show, along with his extensive soul repertoire.

Dressed in a white suit with pink vest, tie, and shoes, and a guitar strap with big musical notes on it, Slim fronted a group that included Jan Clements on organ, Frank Spangler on guitar, Anthony Garner on bass, and Ernest "Box" Fontenot, best known as Fats Domino's latter-day drummer. 

To lend cred to Slim’s performance, New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint appeared on the stage with Slim for a couple of songs. 

Here is some of Slim’s Jazz Fest performance in an audio file, beginning with Toussaint sitting in on Trouble Don’t Last. And here is a video of him at the Jazz Fest Gala in 2010. 

Slim was a good friend of Stevie Ray Vaughan and he ended the show with a soul-powered take on Vaughan’s Pride and Joy

What next? Well, it seemed like some early afternoon brass would be in order, so we headed over to the sunshine and purple palm trees of the Gentilly Stage to catch the hip-hop, rock, and reggae infused Soul Rebels Brass Band. These guys conduct a high-energy, groove-laden affair that forces the audience to party with their contagious sound. They take every opportunity to spread their hometown’s rich cultural heritage and also chart new territory. The Village Voice called them "the missing link between Public Enemy and Louis Armstrong." Whatever it is, it’s really good. 

The Soul Rebels started with an idea shared between founding members Derrick Moss and Lumar LeBlanc, who were percussionists in New Orleans’ iconic Young Olympia Brass Band, to play the music they loved on the radio in the New Orleans brass band tradition. Together with a group of young, like-minded players from all over New Orleans, graduates of university music programs throughout the South, the Young Olympia morphed into the Soul Rebels and set out to make their mark.

"We wanted to make our own sound without disrespecting the brass tradition," LeBlanc recalls. So they took the marching band format they had learned in school and incorporated influences from outside the city as well as R&B, funk, and hip-hop, especially through half-sung, half rapped lyrics. "Most of our originals have vocals," says LeBlanc. "You wouldn’t have done that in a traditional brass band."

Members of this outstanding conglomeration are Moss on bass drum, LeBlanc on snare drum, Julian Gosin and Marcus Hubbard on trumpet, Corey Peyton on trombone, Erion Williams on sax, Paul Robertson on trombone, and Edward Lee Jr. on sousaphone. Here is a YouTube page that contains 13 videos from a club in France. Not the best video but the sound is good. Here are Soul Rebels performances with Maceo Parker (Pass the Peas, Funky Good TIme, and Get on Up) and ... wait for it ... Metallica (it's Seek and Destroy). They do their killer version of Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams Are Made of This in the linked video, but I prefer this version, with the Eurythmics man himself, Dave Stewart. Stewart's entire performance is definitely worthy of a look, but the Soul Rebels start about 55 minutes in if you want to "fast forward."

Next was another journey back to the Blues Tent. I was getting my calories from a can. Laurie, however, stopped at the Burks and Douglas booth for a blackberry cobbler. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that I had a bite of it as well.

Also on the way over to the Blues Tent we stopped at Congo Square for a taste of the great bass player George Porter Jr. and his band the Runnin’ Pardners. Porter is a former member of the Meters and a current member of the Funky Meters, the Meter Men, and other groups beyond the Runnin’ Pardners. This band, with Brint Anderson on guitar, Michael Lemmler on keyboards, Khris Royal on sax, and Terrence Houston on drums, rings truest to the original Meters. Here they are doing Curtis Mayfield’s Here But I’m Gone and here is something a little more funky, The Happy Song. And one more, from the actual Jazz Fest performance, with Khris Royal absolutely smoking. And if you have time, here’s their entire performance from the 2012 Voodoo Music Experience, NOLA’s major autiumn music festival, which in general is a bit edgier than Jazz Fest (the Dave Stewart show linked above is from Voodoo Fest, too). 

Porter and his band were really good, but New Orleans slide guitar virtuoso John Mooney and his band Bluesiana were on at the Blues Tent, and he was very high on the list of people I didn’t want to miss. Mooney’s distictive slide guitar and vocal signature are described as a brilliant melding of Delta blues and New Orleans second line roots. The unusual backing band Bluesiana is Jeff Sarli on bass, Alfred "Uganda" Roberts on congas and percussion, and Bernard "Bunche" Johnson on drums.  

Mooney’s interest in music may have filtered down from his grandfather, who cut a couple of 78's for the Peerless label. "It was really hot stuff," Mooney says, "a kind of raggy jazz."

John left home at 15 and by luck met the legendary Delta blues singer, Ed "Son" House, who became his mentor. Mooney cites Son's heavily rhythmic style as having a strong influence on him. In fact, the way Mooney adapts acoustic playing to a modern electric format is one of his most distinctive trademarks. He has not had it easy. He had conflicts with other artists, which kept him out of the major New Orleans venues and he and his wife struggled with addiction and marital strife, but he has risen above all of it to produce some genuinely great music. He is a regular a Jazz Fest.

If you like blues or are a guitar afficionado, I strongly recommend you seek out some of John Mooney’s music. In the meantime, here are some videos. First and second are performances at the Louisiana Music Factory in 2007 and 2008. Next we have a set with Mooney on guitar and vocal accompanied only by Uganda Roberts on congas. Very cool. Finally, here and here are a couple of performances with a full band.  


Our next choice for music was in the Jazz Tent, located right next door to the Blues Tent, with a food area between. How convenient, because it was definitely time for a snack! Last year we missed the offerings of Ba Mien Vietnamese Cuisine of New Orleans, which are on most everyone’s Jazz Fest must-eat list. On the left, Laurie had the shrimp with vermicelli, a fresh, flavorful bowl of rice noodles with shrimp, herbs, and vegetables. On the right, I had the shrimp spring roll, with shrimp, crisp vegetables and cool vermicelli noodles wrapped inside rice paper with a touch of mint


In the Jazz Tent, we were treated to the fantastic tenor saxophone of Joshua Redman, accompanied by Aaron Goldberg on piano, Joe Sanders on bass, and Kendrick Scott on drums. These guys epitomize modern jazz, and they blew the roof off of the venerable tent. They did a gorgeous reimagining of Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust along with some original Redman compositions that put the leader’s artistry and in particular Goldberg's piano on display. And you know I am going to sing the praises of Scott, a leader in his own right whose innovative drumming very subtly took from the hip-hop playbook and mixed it into the work of the other three with great skill.

Joshua is the son of saxophonist Dewey Redman. He took up the sax at age 10, but he never seriously considered becoming a professional musician. Instead he graduated from Harvard summa cum laude with a B.A. in Social Studies, and was accepted by Yale Law School.

He deferred Yale for what he thought was only going to be a year after accepting the invitation of some friends to share a place in Brooklyn, and almost immediately he found himself immersed in the New York jazz scene. The rest, as they say, is history.

Aaron Goldberg is a native of Boston who began studying piano at age seven. He, too, graduated from Harvard. In addition to working with Redman, he leads his own group and spent six moths with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. He also found time to earn a Master's in Analytic Philosophy from Tufts University.

Joe Sanders started out in grade school and middle school strictly classical, but in 2002 began studies at the Dave Brubeck Institute at the University of the Pacific. After a year in New York City he returned to California to attend the Thelonious Monk Institute in Los Angeles. He now leads his own band in jazz clubs throughout New York. "I am fortunate to have found my calling," says Sanders. "I hope to reach people’s hearts and make a difference in their life through the spirit of music."

Kendrick Scott grew up in Houston in a family of musicians whose eclectic interests ran to gospel, classical, and R&B. His earliest musical experiences were in his church. When he was eight years old, his parents set him up with some sticks and drum lessons. He eventually attended Berklee College of Music, where he majored in music education. 

This black and white video and this color video show some of the Jazz Fest performance, the only ones I can find with all four together. These others have Redman and Goldberg doing the original recording of Stardust and a live tune in Europe this summer with a different bassist and drummer (Reuben Rogers and Greg Hutchinson, respectively). 

After this outstanding music we zipped over to the infield and the Jazz and Heritage Stage. This was a venue we sorely overlooked last year, a mistake we would not repeat this year. At this time, Brice Miller and the Mahogany Brass Band were playing. I’m not going to lie here, we were lured to this performance by a description that said Miller’s New Orleans jazz trumpet was electronically treated and blended with original urban DJ tracks, original compositions, and popular songs. Such was not the case. But they were laying down some really good traditional brassy funk, and I can’t say that we didn’t enjoy it a lot. 

Miller has a B.S. in Music Education and a Master's in Educational Administration, and he is working on his Ph. D. at the University of Alabama, where he teaches Culture and Human Experience in the International Honors College. He also spent 12 years as director of jazz eduation programs for the New Orleans public schools. And he does do the DJ electronica thing, just not with this band. 

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One of the cool things about the local bands is that a lot of them bring the whole family along. Miller’s kids were hanging out on the stage during the show, snapping pictures of the band and the crowd and in general having a great time. 

Here and here are a couple of performances of Brice Miller and the Mahogany Brass Band at the Louisiana Music Factory.

The next to the last cubes on this first day were tough enough, pitting Joshua Redman against Dr. John, Sonny Landreth, Gary Clark Jr., and Donald Harrison. The final cube was also difficult, with John Mayer at the Acura Stage, Band of Horses at Gentilly, the Stubblefield and Higgins Mashup in the Jazz Tent (Ron Holloway on sax and Grant Green Jr. on guitar), the "sacred steel" of the Campbell Brothers in the Blues Tent, and zydeco legends Terrance Simien and Queen Ida over at Fais Do Do. 

So, when you can’t decide between A, B, C, D, or E what do you do? Try F, of course. In this case, F would be the Mardi Gras Indian Orchestra with Big Chief David Montana of the Washitaw Tribe of Mardi Gras Indians.

The orchestra brings a bunch of New Orleans' best musicians together to create new arrangements of the traditional Mardi Gras Indian chants. It features a who’s who of musicians and backing vocalists, including Camile Baudoin (Radiators) and Sam Hotchkiss (Juice) on guitar, Reggie Scanlan (Radiators) on bass, Rosie Rosato on percussion, Kevin O’Day on drums, Tim Green on sax, Helen Gillet on cello, Harry Hardin on violin, and C.R. Gruver (New Orleans Suspects) on keyboards. 

With affection, Green describes the orchestra’s performances as "controlled chaos." 

"There are literally 12 people or more on the stage," he explains. "It’s fun to play music that I don’t often have a chance to do and and I’m completely free. So it kinda gets out there. It raises energy." 

It was definitely energetic, and it was indeed chaotic. The Mardi Gras Indian chants, the calls by the Chief and the response by the band (and the audience) just go on and on, with the music swirling around them. Gillet's cello and Hardin’s violin added an interesting dimension to the group. The two classically trained musicians really worked their respective instruments, giving the music depth. In the back, Hotchkiss and Baudoin were stellar in driving the songs along with Scanlan and O’Day. The whole thing brought a wonderful intensity to standards like Indians, Here They Come, Too Late, Shotgun Joe, and Indian Red. As far as video goes, mine is the best I could find, and that’s not saying much. Here is a Soundcloud playlist with an entire performance


This was a great way to end day one of seven — yes seven — of Jazz Fest. We have found, carrying over from last year, that we really enjoy emphasizing the local artists along with the jazz and blues as opposed to the big names, with some exceptions of course. The bus ride back downtown was filled with nothing but smiles.

Our evening activity tonight was later on at the House of Blues, not scheduled to start until 10 p.m., so we had some time to rest and relax and also to road test our Staybridge Suites kitchen and eating area with some take-out to eat on dishes with real silverware (and then refrigerate the leftovers). 

Just across Poydras Street from the Staybridge is an old (what else?) brick building that holds an establishment known as Mother’s Restaurant. This was very fortunate for us because this place is unbelievably good. Cajun-style home cooking. Huge portions. Done with attitude. 

Here’s a PDF of Mother’s menu, which also has the history of the establishment. The Katrina story is cool; after the storm, Mother’s put trailers in the parking lot next door so their employees could get back to the city and back to work.

Now, some people don’t get Mother’s, and I can see why. It’s a bit intimidating. When you get there, there may or may not be a line stretching out the door and quite possibly down the street. You have to want your Mother’s food. (The line contains a mix of just about everyone: locals, tourists, lawyers from the nearby courthouse, people in suits, people in work uniforms, you name it.) 

Once you get in, a host hands you a menu that you can peruse while the line continues on the worn concrete floor, passing by the food prep area with large pans filled with fantastic-looking food (by this time you want to eat everything!) and finally to the cashiers, where you place your order and pay. There’s also a menu on the wall above the food prep area. 

As you inch you way past the food prep you see a whole lot of very busy people putting together plate after plate of the most outstanding food. Woe be to you if you make eye contact or ask them to take your order! It’s actually all pretty good natured, but they are very busy and the host does tell you where to place your order. Of course, the person who takes your order and the cashier are tough nuts to crack as well. The whole time, cooks are breaking through the line of to deliver pots and piles of food from the kitchen to the prep area.

After you order your takeout, you go stand on the other side of the room, taking in the entire scene and looking at the pictures of Mother’s family, local politicians, and celebrities who have visited until your food comes out. If you are eating in, you look for a table and then wait for your food to be brought out. Mother's has a kind of Soup Nazi from Seinfeld feel to it, at least when you are there for the first time. You have to know the drill, and once you do it’s fun to watch those who don’t.

Everything at Mother’s is cooked in house from scratch. Local regulars don’t care that tourists jam the place and that prices are higher than in similar restaurants because the goodness cannot be denied. Why? They roast their own beef. They even serve a sandwich made from the beef that falls off of the roast into the pan (called debris ... deb-ris, not deb-ree). They bake their own hams and turkeys. Dishes like red beans and rice, gumbo, and jambalaya are prepared in a distinctive, old-fashioned style designed to be made anew daily, and I’ve read that they use ham fat, which plays a role both in the flavor of their cooking and the way it really fills you up. And when it comes to their excellent po-boys, beyond the portion and flavor, cabbage instead of shredded lettuce provides added depth of flavor ... and crunch.

No po-boy for me today, though, I had the jambalaya. Laurie had the shrimp creole omelette, which was large enough in and of itself, but it also came with a mountain of grits. Mother’s was quite the experience, and were we ever glad it was right across the street from the hotel!

 

One more event remained to close out the day, and that was at the House of Blues in a venue called the Parish Room. The show was scheduled to start at 10 p.m. We arrived a few minutes early, got in the line to get our ID checked and the obligatory wristband issued, and then presented our tickets, only to find out we were in the wrong place. Apparently the House of Blues in New Orleans is much bigger than we had realized after our visits last year. The entrance to the Parish Room is a couple of doors down from the main entrance. You show your ticket and then head up a very long staircase to the room itself. It’s a smaller space than the concert hall, all on one level with a lower ceiling. The stage is low, adding to the intimate feeling. The lone bar is in the back. The walls are decorated with huge paintings representing each of the seven deadly sins, and the windows are leaded glass. With the wood floor and benches, the place has the feel of an old monastery, no kidding. Above the stage is a hand-painted sign that reads "Unity in Diversity." 

Of course, when we entered the Parish Room at 10 p.m. the place was practically empty. More reinforcement to what we are beginning to refer to as NOLA standard time. We had some drinks, checked out the decor, and admired the array of unusual stringed instuments on the stage. 

Eventually, Asheville, North Carolina, based Toubab Krewe picked up those instruments and began a two-hour session that mixed world music with American jam-band rock and a touch of Appalachian folk. The group's instrumentation includes a kora (21-string harp-lute), a kamelengoni (12-string harp-lute), a soku (Malian horsehair fiddle), two electric guitars, an electric bass, a standard drum set, and African percussion. 

These guys take their African music seriously, as they have traveled to and studied in Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Mali. But they have taken what they learned and created something completely unique and contemporary. And as if one needed more reasons to appreciate them, Toubab Krewe donate a dollar from every ticket they sell to establish and maintain a music school for the youth of Mali.

One benefit of being early was that we were right up front to see this great music. During the show, Khris Royal, from the aforementioned George Porter Jr.’s band the Runnin’ Pardners, joined them on stage to lend some saxophone, which only added to the fantastic sound. 

Like any good jam band, Toubab Krewe encourages taping, so there are a ton of performances to listen to at archive.org. Here and here are a couple of in-studio performances, here is a semi-acoustic performance, and here and here are videos of a performances in a club setting. Another highly recommended group of artists. 

After a short break, the Mali-born singer-songwriter Fatoumata Diawara and her iridescent smile took the stage accompanied by a percussionist, bass player, and guitarist. The four exquisitely draw elements of jazz and funk into the sparse melodies of West African folk music. The performance was very dynamic and she is extremely personable, especially for someone who never spoke a word English. Here is a great video of her at the World of Music and Arts festival in England. 

Diawara is also known for her strong positions on issues affecting Africa, especially her home country Mali. She gathered a group of more than 40 musicians to record a song calling for peace in face of the Islamist insurgence in the country. "The Malian people look to us," the 30-year-old said after the recording. "They have lost hope in politics. But music has always brought hope in Mali. Music has always been strong and spiritual, and has had a very important role in the country, so when it comes to the current situation, people are looking up to musicians for a sense of direction." 

It was another late night, as we left the House of Blues around 2 a.m. Fortunately, the walk back to the hotel wasn’t as long as last night, and there was a late night snack of leftover jambalaya (me) and grits (Laurie) awaiting! We can’t wait for tomorrow. 


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© Jeff Mangold 2012