Day 2 / Friday, April 24

The theme for the Staybridge Suites morning drill for year three was "don't mess with success." Thus the drill for the 46th edition of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was: get up ... get ready ... slather on sunblock ... gather tickets, cameras, phones, our blue and white umbrella, and our new poncho-type pieces of plastic ... head down to the lobby to grab a coffee and maybe a bit of food, if there was any, just enough to get us through the trip to Jazz Fest, where we would get some real good food. Mission accomplished, we then head out into the bright Louisiana sunshine to walk the five blocks over to Canal Street and the shuttle buses at the Sheraton hotel.

The weather this morning was downright tropical. It was already 77 degrees, heading up to a high in the low 80's. While it was a bit overcast and really humid, there was a nice breeze that would pick up a bit as the day went on when there was a rain shower in the vicinity. We, however, stayed dry until, well, read on.

As usual on the first day, the line for the shuttles was long, wrapping around the corner onto Camp Street, so we arrived earlier than usual to ensure that we'd get on one of the first buses. Also as usual, once the line got going it moved right along. Plus, the sun was warm and most of the people in line were relaxed and friendly. After the pleasant bus ride with the Gray Line's host providing all the usual information, we arrived at the Fair Grounds Race Course right on time. 

As usual on the first day, the line to get in was somewhat slow moving, but we soon passed by the friendly folks at the will-call booth, the friendly security checkpoint, the friendly ticket scanners, and the friendly crossing guards. After a quick stop at the nice and clean (at least for today) portable facilities, we were, once again, standing on the infield, looking at the great live oak trees, ready for another seven great days of music of all kinds.

Here is the map of the grounds for this year's Jazz Fest, just to refresh your memory of where everything is. The big news as far as we were concerned was that the Gentilly Stage was no longer associated with the Samsung Galaxy. To us it always was, and we hope it now always will be Gentilly, in honor of the neighborhood surrounding the Fair Grounds. With the 10th anniversary of hurricane Katrina and the resulting disaster caused by the failure of the levees, it's important to recognize neighborhoods like Gentilly, which suffered mightily and are still working to recover. 

Other changes we noted this year were that Marie's Sugar Dumplings and Creole's stuffed bread were back in the food areas. There were other minor changes to the food, but nothing earthshaking. On the grounds, the second-liner atop the Jazz and Heritage Stage was replaced by an image of the late, great Big Chief Bo Dollis. And last year's Casa do Brazil was replaced by the NOCCA pavilion; the special performances this year would be by students and graduates of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.

Our carefully planned and tweaked morning drill gives us enough time to eat (late breakfast? brunch? early linch?) as soon as we get to Jazz Fest. When we do this the food lines are shorter and we can fit in more music. Today we had plenty of time, and we hit food vendors that we knew would be really crowded as the day went on. Of course, the first food of the year also must be a favorite food. Making a decision is not easy! Laurie, as seen at the top of this page, went for the crawfish bread from Panorama Fine Foods. It was as gooey, cheesy good as ever. I walked a bit further to the second food area to get one of the very first soft-shell crab po' boys prepared by Galley Seafood. It may look like something out of a science fiction movie, but to me it's the best bite at Jazz Fest, fried to perfection with just the right accompaniments. Add some hot sauce and you are in taste bud heaven.

We ate at one of the covered picnic tables in front of Food Area II while we figured out our music plans for the day. As usual, Cool Brew iced coffee (Laurie) and iced café au lait (me) from the New Orleans Coffee Company's booth were the perfect beverage for the food. Here is a story from the Times-Picayune about this company, which has been making coffee concentrate for 25 years and has been at Jazz Fest for 21 of them. It also has some coffee-concentrate recipies.

Here are the Jazz Fest cubes for today. A couple of outstanding choices presented themselves in the first cube. We decided to head over to the Blues Tent for some rocking, horn-driven Delta blues from guitarist Ernie Vincent and his band the Top Notes.

A product of the New Orleans R&B scene in the 1960's, Ernie Vincent has collaborated with the likes of Ernie K-Doe, King Floyd, Tommy Ridgley, Oliver Morgan, Irving Bannister, Eddie Bo, and Jessie Hill, among many others. He formed the Top Notes band in the early 1970's, creating his own unique sound and recording a double-sided hit single with Things Are Better and Dap Walk, the latter a funk masterpiece. 

Vincent's intense appearance belies his smoothly rhythmic riffs, although his leads can sting. He has been a regular on the New Orleans club scene. In addition he's played in the bands backing Joe Tex, Solomon BurkeAlex Spearman, and many of the indigenous Mardi Gras Indian bands such as the Wild Magnolias and Golden Eagles.

Born in New Orleans in 1943, Ernie was raised and schooled in Thibodaux and New Orleans. He recently discovered there were three guitar players in his family, but his earliest musical influences came from his neighbor, a blues guitarist named Curly. Ernie recalls that his father always played some harmonica and guitar, but it wasn’t until his late teens that he was able to get hold of his own guitar. 

In 1972, at age 28, Ernie and his band The Top Notes cut the two sides for Albion Ford’s New Orleans Fordom label and the rest, as they say, is history. With its wah-wah guitar, multiple drum breakdowns, and positive ghetto message, Dap Walk (named after his bass player, who was nicknamed "Dap" and had an unusual gait), has staying power. You probably heard it on Soul Train in 1972 if you watched that. The mere sound of it might make you want to do the funky chicken like no one is looking!

Interestingly, Things Are Better got more airplay than the brilliant Dap WalkAccording to Vincent, it was dependent on the market. "In those days they didn’t categorize the music as much as they do now. Today it depends on the categorization of the whole deal, y’know, there are a lot of radio stations now that categorize every little bit of music and today it depends on who wants to listen to this and who wants to listen to that."

Vincent can recall most of the players on the one-day Fordom session: "Yeah. John Peters which is Dap, which is where we named the song from, Dap Walk, he was the bass player. Sylvester played guitar, I forget his second name. A guy named Peter Rooster played drums. He was a Mardi Gras Indian in New Orleans and he played timbales, congas, and trap drums so he was used to a lot of the rhythms and stuff. Lawrence Bowie was on trumpet and Freddie Green was the second trumpet and Daniel Goinis was on the alto saxophone.

"We came up with it because actually we started playing around with the band and I came up with the idea for the rhythm part of it and I got the band to play it. We did it on gigs a couple of times and it sounded pretty good, then we started organizing the horn parts for it and then we put some words to it."

When asked about that opening vocal line, he said, "People have said to me how could I come up with 'Don't let the ghetto get you down, hey get 'em brothers.' You had songs out at that time like In The Ghetto, you had a whole lot of ... Sly was doing stuff about the ghetto and stuff in them days, that kind of 70's stuff, y'know."

Did those message songs have a positive impact on the black community at the time? "Actually that was the only people who was listening to the message songs. Because during those times the record shops were selling a lot of stuff in the black community with message songs. James Brown, all that was message songs."

Vincent says his influences were Brown, Bobby Bland, Kool and the Gang. "My influence from Kool and the Gang was the rhythm, James Brown was the funk, Bobby Bland was for the blues. So I had a niche for each one. There's a lot of Jimmy Smith type stuff, I used to rehearse a lot on Jimmy Smith, Howard Roberts stuff and Kenny Burrell type guitar playing."

The new Top Notes band consists of Eric Heigle on drums, Phil Breen on keyboards, Josh Reppel on bass, James Martin on sax, Mike Kobrin on trumpet, and various other local horn players when they are available. Today they were augmented by a second sax and a trombone for a really big sound. Ernie is a perfectionist. He wouldn't return to performing regularly until he had a band who he knew would stick together and develop a consistent, quality sound. These guys are definitely that.

From the Jazz Fest performance, here's my video, the only one I could find. And here are a bunch from a 2009 show at The Shed in Mobile, Alabama: Dap Walk, Jealousy, the Meters' Cissy Strut, Adrionne, We Funk Jam, Kickin' It, and Funk Yeah. And here is Katrina Blues from the Mother-in-Law Lounge in 2010. Finally, here are a few songs from the Louisiana Music Factory in 2012. You really don't get an opportunity to see artists from this era of funky R&B all that often, so this was a great way to kick off Jazz Fest 2015. Ernie Vincent is another one of New Orleans' hidden gems.

You may have kept us away from the Fais Do Do stage for one cube to start Jazz Fest, but definitely not two. However, as we were headed over there, we got waylaid by that darn Gospel Tent again, this time by Tonia Scott and the Anointed Voices. This group was founded 20 years ago at Ebenezer Baptist Church in New Orleans under the leadership of the late Rev. Dr. Lawrence E. Landrum Jr. They originally were created to spice up the weekly radio broadcast from the church. Tonia Monique Scott has served as its director the entire time. Here's my video so you can see what pulled us in, and here you can go to church with them singing Jesus on the Main Line. What a great gospel song!

We were at Fais Do Do to see the great Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp BandCarrier (pronounced carry-A), from Church Point, Louisiana, is a prince in zydeco royalty. His father, Roy Carrier; his grandfather, Warren Carrier, and his cousins, Bebe and Calvin Carrier, are considered zydeco legends. He has won a Grammy award (for "Zydeco Junkie"), Offbeat magazine's Best of the Beat, and a Big Easy Music Award. He has keys to the cities of Lake Charles, Opelousas, and Lafayette. He was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2011. 

Chubby began his musical career at the age of 12 by playing drums with his father's band. He began playing the accordion at the age of 15. At 17, he began to play with Terrance Simien and toured the world for more than two years as a member of Simien's Zydeco Experience before forming his own band in 1989.

Carrier and his band could stand on their music laurels, but they are actively involved in their community as well. They sponsor concert fundraisers to support the Boys and Girls Clubs of Acadiana. They are very active in the movement for smoke-free venues (Healthier Air for All) in Lafayette and around Louisiana and for individuals to adopt a tobacco-free lifestyle (Quit with Us, Louisiana). In an effort to spread zydeco music to the younger generations, Carrier and the band have teamed with the Acadiana Symphony and Conservatory of Music to provide students with zydeco lessons. Through this project, called Zydeco A-Z, students learn about the rich history of the genre, the types of instruments used in zydeco such as the accordion, the scrub board, and the fiddle.

Here's something very cool. It's Carrier's study guide for the Zydeco from A to Z program. It provides the history of and other information on this great music in an easy-to-understand format for kids.

This performance was about as high-energy as it gets, a wonderful concoction of blues, 1970's funk, rock and roll, and even a little Tex-Mex with good old zydeco as its base. You couldn't stand still for a minute if you wanted to. 

Carrier is a real showman, too, engaging the crowd from one side of the stage to the other and posing as he held his big Gino Baffelli three-row button accordion out on the long notes. He's a big guy with a big personality and he proves that zydeco can reach out to an incorporate other musical genres and still remain true to its roots. The rest of the band are Randy Ellis and Pandy Perrodin on guitar, Chubby's brother Ronald Carrier on bass, Neal Williams on the scrub board, and Jamie Dominic on drums.

When he accepted the Grammy award, he didn't forget his roots: "This is for Boozoo (Chavis), John Delafose, Clifton Chenier, and Fernest Arceneaux. These are the guys that went down the gravel road before there was a zydeco road."

My video shows the scene at the Fais Do Do stage for this performance. And here's almost an hour of Chubby Carrier on that wild Swamp 'n' Roll TV show that's on KDCG TV out of Lafayette, Louisiana. And here's a half hour interview done as part of the Baton Rouge Blues Fest this year. About 10 minutes in he explains how Clifton Chenier came to name this great music "zydeco" as it morphed from Creole la-la music to its current form. Wouldn't you know, it has to do with food!

Laurie didn't zydeco for very long. She slipped over to the adjacent Congo Square stage to see the annual New Orleans Hip-Hop Experience with DJ Jubilee and featuring Partners-N-Crime, Keedy Black, DJ Mike Swift, Jimi Clever, and T-Ray the Violinist. It's strange that hip-hop always seems like a novelty at Jazz Fest (hence the early-in-the day cube). It is a pretty big part of the New Orleans music scene and deserves s few more local artists with their own sets as opposed to this brief revue. 

The show turned Congo Square into a (sometimes loud, at least that was my impression from the Fais Do Do stage next door) hip-hop club. Sonic aggression is a bit at odds with the Jazz Fest vibe. However, this wasn't the only time or place where that was a problem. Some stages were incredibly loud, almost painful, if you were up front, and sound bleed among the stages and tents was everywhere. Note to Jazz Fest: turn it down, we're not deaf ... yet. 

The set's format didn't give acts more than a few minutes to catch fire. Apparently the best of the lot were the old-school bounce artists Partners-N-Crime. It helped that they were joined by DJ Jubilee, a master at engaging an audience. The Big Easy Bounce Band behind them made their part of the set the clear favorite. 

When I made my way over to the Congo Square stage, it took me awhile to find Laurie. It may not have taken as long if I hadn't been distracted by the music on the stage. As you can see, on the left here, I wasn't looking very hard! We did eventually find each other, I know not how. It was crowded!

On the Congo Square stage were the Brass-a-Holics, the brass band conglomeration that incorporates funk (of course) and DC-originated go-go dance beats (now that's something you don't see very often) into their music. These people just tear the roof off with high energy, great personalities, and quality playing. 


We were blown away by the Brass-a-Holics in 2013 (see Day 11, where you can read all about them) and this year was no different. Laurie had met some acquaintances from back in Virginia for this set, and once we all met up, we enjoyed this set ... a lot! This year's Jazz Fest theme for us will turn out to be brass bands, and lots of them, so I guess for this trip we were definitely brass-a-holics. 

The Brass-a-Holics are Winston Turner on trombone, Tannon Williams on trumpet, Robin Clabby on saxophone, Keiko Komaki on keyboards, Matt Clark and Alex D'Onofrio on guitars (doing an incredible back-and-forth guitar break at one point), newcomer Andrew Price on bass, Reggie Nicholas on drums, and Dwayne Muhammad on percussion.

Here's the Brass-a-Holics Facebook page just so you can see what they are up to, and here's their video from the Congo Square show. In fact, here is their entire YouTube page so you can go crazy if you want to. This page includes one-on-one interviews with the members of the band. And here is my video so you can see the show from our perspective. What does it take to become a true brass-a-holic? According to Turner, a true brass-a-holic must have a weekly dose of live music to help them function and get through the week. We can only wish.

The Brass-a-Holics are true to and have a great affinity for the roots of go-go music in DC, in particular the late Chuck Brown, its founder. You can definitely hear the go-go blend of funk, R&B, and hip-hop, with a focus on lo-fi percussion instruments, funk-style jamming, and live-audience call and response in their music. Go-go's essential beat is characterized by a syncopated, dotted rhythm that consists of a series of quarter and eighth notes, which is underscored most dramatically by the bass drum, snare drum, and high-hat and augmented by other percussion instruments, especially conga drums, timbales, and hand-held cowbells. A swing rhythm is often implied (if not explicitly stated). You can hear all of that in the Brass-a-Holics' music. Not surprisingly, the band comes to this area often. Look for the Brass-a-Holics at The Hamilton, and go (go). You'll be glad you did!

At the back of the Congo Square stage area is an area devoted to the Ancestors, great New Orleans musicians and people who have had a profound effect on the city's music. On our way out after the Brass-a-Holics were done, I came face to face with the image of Big Chief Bo Dollis of the Wild Magnolias. 

There will be much more to say about him on the last day of Jazz Fest this year, but seeing that image was yet another sad reminder of the loss of this great musician and community leader. 

On our way to the next performance, which was to be at the Lagniappe stage in the courtyard of the grandstand, we stopped for some food and both of us tried something new. I had the merguez (grilled lamb sausage) sandwich from Jamila's Café of New Orleans. Laurie had crowder peas and okra with collard greens from the Praline Connection of New Orleans. For dessert we split a sweet potato turnover from Marie's Sugar Dumplings of Marrero, Louisiana.

While Moncef and Jamila Sbaa didn't meet until they were adults, but they were steeped in the same culture growing up. Jamila learned to cook from her mother, the go-to chef at her family's large gatherings in Tunisia. Moncef used to collect fresh eggs from chickens in his family's backyard, and his uncle ran an olive oil press next door to the town's bakery. Mules and camels powered the machinery that pressed the olives. "Everything was manual," he said. "And that place is still there."

"I grew up in a French, Arab, Italian, Jewish and Maltese neighborhood," Moncef said. "As kids, we spoke all these languages."

Tunisian cuisine reflects the collision of the cultures that coalesce in North Africa. When the Sbaas were ready to open their own restaurant in 1994, their friend, Aidan Gill, the New Orleans barber and haberdasher, helped them find a small and rustic Uptown building on Maple Street. It was there that the couple focused on showcasing Tunisia's polyglot food. 

To this day, Jamila's serves dishes that are commonly found across the Maghreb, including lamb tagine, a stew cooked in a canonical earthenware pot, and merguez, the coarse-ground lamb sausage, both of which are on Jamila's menu at Jazz Fest, where they have been for 17 years (except for 2006, the year after Katrina). They also serve a Tunisian salad and a crawfish-zucchini-spinach bisque chock full of Tunisian spices. 

The sausage was crisp-charred but still juicy inside, its spicy goodness tempered by a cooling relish. Definitely one to put on the have-again list. 

The Praline Connection, despite the confectionary sound of its name, serves up good old-fashioned Cajun-Creole style soul food, both at its stand at Jazz Fest and its extremely popular restaurant on Frenchmen Street in the Marigny section of town. Oh, they sell pralines, too, but it's the food that draws people in. At Jazz Fest, their chicken livers with hot pepper jelly and crispy chicken wings are highly regarded by those who like such things.

The Connection was founded by Cecil Kaigler and Curtis Moore in 1990, and it’s still in the original location on Frenchmen. But you can also visit their cafe and candy shop in Concourse B at the Louis Armstrong International Airport before or after your flight. Like many local businesses, The Praline Connection went through tough times following Katrina, but fortunately the original building sustained little damage due to its location on the edge of the French Quarter. While they did close a third location near the convention center, they are back on track. Here's a video shot by AXS TV telling some of the Praline Connection's story. Laurie absolutely loved the food.

Yolanda Hughes, proprietor of Marie's Sugar Dumplings, took last year off from Jazz Fest, and there was a forlorn looking empty spot in the Congo Square food area and our hearts, because we love their sweet potato turnover. Thankfully, the year off rejuvenated her and she's back with those wonderful, warm pastries with the flaky crust and just the right amount of sweet glaze. They are heavenly! Here's a Times-Picayune video showing people enjoying this wonderful treat and Yolanda Hughes telling how she created the turnover and how much work goes into getting them, as well as the pies they also sell, ready for Jazz Fest.

After the food, we headed off toward the grandstand, but Laurie veered off at the Blues Tent to catch some of the set by Bruce "Sunpie" Barnes and the Sunspots. I caught these folks on Day 10 in 2013 while Laurie was seeing Phoenix, so you can read all about them there, but I will say here that Bruce Barnes is an incredibly gifted individual. He's been a professional foorball player, and he has a degree in marine biology. His day job is serving as a ranger and naturalist at the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. He can play seven instruments, he is Second Chief of the North Side Skull and Bones Gang, one of the oldest existing carnival groups in New Orleans, and he is a member of the Black Men of Labor Social Aid and Pleasure Club. And he plays some darn good music, a really cool mixture of zydeco and blues with a dash of West African rhythm and gospel, too. Laurie thoroughly enjoyed the time she spent with Sunpie and the Sunspots. Check them out at a festival in Florida last year here.

I went straight to the Lagniappe stage, a small venue that's set up rather quirkily. There are chairs all over the place, fit in among the hedges and walkways of the grandstand's courtyard, and very few of them have good sightlines to the stage because there are tents built over a lot of them and you have to deal with the cables and poles. Plus there is a walkway leading to one of the Jazz Fest entrance/exit points cutting through the courtyard, so there is a constant parade of people passing in front of you if you are seated toward the back. The courtyard also has a bar and a food vendor, the one with the very popular freshly shucked oysters, to compete with the music. With all that, the artists who perform there are generally acoustic groups. They absolutely deserve a better place to play. It's one of the few things at Jazz Fest that just doesn't work, in my opinion. Lagniappe means small treats, but I'll bet playing there isn't a treat for the performers!

That said, the performance by the Magnolia Sisters, the very talented all-woman Cajun quartet led by Ann Savoy with Jane Vidrine, Lisa Trahan, and Anya Burgess, did work, and it worked very well. Savoy and Trahan are part of a renowned and deep-rooted Cajun musical families. Savoy and Vidrine are award-winning folklorists and preservationists. Burgess is a craftsman who repairs and restores violins. Savoy and Vidrine formed the Magnolia Sisters to explore the feminine side of Cajun music. 

The love that these four women have for the culture and history behind their music is apparent in their performance. Before each song, Savoy explains the tales behind the French-language originals and covers they have learned from old 78-rpm records. All four are multi-instrumentalists and played on accordion, acoustic guitar, electric bass guitar, fiddle, washboard, and even a banjo ukulele, and their songs ranged from Cajun and Creole dancehall favorites to front-porch ballads. 

Ann Savoy plays accordion, guitar, and fiddle with the Magnolia Sisters, the Savoy Family Cajun band with her husband Marc and two sons (we saw them last year on Day 10 and will be seeing them again next weekend), and the Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band with her husband and Michael Doucet of BeauSoleil. She is also a record producer, historian, writer, and photographer. 

After her marriage to Marc Savoy, an acclaimed accordion craftsman and Cajun musician, Ann began to document the Cajun culture, photographing and interviewing important musicians and transcribing the Cajun French songs. This work ultimately became Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People, Volume 1, which won the prestigious Benjamin Botkin Prize from the American Folklore Society. She has produced two albums of Cajun and Creole music featuring mainstream musicians performing with traditional musicians. The first of these, "Evangeline Made," was nominated for a Grammy. Her good friend, Linda Ronstadt, asked her to record an album of duets with her, and that CD, "Adieu False Heart," was also nominated for a Grammy.  

Jane Vidrine plays guitar and fiddle in the Magnolia Sisters. She is recognized around Acadiana as a musician, folklorist, cultural activist, and teacher. She began playing and singing when she was very young and studied ballad singing with the late Almeda Riddle and fiddle with the late Lionel LeLeux and Dick Richard. In the 1970's she worked as Folk Arts Coordinator for the National Park Service, planning programs, festivals, and museum exhibitions, and documented and performed with French fiddlers and singers from the endangered French-speaking area of Old Mines, Missouri. This led to her appointment as Director of the Louisiana Folklife Pavilion at the 1984 World's Fair in New Orleans. There she met her husband to be, accordionist John Vidrine. They married and moved to Lafayette where they formed the Vidrine-Chapman Family Band with fiddlers Eric Chapman and his brother the late Clay Chapman. 

During her years in Lafayette, Jane has worked as a museum curator, producing exhibits on the diversification of the cultures in this region, as an artist in the schools, and in numerous cultural tourism projects. One of her important undertakings has been Louisiana Voices, a program which teaches schools how to preserve and present, within the school curriculums, the unique cultural heritage of Louisiana.

Anya Burgess also plays guitar and fiddle, and is well known for her work building and restoring fiddles and violins using traditional methods and designs. She grew up playing many styles of music, but really found her groove when she started playing traditional tunes on the fiddle in her late teens. She studied violin making at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington and spent many summers in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, learning from violin maker Otis Tomas. She decided to open her own violin repair and violin building business in a shop behind her home in 2002, and has been serving South Louisiana string players ever since. In the fall of 2014, she opened a full-service violin shop, SOLA Violins, in the heart of downtown Lafayette, and works with both traditional and classical musicians.

Anya has an eclectic taste in music, from world music to pop music and classical, but her main interest is in playing and learning old-time and Cajun tunes. While she enjoys traveling to play music, there's nothing she loves more than hanging out at her home and workshop on the Bayou Teche with her husband Richard and sons Reuben and Silas. We didn't know it at the time, but in addition to playing with the Magnolia Sisters, she's also a member of the all-female Cajun band, Bonsoir, Catin (who we will also see next week).

Lisa Trahan plays bass (she has one of those cool Höfner 500/1 violin-shaped electric bass guitars like Paul McCartney used in the Beatles). She also play percussion instruments (triangle and scrub board) and the accordion in the Magnolia Sisters. Raised in Scott, Louisiana, she comes from a long history of French culture and music.  Her father, Harry Trahan, played for many years in the dancehalls of Louisiana and Texas and often played at home for the family. Other musical members of the family include Harry's brother, Willie T. (a great swamp-pop saxophonist and singer), and Bixy Guidry, Lisa's great grandmother's brother, who recorded Cajun music in the 1920's with Percy Babineaux. She is renovating an historic home in Grand Coteau, Louisiana, where she lives with her daughter, Renee.

This show was just fantastic. The four transitioned among various instruments and song styles effortlessly. The ballads were gorgeous, and the dancehall tunes great fun. After Burgess belted out one of these tunes, Laurie, who joined me during the performance, commented that she was a real singer. Here's my video of the Magnolia Sisters from Jazz Fest, and here's an entire performance from this year at the Simi Valley Cajun and Blues festival in California.

Next we headed over to the Acura stage to catch the Tedeschi-Trucks Band show, which was already in progress. This is simply one of the best bands going today, and if you ever get an opportunity to see them, do it. You won't be sorry. The outstanding musicians in the band, which is best described as a combination of rock, soul, and blues are Susan Tedeschi (guitar and vocals), Derek Trucks (guitar), Kofi Burbridge (keyboards and flute), Tyler Greenwell (drums and percussion), J.J. Johnson (drums and percussion), Tim Lefebvre (bass), Mike Mattison, Mark Rivers, and Alecia Chakour (harmony vocals), Kebbi Williams (saxophone), Elizabeth Lea (trombone), and Ephraim Owens (trumpet). 

Both Tedeschi and Trucks had very successful bands of their own, so it was a big risk when they decided to form this band. To say it worked out would be an understatement. The band's strength is in its numbers. It virtually guarantees that a wide range of influences steer the music to unexplored places. Says Tedeschi: "I felt that with the personnel in this band, it was just a matter of time before all of these ideas started leaking out, but we had a lot of confidence that it was going to be really good right out of the gate." The band is nothing less than a big, happy family, a traveling roots music show roving from town to town, never knowing what the highlight of any given show will be or which member of the band will provide it. When they all come together they produce a trememdous sound that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

Susan Tedeschi started singing before she spoke. Her mother told her she used to sing every morning in the crib and make up songs. She started acting at age six, but as she got older theater lost its luster and at the same time music beckoned. She started playing guitar and writing songs at 14, but she didn't get serious about it until she was 21. "I got a bunch of blues records and I sang every Sunday for about a year. I was playing rhythm guitar and learned how to play with a band. That was a big life-changer for me." She soon began performing professionally and earned a degree in musical composition from the Berklee College of Music in Boston. She has been widely praised for her insightful songwriting, emotive vocals, and gutsy blues guitar style, both in her own Susan Tedeschi Band and with Tedeschi-Trucks. 

Derek Trucks began playing guitar at age 9 and discovered a natural talent that has become virtuosity. Rock fans know his uncle is Butch Trucks, one of the two drummers in the Allman Brothers Band since day one. But the Allmans were not a factor in his development. "I wasn't around the Allman Brothers when I first started playing. There were still remnants of that scene but it was almost mythical. In some ways it was almost better, though, because being too close to that fire was probably an unhealthy thing at that age. Better to know about the music and the feeling of it and maybe not being directly in the midst of it."

Derek did absorb the slide guitar style of the late Duane Allman, along with that of blues legend Elmore James. But he did not limit himself. He was keen to every kind of music that came his way -- blues and soul from the likes of B.B. King, John Lee Hooker and Ray Charles, jazz by John Coltrane and Miles Davis, rock from all of the classic artists, and also his mother’s Joni Mitchell records. It all of it helped him formulate his own musical ideas. A true prodigy, he was already an astounding musician by the time he entered high school. By his early teens he was sitting in with the Allmans, and he became a full-fledged member of that band in 1999, when he was only 20. He formed the Derek Trucks Band in 1995. As a member of two world-class bands and in demand by any number of other artists to play on their tours, it's not surprising Rolling Stone ranks him in the top 20 in their list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.

Derek and Susan met at an Allman Brothers show where the Susan Tedeschi Band was the opening act. "We weren't that familiar with each other," remembers Trucks. "We met on tour in New Orleans at the Saenger Theatre. A few months on the road and then five records and two children later, here we are."

"I had some really awesome moments right around when I met Derek and realized a lot of great things were happening," says Tedeschi. "I had a lot of opportunities. I got to make records with some of my heroes and to meet people like Derek, getting to open for the Allman Brothers. When we met I realized he's such a special talent. He's so sweet, amazingly hard-working and very intelligent." 

They married in 2001 and first toured together in 2009 under the banner of Soul Stew Revival. "That was just an excuse to get our bands together on the road and hang out and bring our kids out for the summer," says Derek. "In a way it was us testing out this thing and seeing what we would want to do and just how it would feel." It felt great, and by 2010 they were ready to leave behind their individual bands. Trucks said it just kind of hit them that the window was never going to open perfectly and it would be best to do it while they were still young and crazy enough to put the energy into it. They have been on the road virtually nonstop since, but have found a way to balance everything, including parenting, and the band’s artistic vision has begun to solidify. Derek and Susan have been able to devote more of their time to fine-tuning that vision.

"We never wrote together until we were in a band together," Susan says. "We should have done that sooner, but it's funny, you live together and have this whole lifestyle together but you don't always want to jump into music on your time off. We both have so many other interests. We both love baseball, we love basketball, football. We both love to get out and ride bikes. We like to fish and swim and surf. We're very active." But now, she says, creating music together for the band is an integral part of their daily lives. "I'll be doing dishes and think about a chorus. Then I'll bring it out to him in the studio." And Susan's playing has blossomed since the formation of the band. Listening to them, as renowned a guitarist as Derek is, it's obvious that Susan more than holds her own, that her exceptional playing is as essential to the band's sound as Derek's, that her instrumental voice is as moving as her singing voice. And that singing voice is like none other on the scene today.

Here is AXS TV's video of the Tedeschi-Truck Band's show at Jazz Fest, and here is an entire page of live stuff from their website. If you really want to get into this awesome band, has a whole lot of performances by them to listen to.

Laurie stayed at the Acura stage until the end of the Tedschi-Trucks performance. I left early so I could make my first visit to the Jazz Tent to see the Nicholas Payton Trio. A native of New Orleans, Payton plays keyboards and trumpet, sometimes both at the same time. He's accompanied by Vicente Archer on bass and Bill Stewart on drums.

I really like Payton's brand of funky post-bop fusion jazz. It really defies classification. I like it that way, and so does he: "As a musician, as an artist, you're always trying to zero in on the bullseye as a means of becoming a better version of yourself. I've been able to find the kind of music that's more inclusive of all of my life. The approach and the ideas of my music have become more singular, more cohesive. I have no agenda in terms of a specific genre or style, only to be true to who I am."

Plus, I have a special appreciation for Payton's trio, especially Archer, because he's the only artist who has ever "liked" any of my Jazz Fest videos posted on Vimeo. One group even embedded my video in their website but couldn't bring themselves to "like" it. OK, I don't really care that much, but it is nice to be noticed. 

You can read Payton's background in the write-up of Day 9 of the 2013 trip. His blog, linked there, is always interesting. 

Payton has revamped New Orleans classics, played in the traditional style, done wild space funk but also a beautiful playing of Sketches of Spain, and has even delved into R&B. He is direct and to the point as he describes what he does. "I don't play jazz. It's all black cultural expression, so I can call upon any of it at any time, be it swing or straightahead, funk, the New Orleans thing, street beats, blues -- these are all to me a color palate, like a 64-color box of Crayola. I can use any and all of them in combination at my disposal to make the music. Sometimes there is a groove in mind, but the idea is to hire people who can bring their own voice to it." 

Payton says his current trio is locked in with him. "Vincente and Bill hook up really well. They are very simpatico on what music they like and what they have been influenced by. We all have similar frames of reference. When I go in a certain direction, they get it, and I don't have to worry that they'll know what to do. It gives me the creative latitude to go where I want to go because I know they understand where I'm going. I may or may not dictate a groove. Sometimes I hear something specific. Other times I want the drummer to take it. The music dictates that. There are certain codes in the music, and it dictates that. Either people get it or not. For me, that's the beauty of hiring certain cats who get it. I don't want to do a helluva lot of talking." 

The music Payton plays reflects this. It moves in all sorts of directions. It is very improvisatory in the manner that jazz should be even as it goes beyond the parameters of what most people consider jazz. It is music first, plain and simple, which is a sentiment shared by many of the great musicians before him. Truth be told, even Max Roach and Duke Ellington had issues with the term jazz. And in my book it doesn't hurt that he spends some time on the Jazz Tent's Hammond B-3!

Always known for his independence, Payton started his own record label, Paytone, in 2013. "I got tired of having to develop a sales pitch for some board or A&R guy. I work hard, and I should be able to do what I want to do without having somebody else green light it. For all the stuff I talk about black autonomy and control over the music, it seems like the way to go. I've outgrown the other thing, where I have to ask someone to do something. It's passé for me."

Hand in hand with Payton's independence is his knowledge and grounding in the tradition. His father Walter Payton was a legendary bass player and music instructor whose bass lines graced many of the 1960's New Orleans R&B hits (most notably Lee Dorsey's Working in a Coal Mine and Aaron Neville's Tell It Like It Is). The heroes of New Orleans music hung out at his house when he was a little kid. Online he has had in-depth conversations about everything from the compositional and rhythmic evolution of the second Miles Davis Quintet to recent jazz albums rooted in the blues. However, he is totally uninterested in repeating the past.

"If people thought the way they did 100 years ago, then we wouldn't have any of the great music we have today. That's part of what made musicians like Louis Armstrong so fresh and revolutionary, it was some wild and revolutionary music at the time. It was very avant-garde, very cutting edge. No one had ever heard the trumpet played that way before. So if we as artists aren't allowed to express our voices to their full potential like the masters who gave us this music have, then how is the music supposed to move forward? Obviously it's contingent for the artists to have done their homework so they've earned the right to extend the tradition. It's not something that is entitled. You must spent the time learning in tutelage under the masters and being linked to the ancestry to earn the right to be in the position to say you are in that lineage. But once you are, then I think you have the freedom to express that in whatever way within that tradition, because it's going to be in that no matter what you do."

When he was into his last number, Payton sang "I'm going to stay right here in New Orleans. Let me live forever in the place we call New Orleans." It seems like it's the place he should be. Here's my video of the scene in the Jazz Tent, and here's a nice long set from the 2014 Bear Creek Music Festival in Florida that starts out with George Porter Jr. on electric bass before Archer joins in. Corey Fonville is on drums in this set.

By this time, Laurie had joined me for the last part of Payton's set, and when it was done, it seemed like some food would be in order. 

Both of us went for repeats, both of them from Food Area I. For me, it was Creole stuffed crab (left) and potato salad (on the right) from Stuf Hapn' of New Orleans. Laurie had the spinach and artichoke casserole, seafood au gratin, and sweet potato pone platter from Ten Talents Catering of Covington, Louisiana.


With one more cube to go, a look at the sky had a lot to do with the choice. We could tell there had been rain in the area off and on throughout the day, even if the Fair Grounds had remained dry. Keith Urban was at the Acura Stage, but that was not for us. However, Jimmy Cliff was going to be at Congo Square, Wilco was at the Gentilly stage, and the hip-hop zydeco of Lil' Nathan Williams and the Zydeco Big Timers was going to be at the Fais Do Do stage. Nonetheless, we opted for a tent, because we saw that there would be time to see at least some of one of those even after the performances in the tents were over ... if the weather held off. 

So, Jimmie Vaughan and Lou Ann Barton were in the Blues Tent and Snarky Puppy in the Jazz Tent. Both were tempting, but we opted for the rocking, jumping big-band sounds of Louis Prima Jr. and the Witnesses in the Economy Hall tent. Were we ever glad we did. First, because the weather got worse and worse by the minute. It got very dark, and it was obvious a storm was bearing down on the Fair Grounds. Second, because this  was just outrageously good music from a band that could only be described as a rollicking perpetual motion machine. Wow, were they ever hot!

Louis Prima Sr., was known as the wildest performer in pop music, and his son, who looks a lot like him by all accounts, is keeping that reputation alive. Only this year did Prima quit his lucrative day job as a manager at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. At a stage of life when some performers are hanging up their instruments in favor of more secure employment, Prima is gambling on a full-time career bringing his dad's music to new generations. "I may be good at management," he said, "but that's not what I was supposed to be doing."

Prima Sr. was born in New Orleans in 1910 and died there in 1978. The explosive performer, renowned for his fiery horn playing, tongue-in-cheek song stylings, comic stage antics, and celebration of his Italian-American heritage, had achieved great fame as a combo and big band leader in New York and Los Angeles. But in the early 1950s, with the swing era in decline, he had trimmed down his act in hopes of finding work in the more modest confines of Las Vegas lounges.

That would become the most memorable phase of his career, as Prima and his band pioneered the Las Vegas lounge style. The magic of their act was found in the unlikely duets sung by the frantic Prima and his fourth wife, singer Keely Smith, who maintained a stoic persona. Prima and Smith, plus a hard-driving backing band led by New Orleanian Sam Butera, produced a unique jump-jazz sound, and performed it in a variety show kind of format.

Prima and Smith's lounge performances became the soundtrack for gatherings of the storied Rat Pack, and the act reached a national audience through the Ed Sullivan Show on television and recordings of broadly popular songs such as That Old Black Magic and Jump, Jive an' Wail.

Louis Prima Jr. was born in Las Vegas on Father's Day 1965. His mother was Prima's fifth wife, the late singer Gia Maione Prima, who also had a daughter named Lena with Prima. Lena Prima, a jazz singer in her parents' mold, sings in the band with her brother.

Prima remembers his father as a dedicated family man who insisted on dinner around the table at 5 p.m. and church on Sunday morning, whether the kids liked it or not. His father taught him to golf, introduced him to celebrities from time to time, and sometimes made beignets. Gia Prima remembered frequently finding father and son piled together in a big easy chair. They called each other "pal," she said.

The family moved back to New Orleans when Prima was in third grade. They lived in an apartment near the Fair Grounds Race Course, where Prima Sr. owned horses. Prima said there might have been instances of tabloid behavior during his father's long life in show biz, but he resents writers who have depicted his dad as a hard drinker and wanton womanizer. That's not the man he knew. "He very much enjoyed his family," Prima said. Prima Jr. learned to play drums at age 5, piano soon after, and guitar in seventh grade, when it was cool to play guitar. He took up the trumpet at age 12, the year his father died after being in a waking coma for three years following risky surgery on a brain tumor. "I do believe it was a way to continue to communicate with his father," Gia Prima said.

Prima also is forever irritated that despite the fame his father achieved in life, and the staying power of his songs, he never seems to be placed in the pantheon of music greats. Bruce Raeburn, curator of the William Ransom Hogan Archive of New Orleans Jazz at Tulane University, agrees that Louis Prima Sr. should be better remembered. He believes the New Orleans musician, whose career in the national spotlight spanned decades, is painted with the same brush as Louis Armstrong and Lionel Hampton, who sometimes are dismissed for their crowd-pleasing personalities.

"Certain jazz critics demand a distinction between artist and entertainer," Raeburn said. "If someone has a high profile as an entertainer, that diminishes them as an artist in some minds." Prima Sr. was honored with the Jazz Fest poster in 2010, the 100th anniversary of his birth. The painting was done by none other than Tony Bennett.

Prima returned to Las Vegas after his father's death and intended to pursue a career in business. He enrolled in college, but his job at the airport job became so lucrative that business classes seemed unnecessary. It was about this time, during visits to see his father's old band, the Witnesses, and sitting in with his sister Lena's group, Prima said, that the stage bug bit. He had a reasonably successful career as singer-songwriter in a Las Vegas rock band called Problem Child, but he got out of rock when grunge became popular because "I don't believe in being unhappy ever."

He began playing his father's music in 1995. To Prima's ear, his voice is not an exact match of his father's, though he tries to play his dad's horn parts note for note. Gia Prima said her son's voice occasionally echoes her late husband's. "Every now and then," Gia Prima said, "I can barely speak, because just naturally he'll get a certain sound in his voice, a certain gesture. Sometimes it's very hard; it brings me to tears. I don't want him to see me."

Prima said his father's acute audience awareness is in his genes. "Anybody can do the songs," he said. "But I want people to remember what it was like to see him; the energy, the happiness he brought."

The skies had become very dark, and the Economy Hall tent was dark inside, but these people lit the stage with their energy. The band comes out and plays a tune, constantly moving around and interacting with each other and the audience. Then Prima comes out and take the whole thing to another level with his singing and trumpet playing. When they do Jump, Jive an' Wail, they literally are jumping, and I don't mean hopping, either. Even the piano player! 

The incredible Witnesses are Leslie Spencer (vocals), Gregg Fox (piano), Ryan McKay (guitar), Steve Pandis (bass), A.D. Adams (drums), Marco Palos (saxophone), Phil Clevinger (trombone), Ted Schumacher (trumpet), and William Pattinson (baritone sax).

They were just getting cranked up, having played about 15 minutes, when the announcement came that the Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm warning and the last hour and 15 minutes of Jazz Fest was going to be cancelled. So much for that. We hope they ask Louis Prima Jr. and the Witnesses back, and soon! Here's my video, the only one that I could find. But you'll see what I mean.

So we headed off to the shuttle bus, with the sky rumbling and lightning flashing, only to have to wait in a pretty long line for a bus, because everybody was heading for the buses all at once, and because it was earlier than normal they weren't prepared for the evening rush. Then, of course, the rain, a very intense and wind-driven rain, started. Thanks, Jazz Fest! We would have been better off in the tent, athough maybe not Economy Hall with its grass floor given that there was lightning. Our trusty unmbrella and ponchos gave us some protection, though, and we eventually did make it to a bus. By the time we arrived downtown, the fast-moving storm had moved on and the sky was clearing. Only a quarter-inch of rain fell.

After we got back to the Staybridge, it didn't take too long to get the wet out. After a short rest we headed off to a 9:30 reservation at a new venue for us, the Little Gem Saloon, just a 10-minute walk a few blocks up Poydras Street. 

The history of this place dates back to 1904 when progenitors of Jazz like Jelly Roll Morton and Buddy Bolden performed at Frank Douroux's Little Gem Saloon in the historic "Back O' Town" neighborhood that bordered the infamous Storyville red-light district.

As jazz became one of New Orleans greatest exports, the 400 block of South Rampart Street, also known as "The Ramp," was a teeming commercial district that was also home to the Karnofsky Tailor Shop, where Louis Armstrong reportedly worked in his youth, and numerous jazz clubs like the legendary Eagle Saloon and the Iroquois Theater, which are the only two left standing (although today they are in great disrepair). 

Between 1926 and 1949, the Little Gem's building was home to David Pailet's loan office, a combination pawn shop and hangout for musicians. In the 1950's it became Pete's Blue Heaven Lounge, an R&B club where members of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club began and ended members' funerals. 

In the late 1950's and early 1960's, in the name of progress, the once thriving Ramp district was demolished to build a new City Hall, office buildings, and parking lots. The Little Gem Saloon survived but was boarded up nearly 40 years until 2012, when the Bazan Family, with an eye for historic preservation and a passion for jazz, began to restore it. The group transformed the Little Gem Saloon into a multi-level restaurant and live music venue that harkens back to the days when it was truly in the jazz heart of New Orleans. 

The Little Gem is anchored by a first floor dining room. That's where we were tonight, seated at one of the high-rise tables in the back. Chef Michael Shelton creates locally sourced Southern soul cuisine, bartenders serve up handcrafted cocktails, and musicians perform on an art deco stage. The upstairs is home to the Ramp Room, an intimate live music club that boasts pristine acoustics, plush seating, and a wrap-around balcony. It's all very cool looking, and the staff was really friendly as well.

The food was good. I was washing it down with NOLA's Hopitoulas IPA, while Laurie was into the usual bourbon and soda. I had an appetizer of baked oysters with artichoke and andouille (very good) and blackened drum (that's a Gulf fish) with capellini vegetables. Laurie's dinner was shrimp with a classic New Orleans BBQ sauce and jalapeño cornbread. Believe it or not, we did not have dessert. Too much Jazz Fest food today, I think.

On stage was New Orleans bluesman Marc Stone, hosting his Louisiana Blues Throwdown. Stone came up playing on the streets and in the bands of blues, funk, and zydeco legends and has become one of the most respected contemporary blues and roots artists in New Orleans. He is also a popular radio host, now in his 15th year hosting the Tuesday afternoon blues show, the Soul Serenade, on WWOZ.

In addition to touring and recording on his own, Stone has produced and acted as musical director for projects featuring many of our favorite New Orleans artists (Walter "Wolfman" Washington, Benny Turner, the Campbell Brothers, Betty Harris, Anders Osborne (gotta love that Jam in the Van), Alvin "Youngblood" Hart (guitar people need to check this guy out), Terrance Simien, Kirk Joseph, Roger Lewis, Rockin' Dopsie Jr., Bruce "Sunpie" Barnes, and Shannon McNally among many others). He has has played guitar for such great artists as Eddie Bo, Ernie K-Doe, Henry Gray, C.J. Chenier, Tommy Ridgely, Marva Wright, and Marcia Ball.

In all our years of coming to Jazz Fest we had never encountered Marc Stone. He's a real good guitarist, and he used his connections to present an all-star event tonight that just didn't pause to take a breath. 

First he brought out Brint Anderson, who also plays guitar for George Porter Jr. and the Runnin' Pardners, a band we have encountered a couple of time at Jazz Fest and in DC at The Hamilton. He's been a fixture in New Orleans guitar for more than 30 years. Here's an extended sample of his music from the yet another New Orleans festival, the Crescent Ccity Blues and BBQ Festival.  

Next up was slide guitar wizard John Mooney, who we saw at Jazz Fest on Day 2 of our trip in 2013. Mooney combines Mississippi Delta blues with the funky second line beats of New Orleans. It's a completely unique sound, and I highly recommend seeking him out, whether he is playing with his band, Bluesiana, with another musician, or as a solo act. With this group he was incredibly good.

Next up, rockin' blues, provided by the Wolfman. We've seen him in a couple of interations, with his band the Roadmasters at Tipitna's (Day 5 in 2013) and as a member of the Joe Krown Trio at Jazz Fest on Day 10 in 2014; his story can be found there). It's evident from the moment he takes the stage that Wolfman just has a great time playing his guitar. 

Texas roadhouse blues via Chicago came next with Benny Turner, younger brother of Freddie King. Turner is another musician we hadn't run into over our years in New Orleans. He was born in Gilmer, Texas (also home to Don Henley, Johnny Mathis, and Michelle Shocked), but the family eventually moved to Chicago. He had learned to play guitar along with his brother at an early age, and played many gigs, both locally in Chicago and on the road. A last-minute request to sit in with Freddie's band gave Benny his introduction to playing bass, and he continued in Freddie's band off and on for years.

Benny's first regular gig was with a gospel group, the Kindly Shepherds. He joined the band of Dee Clark in the early 1960's. He was soon asked to join the band of another gospel group, the Soul Stirrers. At that time, electric bass was unheard of in gospel music and it was controversial even within the band, but that pioneering move laid the groundwork and inspiration for the gospel music of today, in which bass guitar plays an integral role.

As the 1960’s progressed, Benny returned to Chicago, where he continued to play locally in various bands and also made a handful of his own recordings. Not long after that, he rejoined his brother on the road, and the band was living every musician’s dream, playing at major festivals and on the same bill with artists like B.B. King, Solomon Burke, Memphis Slim, Eric Clapton, and even Grand Funk Railroad.

After Freddie's untimely death in 1976, Benny dropped out of music for several years. It was blues legend Mighty Joe Young who coaxed him back to the stage, and they played together until Joe couldn't tour any longer. That's when he moved to New Orleans and joined Marva Wright's band, where he met Marc Stone. He played with Marva for 20 years until she passed in 2010. These days Benny plays in any number of blues bands in New Orleans and almost always takes part in Stone's shows.  

These guys weren't accompanied by just any backup band, even though most of them were in the shadows all evening. Mark Levron played trumpet, Jason Mingledorf from Papa Grows Funk was on tenor sax, Roger Lewis from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band was on baritone sax, Kirk Joseph of the Dirty Dozen was on sousphone, Josh Paxton played piano, Jermal Watson was on drums, and Jack Joshua was on the bass guitar. On stage, the extremely talented Arseńe DeLay and Monica McIntyre provided lead and harmony vocals.

Here are three full videos from this show, You Can Stay But That Noise Got To Go with Walter "Wolfman" Washington, Country Boy with John Mooney, and Fest Time with Arseńe DeLay. My video, with a lot of snippets, has some Benny Turner.

They finished their first set around 1 a.m. and promised to come back for more, but we decided at that point that we had finished our first day of Jazz Fest. With many more to come, we didn't want to repeat the stay-out-way-too-late mistakes of the  past. We walked down Poydras Street to the Staybridge on a very humid evening, ready for much more tomorrow!

© Jeff Mangold 2012