Day 2 / Friday, April 25

Did somebody say Jazz Fest morning drill? Why, yes! Last year we found Staybridge Suites morning drill success and we were not about to mess with it this year. So to refresh everyone's memory, the drill for the 45th Anniversary edition of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was: get up, get ready, scrounge whatever food was left at the Staybridge breakfast buffet, go back to the room and slather on sunblock and gather tickets and cameras and phones and our (new) blue and white umbrella, and head out into the bright sunshine to walk the five blocks over to Canal Street and the shuttle buses at the Sheraton hotel.  

As usual on the first day, the line for the shuttles was long, wrapping around the corner onto Camp Street, and slow. But this year we were prepared for that, and had arrived in plenty of time. We just enjoyed the warm sun, watched the construction crews converting an old building at Canal and Camp into apartments, and took a picture of ourselves with a George Rodrigue Blue Dog in one of the Sheraton's windows. 

A word of tribute to George Rodrigue and his Blue Dog. Sadly, George passed away in December 2013 after a battle with lung cancer attributed to breathing solvents in a poorly ventilated studio. Rodrigue's Blue Dog is seen all over New Orleans, and one of his galleries is in the heart of the French Quarter, on Royal Street just behind St. Louis Cathedral. Rodrigue's (it's pronounced rod-REEG) career as an artist started with dark and lush landscapes that celebrated the Cajun culture of his native Louisiana bayou. It shifted abruptly when he began a series of portraits of the melancholy mutt that came to be known as Blue Dog. 

Blue Dog was born in 1984, when Rodrigue was commissioned to do the artwork for a collection of Cajun ghost stories, including the ghost dog, or werewolf, known in his part of the world as the loup-garouHe found his model in a photograph of his own dog, Tiffany, who had recently died. She was black and white in reality but became blue in his imagination, with yellow eyes. "The yellow eyes are really the soul of the dog," he said. "He has this piercing stare. People say the dog keeps talking to them with the eyes, always saying something different."

He continued: "People who have seen a Blue Dog painting always remember it. They are really about life, about mankind searching for answers. The dog never changes position. He just stares at you. And you’re looking at him, looking for some answers, 'Why are we here?,' and he’s just looking back at you, wondering the same. The dog doesn’t know. You can see this longing in his eyes, this longing for love, for answers."

Rodrigue also did the artwork for three of the Jazz Fest posters, which each year feature an icon of New Orleans music. His subjects were Louis Armstrong (1995), Pete Fountain (1996), and Al Hirt (2000). The only way he would agree to contribute the art was if Blue Dog could be included. 


After a happy bus ride with an as-ever friendly and informative (to newbies at least) host on board, we arrived at the Fair Grounds Race Course right on time. We passed by the friendly folks at the will-call booth, went through the friendly security checkpoint, and had our tickets scanned by even more friendly people. The friendly crossing guards got us safely across the race track, making sure we weren't run over by the busy service vehicles, and there we were, standing on the infield, looking at the great live oak trees and realizing that we were - finally - back!

The weather today was perfect. Upper 70's under bright sunshine when we arrived, heading up to a very warm but not quite hot 84 in the afternoon as a light overcast rolled in. And the Fair Grounds were in perfect condition, too, with lush green grass everywhere.

Here is the map of the grounds for this year's Jazz Fest, just to refresh your memory of where everything is. There was one major change this year, in that the Gentilly Stage was given a sponsor and is now known as the Samsung Galaxy Stage. No thanks, in our mind it will always be Gentilly, in honor of the neighborhood surrounding the Fair Grounds, a neighborhood which suffered horrifically (and needlessly) in the Federal flood following hurricane Katrina in 2005. The other change was an unhappy one, as Yolanda Casby of Marie's Sugar Dumplings was not bringing her sweet potato turnovers to Jazz Fest this year, deciding to take a year off. There was a big hole in the Congo Square food area where she would have been, and an empty place in both my heart and my stomach, because I love those turnovers!

We arrived with plenty of time to get some food and iced coffee before the music began. Our first stop was Food Area I. When you walk into this area from the entrance that the shuttle busses use, the first vendors you come to, separated from the rest of the booths, are long-time Jazz Fest neighbors Panorama Fine Foods and Catering Unlimited. Stopping at this island of culinary delight is a no-brainer if you arrive before Jazz Fest gets crowded, as you can get two of the best dishes at the festival there without delay. Laurie had crawfish bread from Panorama and I had Cajun jambalaya from Catering Unlimited. Taste buds are happy to be back, too!

After devouring the crawfish bread and jambalaya, we had time to zip over to Food Area II to get a Cool Brew iced coffee (Laurie) and iced café au lait (me) from the New Orleans Coffee Company's booth (pictured at the top of this page). For me, Café du Monde's iced café au lait is better, but their booth is located over between the big Jazz and Blues tents, a bit of a hike from the infield stages, plus they don't offer plain old iced black coffee. So this booth works for both of us. 

Today’s cubes led us to the Fais Do Do stage to start out. Those who have followed us at Jazz Fest will probably be saying 'what else is new?' It's true. For us, nothing kick starts a day at Jazz Fest like some Cajun or zydeco music at Fais Do Do.

The lead-off act at Fais Do Do this year was Jimmy Breaux and Friends. Jimmy Breaux is acknowledged to be one of the best Cajun accordionists of the modern era. He is best known for his 25 years with the grand poobahs of Cajun music, BeauSoleil, and its founder Michael Doucet, but he has several outstanding recordings under his own name and in 2012 decided to give up life on the road, stay at home, and perform on his own and on his own schedule.

Breaux is in the fourth generation of his family to play Cajun music. Among his musical relatives are his great-grandfather Auguste Breaux, his grandfather Amédé Breaux, his great-aunt Cleoma Breaux, his father Preston Breaux, and his brothers Pat and Gary Breaux. Cleoma was married to Joe Falcon, one of the great Cajun musicians of the 1930s. Together, they helped lead the way for the Cajun musicians of today. She sang and played on the first Cajun recording, Allons à Lafayette. About the same time, Amédé Breaux made the first recording of Jolie Blonde

When Jimmy, who was born in 1967, was growing up, the Louisiana Cajun culture was not well known or understood. The legendary fiddler Dewey Balfa first captured the attention of mainstream America at the Newport Folk Festival, but it was BeauSoleil, which Jimmy joined at the age of 20, that really spread the joy of Cajun music to the world. 

For this show today, Breaux's friends were Jamey Bearb on fiddle and vocals, Roddie Romero on guitar, Kevin Stelly on drums, and Ross Richard on bass. With his traditional Cajun button accordion, Breaux is a standout, but his persona in the band is very low key. The only parts of his body that seem to move are his fingers ... at lightning speed, with note-crammed riffs full of créole soul. Most of the tunes were traditional, and every one of them made you want to dance! 

While it was his show, Breaux demonstrated he can also play the support role, allowing Romero and Bearb ample opportunity to shine. Bearb’s Cajun-country voice was perfect for the dance-hall vibe these guys created, even if it was outdoors before noon. Straight out of the bayou, this was a great show, an excellent way to start Festing in 2014.

Here come the videos! This one is from Jazz Fest and features Bearb's fiddle and vocals plus Romero's slide technique -- and a closeup of his gator-skin guitar (check it out on the left). Here's my video from Jazz Fest. And here are some from the Festivals Acadiens et Créoles in Lafayette, Louisiana: an accordion two-step'Tite Fille de la Campagne, and Le Paradis des Musiciens.

After the traditional Cajun of Breaux, we decided on some rockin' zydeco to make our re-Festment even more official. That rockin' zydeco would be provided by Wayne Toups at the Acura Stage.

The band Toups fronted today was made up of his brother Darrell Toups on percussion, Freddie Pate on guitar, Chevy Foreman on bass, Mike Burch on drums, Rick Lagneaux on keyboards, and, what do you know, Roddie Romero on guitar. How he got over to the Acura Stage from Fais Do Do so quickly is beyond me, but his distinctive slide guitar fit in with Toups' music perfectly.

The Cajun button accordion Toups (and Jimmy Breaux) wields is a curious contraption. Only vaguely resembling the more familiar piano accordion (see Nathan Williams later today), the unusual Cajun variety features a single row of 10 buttons for the right hand. Like a blues harmonica ("only more expensive," Toups quips), the Cajun accordion plays in just one key, although they are built in any number of keys.

Toups was born in the Capital of Cajun Country, Lafayette, Louisiana, and grew up in nearby Crowley. His father was a French-speaking rice farmer. As a full-blooded Cajun, he was surrounded virtually from birth by the region's distinctive accordion-dominated music. When he was 13, his older brother showed him how to play Cajun accordion and almost immediately Wayne was in local contests performing the music of his early idols, Iry Lejeune (listen), Belton Richard (who we saw at Jazz Fest in 2012) (listen), and Aldus Roger (listen). He also credits Milton Adams and Shine Mouton with teaching him how to play the accordion. 

As he matured as a musician, Toups began incorporating rock, R&B, and soul music into his sound. He was on the verge of creating a whole new style of music, even if his first recordings and performances were strictly traditional.

Toups quit the music business in the late '70s when he got married and had a son. To supply his family with the steady income that was not available to him then as a musician, he went to work in the oil fields, ran a backhoe, and for a while even worked as a gravedigger. "I've done enough physical labor," he says, "to say I've worked for a living." About 1982, he formed a band to play gigs at night and on weekends, and by 1985, performing three or four dances a week, he was earning enough to quit the day jobs. 

Toups first recorded his distinctive fusion style in 1987, on an album called "ZydeCajun" (which was also the name of his band), and he's been criss-crossing musical genres ever since. He became the first Cajun act to crack the Top Pop Albums chart when his "Blast From the Bayou" appeared in 1989. These recordings draw on the French-language traditional material of his Cajun ancestors, but add the unmistakable R&B and soul textures of zydeco along with a dash of rock and roll. 

Toups explains: "I always did love southern rock and rhythm and blues. My soul-singing heroes were Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding and Percy Sledge. But I also loved the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Little Feat, Delbert McClinton. I grew up with this thick Cajun accent, singing all those old Cajun songs, but as I matured as a singer, I starting singing with more blues notes. That is the soul and the compassion that people develop over the years of hardship, losing loved ones and stuff like that. I called it ZydeCajun because I always thought it was a Cajun rhythm and blues that’ll rock your socks off."

Make no mistake, Toups still loves the traditional music. "I love to do that when we are at home, and I always sing (some songs) in French. It's like the folklorists say: You can't cut all the branches off, or the roots will die. But I also think the music has to expand. You can't just keep the old -- you also need the new."

Here's a video of Toups at Jazz Fest this year doing Fish Out of Water. And here's my video. If you're getting into this really good stuff, here are 1 (Two-Step Mamou), 2 (Tupelo Honey), 3, 4 (Take My Hand5, 6, 7, 8 (New Orleans Ladies), and 9 from the Texas Club in Baton Rouge (that's in Louisiana, the State capital actually, if you didn't know). Finally, Toups always seems to close his shows with Please Explain, so here's an awesome 9-minute version of that.

Wayne Toups also plays traditional Cajun tunes in an acoustic group known as The Band Courtbouillon with Steve Riley of the Mamou Playboys on guitar, Wilson Savoy of the Pine Leaf Boys and Savoy Family Band on fiddle, and Eric Frey of the Red Stick Ramblers on bass. From the Blue Moon Saloon in Lafayette, here is a 15-song YouTube playlist of this group that some true fan recorded and posted. This is quality stuff if you are at all interested in Cajun music. It's being played by four guys largely responsible for keeping this cultural treasure alive for all of us to enjoy today.

While we're at it, since he's been on stage for both of the acts we've seen today, let's give some props to Roddie Romero. Roddie, an accordion prodigy who cut three records before graduating from high school, leads a group called the Hub City All Stars, and they have been performing their combination of traditional Cajun and Crèole music with a roots rock twist for more 20 years. Their energetic performances feature Roddie’s pumping accordion, slide guitar mastery, and soulful vocals in one of the tightest bands in southern Louisiana. We have not encountered them yet, but by all accounts they put on a great show, mixing all of the above and even a little bit of swamp boogie, soul music, and western swing in their energetic shows.  

(Hint: we'll see Roddie's accordion prowess tomorrow along with his guitar when he sits in with yet another Cajun superstar, that being the great Zachary Richard.)

Romero and the All Stars took 10 years to complete their Grammy-winning double album, "The La Louisianne Sessions," including some 8 years of conceptualizing the record over burgers at Lafayette’s venerated Judice Inn. The result is a fantastic set of mature originals and recreations of south Louisiana classics. 

The recording's originals juxtapose good times and hard living perfectly and, inspired by historic recordings that were made at Lafayette’s La Louisianne Studios, they recreated tunes by Aldus Roger, John Delafose, and Clifton Chenier, among others. They didn't just cover these songs; instead, they reproduced them by using the same equipment and recording methods. The only way these renditions could sound any closer to the classics would be if the original artists sat in.

"If it speaks anything, I think it speaks Lafayette," says Romero. "Growing up in Lafayette, this big gumbo pot of great Louisiana music is right here. I wanted to make each genre as true as we could on all levels: musically, musicianship, the performance of it and on a sonic level, I really wanted to make it sound like those records. It’s definitely different, more mature. It’s Lafayette." Romero is definitely a guy who gets it. So here we go, nine songs at the Blue Moon Saloon courtesy of the same fanatic who recorded the Band Courtboullion playlist above. The great Louisiana guitarist Sonny Landreth (more on him on Sunday) and the aforementioned Zachary Richard, plus multifaceted New Orleans keyboardist David Torkanowsky are sitting in on some of these songs. The second tune in this set features Roddy doing up right the awesome Bobby Charles song I Hope.

Meanwhile, back at Jazz Fest, we had some time to kill before hitting the Blues Tent for a must-see on my cubes, so we decided to walk back to the other side of the Fair Grounds to the Gentilly Stage to see a few minutes of New Orleans indie psychedelic pop rockers Rotary Downs

Rotary Downs are vocalist and guitarist James Marler, guitarist Chris Colombo, keyboardist and trumpeter Michael Girardot, bassist Jason Rhein, and drummer Zack Smith. Some of the band's recorded work on their album "Chained to the Chariot" was damaged by the Federal flood in 2005, but they salvaged what they could and in time produced a great recording. Since then, they have been part of the increased artistic collaboration and cross-pollination in the music scene in New Orleans. Their 2010 work, "Cracked Maps and Blue Reports," was described as perfectly New Orleanian: both high and low, in and out, joyous and mournful." 

The group's '70s pop-rock sound is nothing like what many people think of as New Orleans music, but it's there. "I love the Meters," Smith said. "I love Johnny Vidacovich. I take from them all the time. But the music that has influenced us is far from New Orleans. A lot of us grew up on '70s rock. That's kind of what we're going for, but a little harder, a little more progressive. At the same time, we live here in New Orleans, and it seeps into us." From the 70's, Smith and Colombo count the Electric Light Orchestra and its leader Jeff Lynne as inspiration. Original Pink Floyd principal Syd Barrett, too. Rotary Downs also performs some songs by '80s hitmakers The Cars. "That is pop-rock to the bone," Smith said of the Cars. "If you blink, the song is over. They say what they need to say in two minutes and 45 seconds."

When asked what might have happened if Rotary Downs had come from a more modern rock-oriented city such as Seattle or Portland, Smith said, "There may be more of a following for this kind of music because there are more bands like us, but I wouldn’t trade what we have here for the world. It’s the total package, living here and creating music here." 

Some Rotary Downs videos from Jazz Fest here and here, and a couple from the Jam in the Van people (another site with a whole bunch of videos in all genres, definitely worth a look), these being Country Killers and a.k.a. Godzilla.  

We enjoyed the short time we spent with Rotary Downs, but had to hustle over to the Blues Tent for the set by Chris Thomas King. We got there in time to get pretty good seats right up near the stage.

King may be best known to movie fans, for his role in the Coen brothers' 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou? in which he played Tommy Johnson, the blues guitarist who claims he sold his soul to the devil at a rural Mississippi crossroads in exchange for his skill on guitar ... a not so subtle take on legendary bluesman Robert Johnson (listen). He was also in the Oscar-winning film Ray, playing band leader and blues guitar player Lowell Fulson (listen) and starred in the art house film The Soul of a Man, in the role of Blind Willie Johnson (listen).

King was born in Baton Rouge in 1964. His father, the late bluesman Tabby Thomas, owned a club called Tabby's Blues Box. As a result, King's life in music started early. He was well known as Rockin' Tabby's son and considered a young genius. He performed with the late Silas Hogan (listen), Arthur "Guitar" Kelly (listen), and Clarence Edwards (listen), three masters of swamp blues, at his father's club and traveled as a rhythm guitar player for famous musicians like Fulson and Joe Tex (listen).

As he matured in the the New Orleans area blues culture, King was encouraged to experiment and develop his own style and discouraged from singing others' songs or even playing the way they did. "They would never sit me down and say, 'Well, this is how it goes.' They told me, don't sing their songs, 'Find your own song and sing that.'"

While King was still in his teens, he produced a recording, playing all the instruments himself, and that led to a record deal. While his first album was steeped in tradition, his following recordings took off in a bold artistic direction. He was the first bluesman to embrace the digital music revolution and the first to introduce hip-hop along with sampling and deejay-distorted electronica into the genre. It was brilliant, but very controversial. Here is an example.

King's role in O Brother, Where Art Thou gained him an large mainstream audience. His performance of Hard Time Killing Floor Blues was one of the few songs recorded live during filming. King took on his character of Johnson with such intensity that during his work breaks he wrote an album of songs in the legendary bluesman's style. Later, he performed more than 80 sold-out concerts on the "Down from the Mountain" tour alongside Alison Krauss, Emmy Lou Harris, Ralph Stanley, and others.

In 2006, after the Federal flood destroyed King’s New Orleans home, he wrote and recorded his most personal album, "Rise." The album’s themes flow between hope and tragedy perhaps best captured in Baptized in Dirty Water, a slow driving 12-bar blues which features a soaring electric guitar performance. It was nominated for a Blues Music Award for song of the year.

King is at the height of his powers as a guitarist, singer, songwriter and studio wizard. Dressed in a white shirt, black top hat and shades when he took the Blues Tent stage (the shades were gone at some point), he drove through his hour-plus set with barely any chatter, pausing only to move from his white Stratocaster to acoustic guitar, to the piano, and back to the guitars. He did take a few moments to dedicate the show to his father, who passed on January 1 of this year.

The electric tunes featured extended, slightly distorted solos, a great sound that stays in the memory even today. This part of the show reached its peak with a great take on Buddy Guy's Damn Right I've Got the Blues. The piano portion of the set featured covers of Leon Russell's A Song For You and Ray Charles' I Got a Woman. With folk, blues, Nashville, and even a touch of rock, this show had it all. And, of course, the acoustic set brought the house down when he did Man of Constant Sorrow from O Brother Where Art Thou.

King was ably supported by drummer Jeff Mills and bassist Danny Infante. Jazz Fest 2014 was off to a rousing start. I can't find any Jazz Fest videos except for mine, so here is a playlist from the Deep Roots Festival in Georgia. It includes a really bluesy take on St. James Infirmary. The video isn't great, but there's a dozen great tunes to sit back and listen to.  

After this great show, we were off to Congo Square to catch one of our New Orleans favorites, Shamarr Allen and the Underdawgs. I wrote a lot about Shamarr last year, so please check that out to read his story on Day 8 of the 2013 report. We absolutely love Shamarr, and he put on as dynamic and entertaining show as ever, featuring his brother, the upbeat rapper Dee-1, John Popper (video has lousy sound)of Blues Traveler fame, and a bunch of kids from his Lower Ninth Ward music clinic. Remember the Lower Ninth Ward? That was the working-class area of New Orleans that was absolutely devastated by the Federal Flood in 2005. I'm talking atomic bomb like devastated. 

Shamarr has been conducting the music clinic for kids ages 5 to 15 out of his mother's reconstructed home in the Lower Ninth for a few years now. It is held on Tuesdays from about 6 to 8 p.m. He and members of the Underdawgs teach kids on any instrument that the kid chooses to play. He teaches them to read music and perform individually and in groups. The kids' performances during Shamarr's Jazz Fest set have been so popular that last year the Jazz Fest people also gave the clinic students their own set in the Kids Tent. That's Shamarr with his son, who played the drums with the kids, in the picture.

Shamarr does not charge the kids who participate in the music clinic, nor does he get paid. Instruments have been donated by individuals and community organizations, and Shamarr will use his own money to buy some of his students better quality instruments if they seem to be serious about learning and enhancing their skill for a potential career in music. 

Shamarr’s long term goal for the music clinic is to acquire non-profit status, purchase a building, and build a program with a holistic approach to helping kids reach their potential. It will give kids an outlet to express themselves, even if music is not the career path they will take in the future. 

When you watch the video of these kids performing Pharrell's hit Happy, be sure to notice Shamarr's joy in seeing these kids perform in front of the Jazz Fest crowd, and you will see that this man is a major positive force in New Orleans, a testament to what can be done with a genuine love for a city and its people.

Shamarr completely disrespects borders and creates a musical meld of jazz, hip-hop, funk, rock, and pop. Beyond his musical diversity, his connection with his fans also sets him apart. His latest album, "504-799-8147," is also his phone number, and he receives a barrage of texts and calls from his fans almost daily. He likes it that way. Fans identify with Shamarr and the Underdawgs not only because he allows them to, but because his presence on stage is captivating, in a completely approachable way. I mean, watch this. And here's some more from that show. (Those two are from the French Quarter Festival, where as you can see one of the main stages is along the river. It's held a couple of weeks before Jazz Fest for just one weekend of all-local music. And it's free. People in NOLA are so lucky!) Here's a better sounding video with John Popper, from a show at Tipitina's, where they are doing the Beatles' Come Together. Here's one of our favorites, Can You Feel It? From that same show, here's the kids again. And here's my video, which has Dee-1 in it.

Shamarr has begun to host an after-Fest party in New Orleans called (what else?) Shamarr Fest. One of the great things about Jazz Fest is that it is done at 7 p.m., leaving you the entire evening into the night to go to clubs or attend events like this. We were a bit more laid back this year on that end, but Shamarr Fest is definitely something we might try. 

By the way, the Underdawgs are Matt Clark on guitar, William Terry on bass, Floyd Gray on drums, Jason Butler on keyboards, and Herbert Stevens on percussion and trombone. All very talented musicians in their own right.

Where to now? The cubes contained a number of tempting locals, including Irvin Mayfield's New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, Eric Lindell, and Tricia Boutté with a Norwegian jazz band, but we settled on the Backyard Groove, led by Dirty Dozen Brass Band sousaphone player Kirk Joseph. 

Formed in 2004, the Backyard Groove plays a concoction of jazz, funk, and Afro-Caribbean music that definitely keeps the crowd moving. In addition to Joseph, the principal band included drummer Kevin O'Day (well known to us as one of the forces behind the brass band amalgamation known as the Midnite Disturbers, who we got caught in a downpour watching last year on Day 4 and will see again this year), guitarist Hironari Mano, saxophonist Calvin Johnson, trumpeter Raymond Anthony Williams, keyboardist Kyle Roussel (keyboards), and percussionists Harold "Homeboy" Wilson and Ebria Kieffer, among others. It's an incredibly talented group. 

Kirk Joseph has earned his seat at the table of great New Orleans musicians as an innovator on the sousaphone. Born in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans in 1961, the son of trombonist Waldren "Frog" Joseph, Kirk began playing the instrument while a student at Andrew Bell Middle School. He took part in his first professional gig at the age of 15 when his brother Charles invited him to play a funeral with the Majestic Brass Band (this is a wonderful video of an authentic New Oleans second line ... here's part 2).

He became one of the founding members of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the group credited with reviving the brass band tradition in New Orleans, in 1977. He continues with the Dirty Dozen and has also played with the Tremé Brass Band and the Forgotten Souls Brass Band.

Joseph claims inspiration from renowned New Orleans tuba player Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen (listen). In an interview with The Times-Picayune, Joseph described the effect Lacen's playing had on his own: "He was the first person I ever heard walking the sousaphone, making it sound like bass. ... I took it from there." The style of playing created by Lacen and Joseph was instrumental in establishing the modern New Orleans brass band sound, which combines traditional marching band and Dixieland traditions with strong jazz and funk influences.

You might think of the sousaphone as a bland marching-band staple. But with Joseph, it comes to life in ways that John Phillip Sousa could have hardly imagined. Joseph has replaced the instrument's perceived limits with rich musicianship. This was ompletely original at the time, but many have since followed his lead, including most of the younger generation of brass bands (Rebirth, Stooges, Soul Rebels, Pinettes, etc. etc.), Matt Perrine of the Tin Men, and Ben Jaffe and Ronell Johnson of the Preservation Hall Brass Band. 

The brass, Joseph's walking sousaphone, Mano's chunky riffs and occasional melodic fragments, Roussel's keyboards, and four percussionists driven by O'Day made for some really good music. Here's a video of the Backyard Groove from a club in Baltimore, and here's a video from Jazz Fest. And here's my video from Jazz Fest.

 After this jazz-funk-tastic show, it was time for some food. We decided to head to Food Area II, which is near the back of the Acura Stage crowd, so we could listen to some of Santana's closing set at that stage while we ate. I went the more traditional Jazz Fest route and had the ever-delectible Crawfish Monica from Kajun Kettle foods.

Laurie, however, got waylaid by the nearby international festival area, this year celebrating the arts, culture, and, yes, food of Brazil. There, she found Acarajéblack-eyed pea fritter with spicy salsa and cashew sauce from Carmo restaurant of New Orleans. Here is their Jazz Fest story. 

Acaraje follow the most basic street food formula. First, create a container that can be held in one hand, in this case a black-eyed pea fritter fried to a dark brown hue. Then, fill it with something boldly flavored. The acaraje was stuffed with a spicy cashew sauce called vatapa and topped with tomatoes, green bell peppers, red onions and -- if you ordered the non-vegetarian version -- shrimp. The same blueprint can be seen in tacos or arepas. In fact, it's not fundamentally such a different approach than the all-American hot dog.

Although a traditional Brazilian dish, acaraje really comes from West Africa, where a black-eyed pea fritter is called acara. In Brazil, they took the black-eyed pea fritter and embellished it, splitting it open and filling it with vatapa. The vatapa is a cashew, peanut, chili, coconut and shrimp paste. It is enhanced by red palm oil, which is indigenous to South America, because of the palm trees, but it was used in West Africa, too. It's a highly nutritious palm oil so whatever you fry in it is, as far as fried food goes, good for you. It's a crazy antioxidant, with huge amounts of vitamin E. It tastes good, too, with a very aromatic flavor. Carmo fries the black-eyed pea fritter in the red palm oil and then, like a Brazilian street taco, split open the fritter and fill it with vatapa, vinaigrette, onion, tomato, and cilantro. A non-vegetarian version adds some shrimp. It is served with Brazilian hot sauce.

You won't find acaraje at large festivals in Brazil because of the steps involved in making it. You will find it as a street food, though. In Salvador de Bahia, out in the plazas you will find women in white, billowy gowns in front of a large vat of the red palm oil, frying them to order. It's one of the most iconic dishes of Brazil, along with pao de queijo (see the second Saturday).

To be honest, I don't recall what we heard from Santana, except that it definitely was Santana, and we really like Santana a lot, and it was a beautiful, warm afternoon with the sun alternating with clouds to keep the heat factor down. If you could find a place to sit and relax and just listen to this performance without all the festival commotion, it would be time well spent, but we have yet to have an experience like that at the Acura Stage, so we moved on. The entire set is here, and it's really good, so we can imagine what it could have been like, sipping a beverage and enjoying the music as if it were for us alone. Santana is so much more than the guitar (can you say rhythm?), but ... oh, that guitar!

Our choice to end Jazz Fest today was Nathan Williams Sr. and the Zydeco Cha Chas at the Fais Do Do stage. We decided to walk over there from the Acura Stage by way of Congo Square so we could catch some of Public Enemy's set as we passed by. That's right, Public Enemy, who took the stage with loud sirens and the sound of gunfire. But this seemed to be a much less threatening version of what was once the world's most dangerous band.

Chuck D was backed by a four-piece rock band, a "security" detail dressed in military fatigues, and D.J. Lord on the turntables. And, of course, Flavor Flav, the group's flaky hype man. They were relaxed and having fun, and the crowd was eating it up. I'm not familiar with the Public Enemy repetoire, so I can't tell you exactly what the songs are, but here and here are videos that show part of what we saw. 

Chuck D is still a commanding orator with a fully engaged political conscience. He implored Louisiana to quit "investing in jails and prisons" and "start investing in education." He also didn't let it go without mentioning that New Orleans used to be a thriving slave market. But being in New Orleans clearly meant a lot to Chuck D, who dedicated a song to The Meters, Allen Toussaint, and Fats Domino and declared the city "the home of all music." 

Because Jazz Fest prides itself on being a family festival, Chuck D and Flavor Flav had to watch their language. That led to some unintentionally comic moments as they used initials or sounds in place of certain words. Public Enemy reinvented classics, did push-ups, quoted Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir and were as good as any current band, much less a 25-year-old one that had just been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Cha's have also received honors. They were inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2005, and Nathan was honored last year with the Zydeco Music Association’s Lifetime Acheivement Award. We got to Fais Do Do and found a spot right at the front of the stage just in time for the start of their show. I talked about these guys a lot last year, as they performed on the final day of Jazz Fest 2013, also at Fais Do Do, just before the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the Del McCoury Bluesgrass Band joined forces for a memorable performance. Nathan and the Cha Chas were memorable that day, too. Their sound transcends traditional zydeco, largely due to the jazz-influenced guitar of Nathan's brother Dennis Paul Williams. And scrub-board player and first cousin Mark Anthony "Chucka" Williams is, quite simply, the best there is. The creative force and showmanship of Nathan ties it all together. It's just nonstop, high-quality music. Plus it's fun!

Today, Nathan's showmanship was really on display. With an array of big names at the other stages (we've mentioned two already, but the Avett Brothers were over at Gentilly, Gregory Porter was in the Jazz Tent, and Joe Louis Walker was in the Blues Tent as well), the crowd at Fais Do Do was sparse when Nathan and the Cha Chas took the stage. But a guy like Nathan apparently sees that as an opportunity. During one of the first few songs, Nathan saunters toward the back of the stage and disappears, while still playing. Before you know it, here he comes, walking around the corner and through the photographers' area across the front of the stage, stopping every now and then to do his distinctive dance moves. He gets the gate opened and out he comes into the crowd, roaming around for awhile with absolutely ecstatic fans following and dancing with and about him. Mind you, he's doing this with a piano accordion. That can't be easy. 

Nathan Williams’ father died when he was a boy; his oldest brother, Sid, who was 12 at the time, became the patriarch of a family of nine children in Lafayette, Louisiana (where else?). He lied about his age and went to work in the oil fields. But after his friend Stanley Dural (a.k.a. Buckwheat Zydeco) launched a successful career as a zydeco accordionist, Sid bought an accordion and eventually gave it to Nathan to give him something to do when he was recovering from a serious illness. He later gave a guitar to another brother, Dennis Paul. Sid founded the club El Sid-O’s in Lafayette and ran the business end of this flourishing musical family. Sid is a Lafayette legend unto himself, and Zydeco might not have survived into the new millenium without him.

Nathan came down into the crowd two more times after that first foray. I mean, come on, Nathan! He should have done the whole show from there. The third time, Chukka joined him. All this while Dennis and the rhythm section maintained a really good beat from the stage. Fais Do Do is one of the outdoor stages that does not have set-off areas in front for "special" pass holders and corporate sponsors, and may it always be so. Cajun and zydeco are roots music through and through and as such should always belong to the people.

In addition to Dennis Paul Williams on guitar and Chukka Williams on scrub-board, the Cha Chas are Daniel Sanda on bass, Shameus Frank on drums, and Scott Billington on harmonica. Here's one video of a complete song at Jazz Fest this year, and here's my video that shows Nathan bringing the zydeco to the people. A more complete, indoor, performance by Nathan and the Cha Chas can be found here. It features Nathan's youngest son on keyboards, and his nephew Isaiah Williams on scrub-board. You'll see Isaiah again, playing scrub-board with Nathan Williams Jr. and the Zydeco Big-Timers on Thursday. If you should find yorself hooked on this wonderful sound, here is a massive YouTube playlist that you can get lost in. Here is a link to a blog with a lot of Williams family history that you can read while you listen.

So that was it for day one ... of seven days of music. We could only hope that the weather and the quality of music hold up. All signs pointed to yes.

We came into this year's trip without as much evening activity planned as we did last year, deciding instead to see how we felt and what was available on most nights. Tonight was one of those nights. We had seen that the Ellis Marsalis quartet was going to be at the intimate Snug Harbor for their regular Friday night gig, so at some point during the day we sat on the bleachers in front of the Fair Grounds grandstand and made a reservation for the 10 p.m. show. That gave us plenty of time to take the bus back to the Staybridge, freshen up, find some dinner, and take the walk over to Frenchmen Street and Snug Harbor. 

 We went to an old standby for the food, that being the Louisiana Hamburger and Seafood Company on Decatur Street in the French Quarter. It's a local chain with a bar and a comfortable seating area next to open French doors so you can watch the world go by as you eat. From the menu, I had the specialty of the house, the thin-fried catfish platter, while Laurie had the BBQ shrimp po' boy. Our server gave us the secret to crispy and quite tasty thin-cut catfish: they use a deli-style meat slicer.   

We got to Snug Harbor around 9:15 to pick up our tickets and get in line along the wall in the rather cramped bar. The establishment also has a dining room. The music room is in the back. This is not the ordinary New Orleans night spot. First, you actually get to sit. It's a small room that seats 90 people on the main floor and a small balcony. They sell 90 tickets, so everyone gets a seat. (In the picture below, from their web site, we were sitting at a small table where the guy in the striped shirt is.) There's even table service for your drinks. It's also a listeners' club. That means nobody is talking while the musicians are performing. That's a rarity any more. They specifically request no talking, no cameras, and no videos, and in such a case I am happy to oblige. To be honest, when you get a chance to listen to great music up close like you do at this club, photos and videos are not a priority anyway.

As we walked into the music room, Mr. Marsalis was sitting by the door to nod back at those who recognized him. The 80-year old patriarch of this incredibly talented family was born in New Orleans in 1964. His father was a local businessman and social activist. He is considered nothing less than a major influence in jazz, and of his six sons, Jason, Branford, Wynton, and Delfeayo are accomplished jazz musicians.

Ellis started out as a tenor saxophonist, switching to piano while in high school. He began performing professionally more than 50 years ago, one of the few New Orleans musicians who did not specialize in Dixieland or rhythm and blues. He played with fellow modernists including Cannonball Adderley, Nat Adderley, and Al Hirt, becoming one of the most respected pianists in jazz. Though he has recorded almost 20 of his own albums, and has been featured on recordings with such jazz greats as David "Fathead" Newman, Eddie Harris, Marcus Roberts, and Courtney Pine, he has shunned the national spotlight to focus mostly on teaching. Marsalis's didactic approach, combined with an interest in philosophy, encourages his students to make discoveries in music on their own, through experiment and very careful listening.

The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music at Musicians' Village in New Orleans, constructed in the Ninth Ward on the site of a Federal flood-destroyed junior high school, is named in his honor. He was named to the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2008 and he and his sons were group recipients of the 2011 NEA Jazz Masters Award.  

At this performance, Jason stewart was on bass, Stephen Gordon on drums, Derek Douget on saxophone, and later on Jeffery Miller joined the group on trombone. All were very, very good. The music was seamless, with Mr. Marsalis leading the way and directing the musicians with just a look. There was nothing raucous or edgy here, just straight ahead jazz of the highest order, 90 minutes of pure enjoyment.

Here's a video of Ellis Marsalis, filmed at the Snug Harbor in 2011. Douget is playing sax, but different musicians are on the bass and drums. It's a short clip but it gives a feel for the Marsalis style and the ambiance at the club. Here's another one from Snug Harbor in 2005 with Bill Huntington on bass and Ocie Davis on drums. Here is an NPR Jazz Profile of Ellis Marsalis, whith excerpts of music and interviews with Mr. Marsalis, his sons, and other musicians.

After the show we wandered on Frenchmen Street for a little while, visiting the Art Market and listening to some music coming out of the various clubs, before heading back across the French Quarter to the Staybridge and calling it a day.

© Jeff Mangold 2012