Day 3 / Saturday, April 26


This morning we did the 2014 drill: 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 head out to walk to the shuttle buses at the Sheraton. We left the new umbrella in the hotel; the weather forecast was just too good to justify carrying it around. The sun was shining but not oppresive (a few clouds here and there), the Gulf breeze was fluttering in, the temperature was in the low 80's, and there was zero chance of rain. Simply perfect. The shuttle busses were, as before, much more efficient on the second day, and we were soon at the Fair Grounds, passing through the friendly security people and ticket takers in plenty of time for the first music. 

Of course, being there in plenty of time for the first music means being there in time to get some food before that music. So we hit the massive Food Area I, the far end this time, where I found the delectable cochon de lait po' boy from Walker's Love at First Bite (washed down with a Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy  (heavenly). Laurie had a vegetarian mufuletta from DiMartino's Famous Muffulettas of New Orleans. The muffuletta is known for it's round, hard-crusted Italian bread and the olive salad spread as a base. The veggie version of this sandwich leaves out the Italian deli meats but leaves the cheese and adds roasted red peppers (some veggie versions use a portobella mushroom). It's the bread and olive salad that distinguish this sandwich, so it's pretty close to authentic. She had iced coffee from the Cool Brew stand.

Our first music stop today was the Acura stage. The first act of the day was about the only time when you could get up close to the music today because all the space was philling in with phans of a certain jam band that was given a three-hour spot later today. See today's cubes if you can't phigure out who I'm talking about. 

We were there to see Zachary Richard (Cajun, please -- it's pronounced Ree-SHARD), someone we had never heard of until this year. Like Wayne Toups yesterday, he is known for blending Cajun and zydeco music into a southern Louisiana fusion that's really good. Unlike Toups, though, he pretty much sticks to the traditional. 

A native of Lafayette (where else?), Richard began singing in the Bishop's Boys Choir at Saint John’s Cathedral there at age 8. He went on to graduate from Tulane University, summa cum laude, in 1972. His recording career spans more than 35 years and more than 20 albums. He records in both English and French, but his work in French has made him very popular in French Canada, to the point where he was awarded the Order of Canada (Canada's highest civilian honor) in 2009. 

In addition to his music, Richard has published three volumes of poetry and three children’s books and has collaborated on several television documentary projects, including Against the Tide, the Story of the Cajun people of Louisiana. He also is a rather prolific blogger on a wide variety of subjects, unafraid to speak his mind about anything. Check out his blog here.

For Richard, intertwining the paths of poet and musician came naturally. (Here is a page with his lyrics and some poetry.) "It's interesting, because the basic fundamental tools are the same," Richard said. "My poetry is inhabited by a real sense of melody and rhythm, which obviously the meaning of the words and the sense of the phrases is an important aspect of it, but I would also like to think there's a certain amount of musicality. Like a left hand and a right hand, they do the same thing but in a different way." 

That wouldn't apply to his Histoire des Acadiennes et des Acadiens de la Louisiane, a textbook intended for students in the 8th grade. The reception was so positive that he wrote an English version, The History of the Acadians of Louisiana. "A textbook sounds like a drag, you know, but it's not," Richard said. "This is the common man view of Cajun history. It's something we didn't have, and I think it fills an interesting niche because while it's all historical and true it doesn't pretend to be a work of serious history."

It took a while for Richard to develop an appreciation for his roots and the music so intertwined among them. His first experience with it came from the radio speakers at his grandmother's house growing up, and as he matured into an adult Richard found more love for the culture. "I was really flabbergasted by the depth of the music tradition," Richard said. "Once I discovered the tradition I started playing Cajun music with a passion." 

Richard has an impressive stage presence, even in his white-on-white shirts, faded blue jeans and green sneakers. He moves back and forth between the lighthearted and serious with ease. His expressive voice ranged from a low growl to a Cajun whoop, and at any one moment he would pull a harmonica from his hip pocket to add to the music. He also played acoustic guitar and button accodion. 

Richard was supported by that Roddy Romero guy again (see twice yesterday) on the electric guitar and accordion, David Torkanowsky (we seem to see him everywhere, too) on keyboards and accordion, Graham Robinson on bass, and Dudley "Cruz" Fruge on drums. Note the abundance of accordions. For one tune, Richard, Romero, and Torkanowsky all gathered at the center of the stage to do a song with their accordions. That was definitely a first!

A couple of moments from the show. "If you're like me and want to do what you feel like doing, I hope you feel like singing right now. You don't have to understand French." This to encourage the crowd to shout "Liberté!" during one of the songs.

Later: "About this part of the show I start to get hungry," he said, launching into "Filé Gumbo" and then moving on to "Crawfish" ("You can take my money and my big Cadillac ... But you better not touch my red crawfish").

Here are some videos that show this awesome group of musicians in actin. First, from the 2014 Festival International de Lousiane in Lafayette, here is Laisse le Vent Souffle (Let the Wind Blow). From the same performance, add the great guitar of Sonny Landreth (see later tonight) on Gumbo and Crawfish. On this unknown tune you get Sonny and the triple accordions, and that's pretty much Cajun music heaven.

Here are some tunes from a 2013 performance at the Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette. First, Le Fou (The Madman) and next Sweet Sweet and Cliff’s Zydeco.

Here's my video to show the scene at the Acura Stage, and here is a YouTube playlist that has just Richard and Torkanowsky at the Louisiana Music Factory in New Orleans. Finally, Richard's own web page has a whole bunch of music and video to listen to and see. 

A tremendous start to the day, once again provided by somebody completely new to us. That's what keeps us coming back to Jazz Fest.

We were next off to the other side of the Fair Grounds, to the Gentilly Stage. However, we were momentaruly delayed at the Blues Tent by the incredible "Ironing Board" Sam Moore. Another Jazz Fest discovery. Born in 1939, this guy has been playing old-school R&B for more than 55 years. A truly gifted and engaging performer, Sam’s powerful, soulful voice and remarkable piano prowess remain undiminished at 75 years of age. 

He was born Sammie Moore in 1939 in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He spent a year and a half in college but had to drop out after he got married. Sam learned to play on his father's pump organ and joined several groups around the area as a teenager. His initial professional job was with Robert "Nature Boy" Montgomery, a blues singer and harmonica player who worked out of Miami. After relocating to Memphis in 1959, he organized his own band. He didn't have the regular legs to support his electric keyboard, so he improvised and used an ironing board stand, which he hid with a drape. Thus the stage name. Although he disliked it, he later turned it to an advantage by giving away ironing boards at some of his concerts. In 1962, he was backed by a band containing a youthful Jimi Hendrix. He also performed on the R&B-themed TV show Night Train in the mid 1960s. 

Sam played around Chicago for about a year before Earl Hooker got him a lucrative gig at Jimmy Hunt's Lounge in Waterloo, Iowa. After a year and a half in Waterloo, Sam moved to Los Angeles for five years before returning to Memphis in 1973. Along the way be managed to cut 45 singles for Atlantic, Styletone, Holiday Inn and his own Board label, but nothing caught the public's attention. 

A year later, Sam's journeys took him to New Orleans, where he got a regular gig at Mason's V.I.P. Lounge on South Claiborne Avenue, then the top black night spot in town. Sam, billed as "The Eighth Wonder of the World," teamed up with drummer Kerry Brown, and as anyone that saw the duo can attest, put on unforgettable shows.

Sam recently had invented a button keyboard. This instrument had two keyboards. The main one looked like a regular organ keyboard, but underneath it had been fitted with guitar strings. The keyboard was fed through a wah-wah and then into an amplifier, which would then produce the sound of guitar, organ, piano or a combination of the three. The bass keyboard was made with 60 stationary upholstery tacks connected to electronic sensors. Sam ran a wire down his arm to his fingers, which conducted electricity to the buttons. The button board produced an electric bass sound, which filled out the sound of the duo considerably.

Blues was their staple, but their shows offered total entertainment. Sam would lift the keyboard off its ironing board, strap it around his shoulders and walk through the club as he played; Brown normally ended the night by dousing his drums with lighter fluid and playing while his kit went up in flames.

In the late 1970s Sam made plans to play 500 feet over Jackson Square in a hot-air balloon, but the show had to be canceled because of windy conditions. Then he devised a way to play underwater in a 1,500-gallon tank Jazz Fest in 1979. He also tried being a human jukebox. He built a giant jukebox that he fit inside with his keyboard and amplifier. People put money into a slot when they wanted him to play a request.

By the late 1980s, Sam was playing Bourbon Street clubs with "Little George," a small, battery-operated toy monkey that played a snare drum. Sam devised a way to program Little George to play in synch with his drum machine, and he placed him on top of his keyboard so Little Sam actually appeared to be playing the drums along with Sam. The audiences in the clubs thought this was spectacular, so Sam, and Little George, rarely left without a stuffed tip jar.

He cut an album's worth of material for Fats Domino's manager Bob Vernon, but the session wasn't issued. Then, finally, he auditioned in 1991 for Orleans Records, arranged by Kerry Brown. The session was cut in less than 90 minutes, with Sam's vocals supported only by a vintage piano. This was released as "The Human Touch." Despite the sparse instrumentation and short recording time, Sam was extremely pleased with the results. "My other records I didn't like," says Sam. "The producers I worked with had never seen me play in clubs. They tried to change my style. When we cut The Human Touch, I was definitely in a groove. I played whatever I wanted, just like when I play in a club. I prefer doing my own material because I can feel it better. But recording is like playing a gig: You've got to play some things that are familiar in order to attract an audience. Then you can slip in your own songs and get people into who you are. That's always been my formula."

The Federal after-effects of Katrina in 2005 drove Sam back to South Carolina to live with his sister in semi-retirement. But in 2010, Moore met Tim Duffy, the founder of the North Carolina-based Music Maker Relief Foundation. Founded in 1994, Music Maker is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit record label focusing mainly on the work of elderly blues and roots performers. At Duffy’s urging, Sam recorded a new album, 2011’s "Going Up," and returned to performing on the festival circuit; his comeback included a well-received set at Jazz Fest that, Music Maker says, was integral in earning the piano man 2012’s Comeback Artist of the Year award from Living Blues magazine.

So that's Sam's story, a long one but worth telling even if we didn't stay in the Blues Tent long enough to see him walk down into the crowd and around and about with his keyboard hanging from his neck, or to see Kerry Brown's flaming drumsticks. What we did see was very cool. Here are some examples, first from Night Train in 1965, then a live performance of Rock Me Baby and studio versions of Five Long Years and Beat the Devil from 2012, and finally some of his Jazz Fest performance this year, with Brown on the drums. By the way, Sam designs and sews all of his outfits.

After that most pleasant diversion, we hustled over to the Gentilly Stage to get some  shuckin' funk from the Raw Oyster Cult

New Orleans is known for its legendary supergroups. The latest and one of the greatest ever is Raw Oyster Cult, featuring members of the Radiators, Papa Grows Funk, and Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes. Radiators frontman and guitarist Dave Malone and Papa Grows Funk’s founder John Gros give the band two of NOLA's most distinctive lead vocalists, and Gros adds his monster Hammond B-3 organ playing to the mix. Former Radiators Camile Baudoin on guitar and vocals and drummer Frank Bua Jr. and Dirty Notes bass player Dave Pomerleau round out this amazing line-up.

When the Radiators went into hibernation a couple of years ago, Malone put the Raw Oyster Cult together to provide an outlet for fans to hear the classic Radiators tunes. The group is also writing original tunes, putting a different spin on favorite older songs, and working up brand new tunes written or co-written by Ed Volker, the Radiators’ prolific songwriter.

"It's great rethinking Rads songs," says Malone, "tweaking arrangements andd even adding vocal harmonies, something the Rads were not really known for. We're all really enjoying playing together and can't wait to see what new tunes emerge."

We saw and talked about the final Jazz Fest performance of Papa Grows Funk in the wind and the cold last year. The Radiators we never had an opportunity to see, although they were going to perform a one-off reunion this year that Laurie passed up to see Arcade Fire and I passed up for Chick Corea, which turned into some other cool stuff, but more about that next week.

The Radiators combined the traditional musical styles of New Orleans with more mainstream rock and R&B influences to form a bouncy, funky variety of rock. New Orleans' longest-running and most successful rock band, had only limited commercial success, with only a handful of chart appearances. But as a party band from a party town, their enthusiastic live performances, danceable beats and relentless touring earned them a dedicated following and the admiration of many of their peers. They maintained the same five-man lineup from the time they formed in 1978 to their hiatus in 2011. Their repertoire, thanks primarily to the prolific Ed Volker, included more than 300 original songs, many never released on an album, and more than 1,000 covers (or partial covers used as part of a medley). 

I can't speak for the Radiators with Volker, but with Papa John Gros, the Raw Oyster Cult puts down some awesome music, and has one hell of a good time doing it. The beauty of this dilemma is that both groups are amply represented on, the Radiators here and the Raw Oyster Cult here, so you can listen to hour after hour of both and make up your own mind. Or just enjoy both. Here are 1, 2, 3 videos from Jazz Fest and this playlist has an entire set from the Funky Biscuit in New Orleans.

Our next stop was going to be the Lagniappe Stage in the courtyard of the Grandstand. But as is always possible at Jazz Fest, we were waylaid for a bit. The path from the infield to cross the racetrack nearest to the entrance to the Grandstand passes by the Economy Hall tent, where the Treme Brass Band was playing. This is one of the best traditional brass bands in the city, and they are not to be missed any time you pass by them, or they pass by you in a second-line parade, which could happen almost any where and any time in New Orleans.

The Treme neighborhood, on the outskirts of the French Quarter, was the birthplace and home of many generations of New Orleans's finest jazz musicians. Central to that tradition are the parade bands that play for traditional funerals, street parades, and family celebrations. Benny Jones, Sr., a 50-year brass band veteran and son of noted musician Chester Jones, founded the Treme Brass Band over 15 years ago, following his role as a drummer with the Olympia Brass Band and a leader of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the Chose Few Chosen Few Brass Band.

Although they are known internationally through their recordings and tours, the Treme Brass Band is still firmly rooted in the New Orleans street band tradition. Many veterans of Treme have gone on to found other bands, including the Rebirth, New Birth, and Little Rascal bands. Its musicians are survivors. They escaped the Federal disaster after Hurricane Katrina, helping rebuild New Orleans through their incredible music. They also survived the loss of their leader, the iconic "Uncle" Lionel Batiste, who passed away in 2012. But just as a true New Orleans funeral leads to a second-line party, the show and the music go on.

The Treme Brass Band plays as much as they can. Every week they have two residencies in New Orleans, one on Tuesdays at d.b.a. on Frenchmen Street and the other on Wednesdays at the famous Candlelight Lounge in the Treme. But you can catch them at shows, festivals, and second-lines all around town. Benny Jones Sr., who became the group's leader with the death of Uncle Lionel, wouldn't have it any other way. Benny knows, like the band and New Orleans itself, the musical traditions of the city must survive as well.

"We need somebody to do the traditional music so we can pass that to the younger generation. Somebody got to hold that spot down." That includes leading parades through the streets, both to mourn and to celebrate. The band stays rooted in the customs of an earlier era, such as a dress code. "Sound good, look good," says Benny. "My band always had the black pants, white shirts, ties, and coats. That's a New Orleans tradition. What the older bands did years ago." 

New Orleans brass bands have recently split into two camps, although there is no rivalry or competition. There are the revival-oriented neo-traditionalists and the younger funk and hip-hop oriented bands. The Treme Brass Band expertly draws on both worlds to create what sounds like Dixieland with a groove, a traditional repertoire with a loose, swinging parade beat that absorbs many influences -- rock, soul, jazz, R&B, and even gospel. Their musicianship is second to none because they rely on old-school veterans yet welcome young innovators to the fold as well. Together they create a classic sound worthy of the famous neighborhood for which they're named, at once traditional, funky and unique.

The Treme Brass Band has been a training ground for other musicians such as Kermit Ruffins, James Andrews, Kirk Joseph, and Corey Henry. Big Sam Williams, who now has his own funk band, says, "If you haven't played with the Treme, [you] don't know what's up." 

Central to the band's popularity was the stylish bass drummer, Uncle Lionel, with his dark sunglasses, hat, two-tone shoes, gold watch, and rings. He was 78 when he passed nd was still flirting on the dance floor or just strutting down the streets of the French Quarter. Batiste grew up dancing on Bourbon Street and playing in kazoo bands. But he was most famous for keeping time with his ragtag, upright bass drum with a cymbal on top. Once he lost that drum during a parade. "The fellow 'sposed to be watching it, he was half drunk," he recalled. Immediately, the word went out over radio station WWOZ.

"When the drum was stolen, we took it very seriously," says DJ George Ingmire. "There were a lot of people very upset about it. When you think of New Orleans, one of the things you think of is the bass drum as a symbol. Forget the steaming bowl of gumbo or the beignets, the cliches. It's Lionel's drum that makes it. Hitting it with a wire coat hanger, that's New Orleans to me." Uncle Lionel's drum turned up within a day.

In 2005, when the Federal levees broke and flooded the streets, Uncle Lionel was still at his house in the Treme. "I was watching the water rise and drinking my liquor," he said. "I didn't want to leave, but I'm glad I did. Yeah I'm glad I did." True to form, Uncle Lionel evacuated in style. "I used my bass drum and turned it flat. Just paddled my feet," remembering how he used his drum as a life raft. "And, of course, I had my liquor on top there." The drum saved him as he paddled to safety. "It's still in good condition,"' he says, smiling. "It's still taking that beating."

Uncle Lionel will always be at Jazz Fest. His image now stands in the Ancestors area at the entrance to Congo Square. 

The musicians in the Treme Brass Band lost friends and family, their homes and instruments to the flood. Some lived for a time in Red Cross shelters and toxic FEMA trailers, or with relatives scattered across the country. But many managed to work their way back. And when Spike Lee made his documentary "When the Levees Broke," he featured the band leading a jazz funeral for the victims of the flood.

Clarinet player Dr. Michael White says they paraded and danced through the devastated Lower Ninth Ward. "You could feel when we were going through the streets that there were undiscovered bodies and remains in some of the houses, and the spirit was very strong that day. I remember the silence and the loss of people was very powerful, very haunting."

Most of the members of the band are back now. But Benny Jones isn't finished rebuilding his flooded house. Despite their newfound fame, the musicians are still struggling. "We making money just to survive, pay our bills, keep food on the table for our children and grandkids," he says. "We surviving pretty good. But it ain't like we rich."

Rich in spirit they are though. When we arrived at the small but always boisterous Economy Hall tent, the band was blowing the roof off of the place. After the tune ended, they announced that they would be doing a second line around the tent and that everyone should join in, a next to impossible feat, but many did. Where we were standing at the back, the band played their way right by us, a highlight of this or any other Jazz Fest. 

The band we heard today included Benny Jones Sr. (bass drum), "Smiley" Ricks (snare drum), Kenny Terry (trumpet), Gregg Stafford (trumpet), Dr. Michael White (clarinet), Roger Lewis (baritone sax), John Gilbert (tenor sax), Reginald Stewart (trombone), Terrance Taplin (trombone), Julius McKee (sousaphone), Mari Watanabe (piano), and Seva Venet (banjo). Here's the scene in Economy Hall. And here's my video that shows some of the second line. What great fun! And for some authenticity, here's the Treme Brass Band on the street, first in February 2013 on Lundi Gras, and next playing a very moving Amazing Grace and I'll Fly Away during the tribute to Uncle Lionel at Jazz Fest last year.

After that most pleasant, big-smile-on-your-face distraction, we made our way across the racetrack and to the Lagniappe Stage in time to see most of the show by the Tin Men, America's finest washboard, tuba, and guitar trio. 

Comprised of percussionist/vocalist Washboard Chaz Leary, sousaphonist Matt Perrine, and guitarist/vocalist Alex McMurray, the Tin Men explore a truly eclectic array of music, from jug band to swing jazz to New Orleans R&B to Motown to easy listening to heavy metal and beyond. Through it all they put their own unique spin on the material to make it their own. Throw in a generous dose of McMurray's own songs, the precocious wit of Perrine's sousaphone, and Washboard Chaz’s seemingly boundless charm and the result is what has been described as one of the most interesting bands to emerge from New Orleans.

On the surface, the Tin Men appear to be one of those casual hybrid New Orleans bands, where its members play in many other bands, but once a month or so they get together for some low-pressure jamming and musical wisecracking and soon enough fade away. But the Tin Men have been performing since 2002, and in the process have released three recordings. Their sum is far greater than its formidable parts.

The band formed when Leary and Perrine sat in on McMurray's regular gig at the Circle Bar. McMurray said he’d played with both musicians before, but never simultaneously. As unlikely as it seemed, the sound galvanized. After the show (and a beer or two) the three decided to form a regular band. Since each played a metal instrument, they settled on Tin Men for a name. They have been playing a regular Wednesday gig at 7 p.m. at d.b.a. on Frenchmen Street for six or seven years.

McMurray plays a guitar with a steel resonator, a sort of primitive speaker developed in the 1920s. We see them a lot at Jazz Fest. Originally, the piercing sound it produced allowed guitarists to hold their own against the blare of brass instruments. He has been part of the New Orleans music scene since the 1980s, when he arrived at Tulane University from New Jersey. He has performed at Jazz Fest as a member of some ensemble or another every year since 1996.

Perrine is one of the best brass players in the city, alternating between deep bass rumblings and frantic squaling outbusts. He is a member of the University of New Orleans Traditional Jazz Program under the direction of Ellis Marsalis, and is a music teacher in his own right. The Sousaphone he plays is a late 19th-century, more circular-shaped version of the tuba, named for patriotic march master John Philip Sousa. We see it a lot at Jazz Fest, too. 

However, Chaz’s custom washboard rig is one of a kind. It's tricked out with vegetable cans, a wood block, and a counter bell to add percussive punctuation to the rasping corrugated sound of the board. Leary, who was born in New York and came to New Orlans by way of Colorado, says his washboard style has more to do with old-time jazz and blues than Cajun and zydeco music, where the scrub-board rules. As a singer, his laconic style is a perfect foil for McMurray's craggy voice.

The combination may seem a bit eccentric, but Perrine says the way he and his partners play the three instruments shares an airy aesthetic. "There's something about this band that, when it makes an attack, none of us really linger after a note is hit," he said. It’s kind of ... WOMP ... and then there's space." Those spaces between the notes lend The Tin Men a mechanical clockwork sound, like an intricate roots music windup toy.

Chaz's secret weapon, oddly enough, is his short-order cook's counter bell. At the most unexpected times, the groove is punctuated with a "ding" that simultaneously evokes 1950s diners and the modern catch phrase "Cha-ching!" It's used to perfection in their cover of Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song.

McMurray has been part of the New Orleans music scene since the 1980s and has been a member of some ensemble performing at Jazz Fest every year since 1996. He contributes husky, earnest vocals along with his guitar, which swings ferociously. Sometimes his fast strumming and tone approximate the pitch of a banjo. Other times he blasts out a meaty rock lead or incorporates island rhythms. he might be the de facto front man since he handles the guitar work and bulk of the vocals, but Perrine and Chaz are perfect foils and every bit his equal in the band. Perrine continues to prove he's one of the best brass men in New Orleans with deep bass rumblings and frantic, squalling outbursts. Chaz is similarly dazzling; his craggy, laconic vocal style is well suited for the songs he sings and his skittering spoon work defies description.

You go into a show like this expecting something fun, and you definitely get that, but when it turns out to be incredibly well thought-out and high-quality music as well, you just look at each other and say, without even needing to say it, "only at Jazz Fest."

We retraced our steps back to the infield and found we had a few minutes for a snack. That we found over at the Congo Square food area. I had a plate of Palmer's Caribbean fish with steamed vegetables (cabbage, carrots, and squash) and rice. Laurie had spicy grilled tofu from Gambian Foods of New Orleans, a bowl filled with chunks of spicy tofu and squash with shredded carrot and cabbage over couscous with a peanut sauce.

We slipped into the Fais Do Do viewing area through that passageway that comes in off of the racetrack and found a great spot near the front of the stage to see the wonderful bluesman Keb' Mo'. The cube scheduler did us a big favor by placing Keb' at this stage instead of the Blues Tent. This show was much better suited to the warm sunshine and fresh air than the cavernous tent. The crowd was large and enthusiastic.

Jazz Fest does not limit itself to Louisiana music. It also taps into the musical legacy of the neighboring Mississippi Delta region. While one could argue that Chris Thomas King yesterday falls into this category, nobody exemplifies the Delta blues mo' than Keb'. He even looks a bit like Robert Johnson (enough so that he portrayed Johnson in the 1998 film "Can’t You Hear the Wind Howl"). His mastery of acoustic, electric, and slide guitar and his rich voice allow him to explore every aspect of the Delta blues. He also throws in country, jazz, pop, and soul to make a post-modern blues sound that is easily accessible. He also has a lot of fun doing it. He's extremely personable and talks to the audience like it was a small group of friends. At one point he maneuvered his microphone stand to he could be closer to the front of the stage to enable the people off to the side of the stage to see.

Today Keb' was playing with a small band, Tom Shinness on electric bass and cello and Casey Wasner on drums. The set focused on material from their new album, BLUESAmericana (Kind Of Blue), which, as the name suggests, draws on a range of American roots traditions beyond blues ... and spiced by episodes of lyrical irony. Fan favorites like the raucous social satire Government Cheese and his wry take on unconditional love, Shave Yo Legs, were also included. Shinness switched from bowed cello to electric bass and for The Itch even slung his cello like a guitar.

About halfway through the set, Keb' introduced Dr. Michael White, fresh from the Treme Brass Band performance at Economy Hall, to sit in on the traditional jazz-inspired Old Me Better. "Michael’s never played this song, but he can play anything," Keb’ quipped. "He can play way harder stuff than this," he continued. "We don’t play hard stuff, just fun stuff."

Here are a few more quotes from Keb', from an interview he did with Mike Ragogna on Huffington Post. They don't add anything to the description of this performance, but certainly show why we like him and his music so much. He could be talking about us.

"I was at an event where we were listening to music and we were listening to some Allen Toussaint and someone said, 'That's not Americana,' and I said, 'What do you mean? That's more Americana than anything we've listened to so far today.' That's the result of a preconceived notion of what Americana is that that person had. I think a lot of people are jumping into the Americana genre because it's not a genre, it's a place where if you have no genre you can go to Americana: 'I'm not really bluesy enough to be total blues, I'm not country enough to be totally country, I'm not folk enough to be totally folk, I'm not R&B enough to be R&B,' so you can come be Americana. I think it's a place where a lot of people are gathering in the genre to let music just be music. I know some jazz artists who are jumping in there. I think it's really kind of a neutralizer for music. I don't think that's what they meant to do when they started it, but I think that's what's happening for me."

"I'm so familiar with my vocals, I know everything that I do that's screwed up. The trouble with me is I know how a great singer is supposed to sound. I grew up in the baptist church in southern California with all these great singers. Every church had a Marvin Gaye and an Aretha Franklin in it. They all have a Donny Hathaway and a Charlie Wilson. I can't really make my voice do that. Even if I did it, even if I was able to do it, then I'd have to compete with the Donny Hathaways and the Charlie Wilsons. The best thing for me to do is be myself and be the best self I can be."

"I don't know if I'm exciting and igniting as it were. I'm pretty clear on what I got and what I don't got. What I try to do is create a very warm, ethereal, heartfelt evening and connect. People can come and they go home feeling good after the show. I try to write songs that are good enough that they'll excuse my lack of vocal prowess. Songs that speak. Songs are the deal. However great your voice is, or not great, you still need a song. I go to the common denominator of the whole thing, which is, to me, the song. The melody, the lyrics, the message, the tempo, the accompaniment, the feel, every detail of it I try to really make sure that when people leave, whatever money they spent they felt like they got a really good deal."

"I never thought I'd be 20 years into any kind of career. I just didn't think I'd be here. I don't have a great memory about things because I'm such an in-the-moment kind of guy, but along the way, I look at the things I've done and what keeps coming back to me, I keep saying in my own affirmation of being here to serve, you know? I completely respect the people who will support me, and I stay in that gratefulness.

"I'm always happy to come to New Orleans, because you guys got some good food," he said, recounting the months he spent at Dockside Studios in Lafayette producing the 2006 album "Behind the Levee" for The Subdudes. "These people came in while we were recording and cooked their patookas off," he laughed. "They cooked it off."

Keb' Mo' was born Kevin Roosevelt Moore in South Los Angeles, California, on October 3, 1951. From early on, he had an appreciation for the blues and gospel music. By adolescence, he was already an accomplished guitarist. He started his musical career playing the steel drums and upright bass in a calypso band. He moved on to play in a variety of blues and backup bands throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He first started recording in the early 1970s with Jefferson Starship and Hot Tuna violinist Papa John Creach through an R&B group. Creach hired Moore (he's the tall one) when he was 21, and he appeared on four of Papa John's albums. In fact, Keb' Mo's first gold record was received for a song he wrote with Creach for Jefferson Starship's "Red Octopus" called Git Fiddler. Here he is with Creach doing a song called Filthy! 

Moore also jammed with Albert Collins and Big Joe Turner and emerged as both an inheritor of a guarded tradition and as a genuine original. He released his self-titled debut album in 1994. He has since won three Grammy awards, appreared in Martin Scorsese's film series on the blues, appeared in a couple of movies and TV shows, and even sang America the Beautiful on the series finale of "The West Wing."  

In 2004, he participated in the Vote for Change tour alongside Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne, with whom he originally recorded the title track from the album "Just Like You." He is also part of the No Nukes movement against the expansion of nuclear power.

Keb' has a preference for red guitars: "I have a history with red guitars. My first electric was a red guitar." He mostly plays on a red custom Fender Stratocaster. He owns a variety of acoustic and resonator guitars, including a Gibson artist model. His Gibson ES-335-shaped resonator was purchased in a Nashville club and restored.

By the way, the moniker Keb' Mo' was coined by his original drummer, Quentin Dennard, and picked up by his record label as a "street talk" abbreviation of his given name. 

Much of this wonderful set’s beauty came from its stripped-down nature, a welcome reminder of the more comforting side of the blues. Keb’s addictively warm vocal range and his band’s instrumental interplay kept the vibe upbeat. I can't say enough about how good this was. And how unbelievably underappreciated this great artist is.

Here are five videos from the Jazz Fest set: 1, 2 (France), 3 (The Worst Is Yet to Come), 4 (Shave Yo Legs), plus mine (Old Self Better and more), which has some of Dr. Michael White's appearance. 

At this point, we decided it was time to do our first split of this year's Jazz Fest. Laurie enjoys jam bands, and that's fine, but I just don't have the patience. So she went off to the Acura Stage to see the last part of the three-hour Phish marathon, while I headed over to the Jazz Tent to see some of the best post-bop jazz going these days in the set by the Branford Marsalis quartet.

It's funny, though, because we each recognized that dinner would be a late one tonight, so we separately grabbed some food on our way to our respective performances. Laurie went with an old standby, the sautéed spinach with fried plantains from the Benanchin African restaurant of New Orleans in the Congo Square food area. I went straight back to Food Area I, to the Vaucresson Sausage Company's booth, hoping to finally have a crawfish sausage po' boy, but there were none ready. So I had to "settle" for a hot sausage po'boy instead. Covered with Cajun mustard, this was about as wicked hot as something has been at Jazz Fest. And good, too. Thank heaven there was beer to drink on the way over to the Jazz Tent. I did promise the folks at the booth that I would be back for crawfish sausage, though.

Alternating between tenor and soprano sax, Marsalis led his quartet through an incredible collection of tunes that equally featured Joey Calderazzo on piano, Justin Faulkner on drums, and Eric Revis on bass. The band featured originals by each of the players, a thunderous version of Thelonious Monk’s Teo, and a harmonic take on Irving Berlin's Cheek to Cheek. Marsalis opened his notoriously knotty In the Crease with hummingbird-like flutter breaths—a light touch belied the labyrinthine rhythms that lay ahead. Things escalated quickly, with Calderazzo and Faulkner taking turns upping the power until Marsalis briefly cooled the tune off with a series of crescendoing lines. Soon, Calderazzo was on his feet behind the piano’s left side, siphoning new sounds out of his instrument as Faulkner forged his way through the odd meter with both brawn and grace. The performance earned the band the first of several standing ovations.

Justin Faulkner

Faulkner plays with a light touch, athletically leaping across his kit, touching down with a roll on the toms, a snare drum rattle, an off-meter thump, and a shimmer of cymbals. Those displays of percussive color came together in convincing musical phrases -- sometimes very fast phrases! At every turn, Faulkner proved the supportive accompanist -- and sustained the musical drama in extended solos.

Calderazzo was equally magnetic. He swung and he thundered and sometimes he tinkled the ivories, drawing an orchestra of sounds from his concert grand. He can speed with the best and slow things down to milk a single note for its meaning -- and his arguments were always underpinned by a powerful harmonic imagination.

Eric Revis

As talented as all of these musicians are, this did not turn into some kind of jazz clinic. Marsalis kept the melodies up front, his sound on both tenor and soprano saxophone fantastic. Like a great singer, he told stories with his music, making every note count and pulling off surprises at every turn. The musicians and the big crowd in the Jazz Tent were having a great time.

To end the program, Marsalis invited his brother Jason and father Ellis to join him onstage, a stately drumroll and a powerful, doom-laden bass solo from revis announced the closing number, St. James Infirmary. Eschewing the campy factor that often plays into the New Orleans standard, Ellis delivered a sultry, blues-soaked piano solo that swung to its core. Branford, on soprano, picked up the melody with dramatic doses of restraint and release, then wailed into an exuberant finish.


Marsalis was born in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, on August 26, 1960. In the summer of 1980, while still a Berklee College of Music student, he toured Europe playing alto and baritone saxophone in a large ensemble led by drummer Art Blakey. Other big band experience with Lionel Hampton and Clark Terry followed over the next year, and by the end of 1981 Marsalis, on alto saxophone, had joined his brother Wynton in Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Other performances with his brother, including a 1981 Japanese tour with Herbie Hancock, led to the formation of his brother Wynton’s first quintet, where Branford shifted his emphasis to soprano and tenor saxophones. He continued to work with Wynton until 1985, a period that also saw the release of his own first recording, "Scenes in the City," as well as guest appearances with other artists including Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.

He made what some might consider a few unexpected detours in his career, starting in the mid-80s when he joined pop star Sting’s band. In 1990, he jumped on the Grateful Dead bandwagon, making several appearances with them. In 1992 he started a three-year gig as bandleader on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." He also made it to the big screen in 1988, when he co-starred in Spike Lee’s School Daze. Throughout this period he was still producing great jazz. He also formed his funk outlet Buckshot LeFonque.

Joey Calderazzo

He is a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and an adjunct professor at North Carolina Central University (along with Calderazzo), composing for Broadway plays and working in classical settings (he is an opera buff) including with the New York Philharmonic. He’s been deeply delving into Baroque music and plans to travel to London soon to study Baroque "ornamental music." One of the elements he focuses on as an educator, he says, is to have students listen to music that they wouldn’t ordinarily put their ears to.

In his blowing, composing, and working with his group, Marsalis incorporates essential elements that he feels resonate with curious audiences that aren’t necessarily jazz aficionados -- melody, rhythm and intensity. In his words: "You have to give them things that remind them of those that they’re already familiar with. Different people like different things. Some people like ballads, some like intense music, free shit, some like melancholy ballads. Others like dance music or groove. I think, as a professional musician, you should be able to do all of that with a certain level of authenticity. Blakey and those guys understood that we were in show business, too. Dexter Gordon, Dizzy, and Blakey, they had charismatic presences. You don’t see that very often. So now, regular people aren’t as inclined to go to jazz concerts as much. Guys these days are kind of shy and reserved."

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Though Marsalis has been in and out of New Orleans through his and Harry Connick Jr.’s involvement with Habitat for Humanity and the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, it’s unfortunate for him and us that he isn’t booked in his hometown more frequently. I love playing in New Orleans and I wish there was a way we could play there more often," he said. "Jazz Fest is kind of the only vehicle that allows that to happen. I guess the venues feel that we wouldn’t garner enough in ticket sales to warrant us being there."

Even though Marsalis has spent so much time away from his hometown, he's still in touch with its distinctive features. "Musicians in New Orleans have a sound, whether they play in brass bands or traditional New Orleans bands or funk bands. When I left Louisiana and went to Boston, the thing that struck me is that most musicians don't have that kind of sound. Our music is very festive and very celebratory and kind of in your face, kind of just like New Orleanians are in general. So, it's a thing that you learn from being there. It's a thing that you learn. It's always ever present in your sensibility."

Here's a nice one, two, and three videos of this tremendous group, and here are 52nd Street Theme, The Mighty Sword, and As Summer Into Autumn Slips in audio-only clips to just sit back, close your eyes, and enjoy. Here is my video, to give a flavor of the Jazz Tent and and a few seconds of Ellis and Jason on stage at the very end.


Laurie enjoyed her Phish as well, reporting that the Acura crowd was large but not overwhelming. We met at our prearranged location (the Grandstand bleachers by the Cajun Cabin) and hit the shuttle bus line to be whisked back downtown after another fabulous day of diverse music. 

Later tonight we went to the Latin seafood restaurant Rio Mar in the Warehouse District. We had a really nice dinner here last year and wanted to explore the menu a little more. The restaurant was a relatively short walk from the Staybridge on a beautiful, warm, breezy evening. 

The drink of choice tonight was Spanish white wine (Albarino) Sangria. We then had the ceviche sampler, a house specialty. The four were: Flor (drum fish, hibiscus infusion, mango, papaya, bird chiles, cilantro), Al Fuego (gulf shrimp, fire-roasted chiles, citrus, popcorn); Rocoto (scallops, octopus, onion, peppers, rocoto, sweet potatoes); and Panamanian (drum fish, habanero, lime, red onion). Could have stopped there, but did not. 

For entrees, Laurie had Parihuela de Mariscos, a rustic Peruvian stew of seafood, tomatoes, sun-dried chiles, and quinoa. I had Gambas al Mole, sautéed jumbo gulf shrimp, toasted garlic, seedless jalapeno, cilantro, and a savory chocolate sauce. That's right, chocolate shrimp. Can't say that I would ever order it again, but it was ... interesting.

Desert was guava cheesecake (we had this last year and it is awesome) and a flan, which I'm no expert in but I imagine was what flan is supposed to taste like.

The walk back to the hotel on that beautiful warm evening brought a very long day to a close.

© Jeff Mangold 2012