Day 2 / Friday, April 28

As you know, there is a Staybridge Suites morning drill to execute on Jazz Fest mornings. So, officially, the morning drill for the 48th edition of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is: get up ... get ready ... slather on sunblock ... get Brass Passes, shuttle tickets, camera, hats, and phones ... decide if rain gear is going to be needed ... and head down to the lobby to grab some coffee and maybe a bit of food, if there was any left, but only enough to get to Jazz Fest without getting gnarly, because really good food awaits there. The weather forecast today was dry, so the umbrella, jackets, and ponchos were left at the Staybridge. We picked up the drill like it was yesterday, not a year ago, and off we went, coffee in hand, to walk over to Canal Street and the shuttle buses at the Sheraton hotel.

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Once outside, we found an overcast sky, and it never that sky never did get much better than hazy to cloudy. Plus, it was very humid today, with a high temperature around 84 degrees. However, but there was a strong breeze (15 to 25 mph with gusts up to 30 mph) coming in from the Gulf of Mexico, which made it all fairly tolerable. Tropical but tolerable.

We arrived at the Sheraton early enough to avoid the usual first-day organizational delays at the bus stop, although it seemed that the Gray Line folks were well prepared this year, with plenty of busses waiting from the get-go. We zoomed through the short line and hopped right on board. As usual, the trip up to the Fair Grounds was enlivened by a bus host providing all the usual information, and when when made the final turn to approach the Fair Grounds, we were thrilled to find out that Aubrey Street had been repaved, making the last few minutes of the trip, which had been bone jarring on a bus, especially a school bus, much more tolerable. 

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It's interesting to note that New Orleans is no longer repaving with asphalt, but with concrete, as it will hold up better in the climate and occasional flooding. Aubrey Street, no doubt becauase of its location on the Jazz Fest shuttle trip, received a full reconstruction. It was very smooth.

We made the now-familiar entrance to the Fair Grounds Race Course (remember that Jazz Fest is held at a horse raceing track), looping around the big parking lot to the drop-off zone, where we found the usual line waiting to get into Jazz Fest. When the gates opened, the line moved right along, and after we were through the security screening we were ushered to the separate entry for people with passes. In years past they would let people with passes skip the line entirely, but being in the line was no big deal; it didn't take all that much longer. 

And there we were, crossing the race track, walking into the bustling infield with its great live oak trees, past the general store and the post office, the praline and Roman candy stands, the book store and music emporium, the t-shirt stand, and the first of many beer stands, ready for a weekend full of great music. 

Here is the map of the grounds for this year's Jazz Fest, just to refresh your memory of where everything is. We found a few changes this year, mostly cosmetic, and all for the better. The music emporium added a wine and craft beer bar. Also, the Cultural Exchange Pavilion this year was dedicated to Cuba, and I don't know of anybody who wasn't excited about that! Foodwise, the only new dish offered this year was a crab-stuffed beignet at Loretta's Pralines. Also, with Cuba at the Cultural Exchange Pavilion, there was a Cuban food booth serving ropa vieja (a meat stew), tostones with mojo (fried plantains with a spicy sauce), black beans and rice, and café con leche popsicles. 

Speaking of food, that was our first priority. Fortunately our route took us directly to Food Area I, where I immediately corrected a major faux pas from last year, that being the lack of a cochon de lait po' boy sandwich from Walker's Southern Style BBQ. Walker's is located in front of the levee along Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans East, not all that far from the Fair Grounds. It's simply one one of the best things to eat at Jazz Fest. I've enjoyed it on Day 2 in 2012, Day 8 in 2013, Day 3 in 2014, and on Day 3 and Day 11 in 2015. I have no idea why I missed it last year. The shredded pork with crispy skin included, accompanied by cabbage with a horseradish sauce, makes one heck of a good sandwich.

Laurie continued on to the Congo Square food area, where she started out with her favorite Jazz Fest dish, the spicy sauteed spinach (jama jama) and fried plantains from Bennachin, a restaurant located in the French Quarter. She's had it every year (Day 4 in 2012, Day 9 in 2013, Day 11 in 2014, Day 4 in 2015, and Day 8 last year), and I'm amazed that it's been only once each year. 

Honestly, we look forward to returning to Jazz Fest as much for the food as the music. As we ate, the Fair Grounds were becoming alive with music from all directions. I cannot even begin to tell you what a fantastic sensation that is, especially on the first day.

You probably know where we were headed (a look at today's cubes will probably help you figure it out), but we first stopped to see few minutes of the Kumbuka African Dance and Drum Collective at the Jazz and Heritage stage (our second favorite outdoor stage). 

Formed in 1981, Kumbuka is a group of 15 local people of all ages dedicated to the preservation of African and African-American folklore through dance, music, and song. They have studied all over Africa and have a keen sense of the significance of African culture in New Orleans. Their repertoire  consists of dances from Senegal, Guinea, Ghana, Mali,  Nigeria, Congo, Kenya, South Africa, Haiti, and even New Orleans. Very cool. Here's some video that I found of this group's performance today.

But yes, indeed after a bit we were off to the Fais Do Do stage to hear some old-style Creole music from Ed Poullard accompanied by Preston Frank and his family band. Ed Poullard and Preston Frank are vibrant elder statesmen who have been instrumental in preserving the traditional music of southwest Louisiana. Ed Poullard learned his craft from his father and grandfather. Preston Frank, aka "Big Daddy Zydeco," is a seasoned fourth-generation Creole-style accordion player. He's the father of Keith Frank, aka "The Zydeco Boss," who we saw on Day 4 in 2013 and I saw on Day 3 last year with his Soileau Zydeco Band. Last year, he had his two young sons on the stage with him. If I can count correctly, they represent the sixth generation of Frank family musicians. Keith was playing guitar and singing in the group on the stage today.

It wasn't so long ago that the only place this music was heard was in the homes, on front porches, at church dances, and at family gatherings in Cajun country. It was so because the musicians needed to work to support their families. Ed made a living by doing electrical work and he still builds fine accordions. Preston was a lathe operator at a plywood mill. Both still play their music as much as they want, but it's not usually outside home base. 

Preston learned to play accordion just the way his kids have learned it, in the home. He says that his grandfather's music had never been recorded and how he wished he could hear some of it today, how he wishes that it had been preserved. 

Born in Oberlin, Louisiana in 1947, Frank and his Family Zydeco Band, also known as the Soileau Playboys and also the Swallow Band, played all over the Eunice and Mamou areas of southwest Louisiana, but did not record until 1981. Eventually the group grew to include his children Keith (guitar), Brad (drums), and Jennifer (bass). Preston began to ease into semi-retirement in the 1990's, allowing Keith to gradually assume full control of the band. 

Preston says that zydeco doesn't necessarily come from families, but "It's better when the family's all together, because then, everybody knows what you're going to do. You've got Cajun bands that are family too. I guess it's about how you got started. The Frank family has been doing it all along, that's why I started my kids playing with me. We were all together. We were practicing and rehearsing right in the house."

Ed learned how to play accordion in his home as well, from his father, who began playing at 12 years of age. This was in Beaumont, Texas, where the family moved from Eunice to work in the oil industry when Ed was quite young. Before his father passed away, Ed's son had the opportunity to sit and watch his grandfather, learning the same way Ed did, by watching and doing. After an injury limited his ability to play the accordion. Ed learned to play the fiddle. That's not really a problem, because back in the early 1900's, Creole and zydeco music was played with just a fiddle and rhythm guitar. 

When he switched to the fiddle, Ed apprenticed under the guidance of the famous Creole fiddler Canray Fontenot (that's him at the left, with video here) Under Fontenot, he learned not just the music but heard the stories Fontenot would tell. "It was an education listening to him talk just as much as listening to him play," he said. "I got to hear a lot of things that I feel privileged to have been able to get at the time." He recalls being told how important this apprenticeship would be for future generations. "He said that when I'm gone, you become a torchbearer. You have to do whatever you can to bring this to others and show them what you know." And so he does.

Ed describes the roots of Creole music as being "crooked." "Most of the songs have been around for a long time but there may be syncopation differences depending on how the artists may have learned the piece," he explained. "A song may not have had any rhyme or reason to it depending on how crooked the tune might have been." 

"The songs were short and highly syncopated with real crooked melodies," he said. "As the music became commercialized and the touring bands began to form, it was recognized that many of the Creole tunes would not work for the dancers. To bring the music to the public at large, the songs were changed to structure them in a way that the instrumentation could be played in unison and in one rhythmic type structure." 

What that means is that they may play a traditional waltz melody, but the time signature and rhythm have been modified to fit the dancing style of the younger generation who have moved the zydeco sound to a new generation, like Keith has done with the Frank family band. 


Another way that the music is moving away from the traditions is that many of the younger artists don't have the French language on which the music has its foundation. But they know the younger generation has to be reached for the music to survive. Ed says he and Preston are "purists at heart, but won't interfere in what those young people are doing because they are the ones carrying the music into the future and keeping it alive. The music has to grow if it is to live."

But today the music was strictly traditional, located at the place where Creole la la turned into zydeco, and it was a wonderful way to get the Fais Do Do stage cranked up for another year. The dancers were there, the sky was bright if not blue, and the breeze was warm (at one point a gust blew Keith Frank's hat off, much to the delight of his family). We were back at Jazz Fest. What could be better?

Here is my video of today's performance, with lots of dancers, and here are some more: Preston Frank with the family, including Keith on guitar, but with Kevin Wimmer of Steve Riley's Mamou Playboys on the fiddle. Here's another of the same band. Here are one and two short videos of Preston Frank and Ed Poullard together. Here are Preston, Ed, and Kevin Wimmer together with the Mamou Playboys and a quick harmony from Steve Reilly. Finally, here are Preston and the Family with Ed at the 2012 Festival Acadiens et Creoles in Lafayette.

We were heading for the Blues Tent next, but went by way of the Congo Square stage, where a local reggae band called the Revealers were finishing up as the opening act there. You can't ever go wrong with a few minutes of reggae at any time of the day of night. The band has been around for more than 20 years, founded by Chris "DeRoc" DeBose after he served 10 years in the Marine Corps after graduating from St. Augustine High School. His tours of duty included time in Lebanon and then in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm. 

DuBose doesn't want to limit the band musically. "I really want it to be a New Orleans, funky, reggae, world beat band -- that kind of vibe," he says. "But the songs still have that reggae feeling behind them."

The Revealers released a handful of independent CDs in the 1990's and early 2000's and won a couple of Big Easy Awards and OffBeat Magazine's Best of the Beat awards. A series of setbacks and tragedies then intervened. The original percussionist and keyboard player died. Other members came and went. DeBose figures 30 musicians have passed through the ranks. The post-Katrina flood scattered the band members. DeBose's onstage foil and co-lead singer wound up in Dallas.

After the storm, DeBose stepped on a nail, and was seriously injured. When the Revealers opened for Steel Pulse at the first post-Katrina reggae concert at the House of Blues, he sang from a wheelchair. He later set down the band to deal with other health issues. Founding bassist Norman Nail dropped out for a while. But DeBose remained committed to the ideal of the Revealers. That commitment sustained him through a decade of weekly Wednesday night rehearsals and through a two-year stretch of grueling Friday night gigs at Café Negril on Frenchmen Street.

For a while, he led a four-piece version of the Revealers. The roster is now back up to seven, anchored by DeBose, Nail, keyboard player Claude Bryant, founding drummer Darryl White, and guitarists Don Williams -- who joined in 1997 -- and Al Ventura.

After a decade of fronting the band alone, DeBose now shares the stage with a new female singer, Felice Guimont. DeBose said, "We've gone back to the original format of a strong male vocal and a strong female vocal. I'll do a verse, she'll do a verse, then we do the third verse together. That's the winning format for us."

Guimont was a fan of the Revealers for years before she finally suggested herself as a possible addition. "Right off the bat, from the first note, we were harmonizing together," DeBose said. "I wasn't expecting that. We're using the formula that we used originally. It's old-school and new-school. It's a new configuration of the old-school vibe."

To be surrounded by musicians and singers as committed as he "is a beautiful thing," DeBose said. "I thought it was gone for a while. This new phase is coming from God. We're back on track and trying to make a difference. Peace, love, harmony and getting along with each other -- that's what the band has been about for 20 years."

Check out some of the Revealers at Jazz Fest from my video, and here's an entire concert from The Willow, a club in Uptown New Orleans (not the best sound or video, but in it you can see how the reggae meshes with the New Orleans sound, which is very cool).

After the Revealers ended, we continued on to the Blues Tent, only to get caught up in a parade led by the New Wave Brass Band and including three Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs: Keep N It Real, We Are One, and Perfect Gentlemen. The parades are a great part of Jazz Fest. As if you needed help, they provide a perfect reminder of where you are and why you are there.

We finally reached the Blues Tent just in time for the start of the set by the one and only Mr. Sipp, aka the Mississippi Blues Child. 

Mr. Sipp (real name Castro Coleman) was born in 1976 in McComb, Mississippi (the birthplace of one Bo Diddley (and I'll never miss an opportunity to serve up some Bo Diddley!), to Johnell and the late Vera Coleman. He has been around music all of his life. His parents and aunt were part of a gospel quartet, but when he started to play the guitar at age 6, he was influenced by B.B. King.

Castro started out in the gospel group of his aunt, Grace Cain. Then he started his own gospel group, The True Believers. They recorded an album, "In This Place," which established him in the gospel world. Later, he joined the Williams Brothers and started playing on recordings by and with other national gospel artists, such as the Pilgrim Jubilees, Spencer Taylor and the Highway QC's, Rev. Rance Allen, the Texas Boyz, the Jackson Southernaires, and the Canton Spirituals. Just to name few. Wow. Eventually he founded Castro Coleman and Highly Favored, who also found success, including television appearances on Bobby Jones' show. Their album "Time Out" gained national attention. 

All told, Castro Coleman has more than 125 gospel credits listed in the AllMusic guide, and not surprisingly he has received many awards in that genre.

However, and fortunately for all of us, in 2012 Castro decided that he wanted to venture into the blues genre. He formed a band and competed in his regional blues competition in the fall of 2012 and won that, earning a spot at the International Blues Competition in Memphis in January 2013, where made it to the finals. He also won the next regional competition, in the fall of 2013, again went to the 2014 finals in Mephis and this time won the whole thing.

He's now touring all over the world and recently joined the cast of CMT's "Sun Records" as a young B.B. King. He is a member of the Mississippi Arts Commission and conducts programs in the area schools teaching the young and old about the blues.

To say that Mr. Sipp puts on a high-energy show would be an understatement. It was thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end. His sound is joyful, almost neo-soul like with a bit of gospel and a lot of guitar. Mr. Sipp and his band play with an honest enthisiasm that may not be the most polished but certainly gets the audience into the music. Coleman says, "It touches me when a person walks up to me and says, 'I never liked the blues until now' or someone says that they've never felt so much joy through music. It touches me to see how music unifies us as people. It shows that music is a universal language, everyone understands it."

Here is my video of Mr. Sipp, and (get comfortable!) here's the winning performance from the 2014 IBC, here's a couple of tunes from this year's Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival in Maryland, and here's a complete performance from the 2016 Garvin Gate Blues Festival in Kentucky.

Laurie stayed for a couple of tunes with Mr. Sipp, but headed off to the Acura stage to see the New Orleans Suspects. (She finds the tents too confining for her moving to the music). We've seen the Suspects before, on Day 5 in 2013 at Tipitina's massive Instruments-a-Comin' benefit, and Laurie caught them on Day 4 in 2015 (you can read a bit about them there), and you are likely to see individual members of this group with just about anyone at any time at Jazz Fest and out and about at an evening show. 

Here is a video of the Suspects from Jazz Fest last year, and toreally get into it, here's an entire concert from the Frisco BBQ this year in Colorado. The members of the group are C.R. Gruver on keyboards, Jake Eckert on guitar, Eric Vogel on bass, "Mean" Willie Green on drums, and Jeff Watkins on sax. Watkins spent 12 years in the James Brown band. How cool is that?

Now, people who frequent Jazz Fest often refer to "FOMS." The next line of cubes was a perfect illustration of what that means: Fear of Missing Something. Between 1:30 and 3 p.m. one had to decide among Paul Sanchez and the Rolling Road Show, Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns, the Trumpet Mafia, the Pedrito Martinez Group, the Joe Krown Trio with Walter "Wolfman" Washington and Russell Batiste Jr., and the remarkable cellist Helen Gillet. All of these folks, all Louisiana artists, are incredibly good, and you can't do anything but curse (with a smile on your face) the person who put all these wonderful musicians in the same block of music.

Our choice was Paul Sanchez at the Gentilly stage. We had such a great time discovering this fantastic singer-songwriter and his group of friends last year before the deluge on Day 10 that we decided to try them again. You can read some background on Paul Sanchez there. 

On my way to the field at the back of the Gentilly stage, I stopped for a few minutes to see some of Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band. Carrier leads one of the best zydeco bands around. It's high-energy music that you couldn't pass by if you wanted to. You can read about them in the Day 2 report from 2015. I'll be honest here. I did an awful lot of bouncing around from stage to stage this year, so a lot of the summaries are going to be as brief as the time I spent at the performances. To do it any other way would take a year to finish! 

While I waited for Laurie at the back of the Gentilly field, I took this video that lets you see how windy it was today, and also lets you hear some of the Rolling Road Show's sound check. With as many as 17 musicians and instruments in this band, it must be quite a challenge for the people on the sound board!

The Rolling Road Show is a wonderful collaborative gathering in which nobody tries to steal the show. Sanchez distributes songs and solos like an emcee at an old-time music hall. Maybe he distributes a bit too much because the band's final number, the truly great At the Foot of Canal Street, which Sanchez wrote with John Boutté, was a bit rushed. The Jazz Fest folks stick to their schedule, no matter who is performing.

People that I could identify on stage with Sanchez today were Alex MacMurray (guitar), Sonia Tetlow (banjo), Debbie Davis (ukelele), Michael Cerveris (guitar), Shamarr Allen (trumpet), Susan Cowsill (vocals), Craig Klein (trombone), Jenna Guidry (vocals), Brandon "Taz" Niederauer (guitar), John Herbert (harmonica), Mary Lasseigne (bass), David Silverman (tuba), Ben Williams (bass), Carlo Nuccio (drums), Eric "Shoeless" Pollard (vocals), Scotty Moore (guitar), and the indomitable Kimberly Kaye (vocals), who got out of her hospital bed to be at Jazz Fest with the band this week.  I've made great progress in identifying the people in this band since last year! Shamarr and Taz were fabulous during Love Is Blind, a very cool song from Shamarr and Paul's album "Bridging the Gap."    


Here is my video of the Rolling Road Show, and here are a couple more: This one has a bunch of excerpts, this one has Alex McMurray's song Land of Dreams, and this one has Love Is Blind from right up close. The Rolling Road Show truly displays the collaborative and communal nature of the musicians in New Orleans and it's just a real good time watching everybody having a real good time on the stage. Here are one and two more longer videos, from this year's Threadhead Thursday, which is an event held in City Park the day before Jazz Fest begins to benefit the Threadhead Cultural Foundation.

The Foundation's mission is promote the cultural heritage of New Orleans through grants and assistance to musicians, artists, and others whose work is in the tradition of preserving, promoting and disseminating the cultural heritage of New Orleans and the surrounding area of Louisiana. The Foundation raises funds through memberships, fundraising events, and donations. Funds raised are granted to artists and artistic projects through an application process usually conducted in the fall of each year. The more they raise, the more artists and projects they can assist. So if you got some extra cash, it's a most worthy cause.

On her way over to the Gentilly stage after the New Orleans Suspects, Laurie had stopped at the Louisiana Folklife Village to catch a few minutes of the pow wow put on by the Black Lodge Singers, one of the most respected northern-style drum groups in the United States. They are made up of Kenny Scabby Robe of the Blackfeet Nation, his wife Louise of the Yakama Nation, and Kenny's 12 sons.

Kenny is considered one of the leading pow-wow song makers, as are his sons John and Elgin, who are also known for their beautiful singing voices. The group has recorded more than 20 albums, including several aimed at children. All of them are innovative  in their use of traditional drum beats with original compositions. Here are the Black Lodge Singers doing a traditional tune, In the Circle, and for the kids, Old MacDonald Had a Farm

After the Rolling Road Show finished, we were feeling it was time for a snack, so we headed back toward Food Area II, which is close to our next destination, once again the Jazz and Heritage stage. Laurie got the crab and crawfish stuffed mushrooms from Prejean's Restaurant of Lafayette. We've each had this dish before (Day 4 in 2013 and Day 11 in 2014) and it is perfectly done. We've also had the pheasant, quail, and andouille gumbo and the crawfish enchiladas from Prejean's. Both of these are good eating, too. 

I chose something new, Cajun chicken and tasso ham over Creole rice, served by TJ Gourmet Foods, a strictly catering company in New Orleans. Tasso ham is a specialty of south Louisiana cuisine, but "ham" is actually a misnomer because tasso is not made from the hind leg of a hog, but rather the hog's shoulder. This cut is typically fatty, and because the muscle is constantly used by the animal, has a great deal of flavor. It is sliced across the grain into pieces about 3 inches thick. These are dredged in a salt cure, which usually includes nitrites and sugar, and left to cure briefly, only three or four hours. It is then rinsed, rubbed with a spice mixture containing cayenne pepper and garlic, and hot-smoked until cooked through.

Though tasso can be eaten on its own, it is more often used as part of a flavor base for stews or braised vegetables. It is used in dishes ranging from pasta to crab cakes to soup and gravy. Appropriate to its roots, tasso is most often found in recipes of Creole origin, such as jambalaya and the dish served by TJ at Jazz Fest. It is fiery hot, intensely spiced, and ruggedly textured, served on absolutely perfect rice. A smattering of scallions tops the dish. Another one to add to the "eat again" list.

Something a bit out of the norm for Jazz Fest was taking place at the Jazz and Heritage stage, that being some EDM courtesy of DJ Shub, a Canadian Ohswé:ken Mohawk originally from the Six Nations of the Grand River who now lives in Fort Erie, Ontario. We have actually seen DJ Shub, real name Dan General, a couple of times previously at Jazz Fest, as a member of A Tribe Called Red on Day 3 in 2013 and Day 8 in 2014

A Tribe Called Red is immensely popular in Canada, having created an entirely new brand of electronic music called powwow step (a mix of electronic dance music and traditional tribal music). The group's popularity led to nearly nonstop touring, which kept General away from his young family too much, so he decided to step back, spend more time at home, try some new musical pusuits, and make a few appearances every now and then. We were lucky that Jazz Fest was one of them. 

A Tribe Called Red was very well received when they appeared, and so was DJ Shub today. He was by himself except for Josh DePerry, an Ojibway fancy dancer and a DJ in his own right, who performed to the music, occasionally going out into the crowd to liven things up.

At first General didn’t want to limit himself to the genre pioneered by A Tribe Called Red, who combine their dance beats with samples of aboriginal singing and drumming along with visuals out of old western movies and TV shows. "I wasn't sure if I was going to keep doing that or not, but I had a lot of people asking me if I was going to come out with new stuff," he said. "I did a track and played it live, and people went crazy for it. Powwow step is not huge. It's in its infancy. It has opened the door for a lot of aboriginal music coming out, and I love the fact that I'm contributing to that whole wave of contemporary indigenous music."

A life-long fan of hip hop, General has been a DJ for 15 years, originally inspired by the experience of his older brother, who would cross the border to DJ in Buffalo, New York. Equipped with DJ gear supplied by his big brother, Shub polished his skills in his parents' basement, eventually winning the Canadian title at DJ competitions in 2007 and 2008. 

Now, his original music is inspired by and aimed at his children, ages seven and four months. "If my son's not dancing to what I make, then I won't keep making it. He determines whether or not it's going to be a good song," General says. "This music is totally for them. It’s going to hit them eventually. When they get older, they're going to realize what this music is, and hopefully it helps them know their roots. It's my gift for them."

So here's my video a taste of DJ Shub at Jazz Fest today, and here's a video of him in a club setting, which is really the best place to hear this kind of music. Either way, though, it's pretty cool.

Next up, back at the Fais Do Do stage, was modern Cajun music from the Pine Leaf Boys. I heard these guys for a bit in 2013 on Day 11, and was happy to have another opportunity to catch them. 

Band leader and accordion player Wilson Savoy, son of Marc Savoy, an icon of Cajun music and renowned accordion maker from Eunice, Louisiana, and Ann Savoy, who wrote the definitive history of Cajun music and is an accomplished musician as well, engaged the audience in friendly banter throughout the set, prompting the crowd on several occasions to signal if they were having fun. He heard a loud roar when he asked how many in the audience were not from Louisiana. "You may not be from here," he told them. "But Louisiana is the place to be. Other places, you might have a music festival once a year, but here we have live music every day and night."

Savoy made clear to the crowd that the music they were listening to was Cajun, not zydeco, and that the two shouldn't be confused with one another. The Pine Leaf Boys rely on the staples of authentic Cajun music -- accordion and fiddle. The fiddle is in the hands of Courtney Granger. Along with bass from Tom David (whose father plays bass in the great Jambalaya Cajun Band), guitar from Jon Bertrand, and drums from Drew Simon (who we have seen playing accordion in the acoustic trio T'Monde), the band's music is what you would hear as you walked into an old dance hall somewhere in south Louisiana on a Saturday night for the past hundred years or so.

Most of the band's lyrics are sung in Cajun French, with the occasional English verse inserted for variety. The tunes range from plaintive waltzes to vigorous swings to a couple of rocking numbers on which Savoy played keyboards.

The Pine Leaf Boys were inspired by the old Cajun bands of the 1920s, like Amédé Ardoin (listen here) but also admire contemporary Cajun artists like Wayne Toups. They are important links in the preservation of that music, keeping it as alive today as it was back then. But they don't play it straight, adding a certain respectful irreverence. And they play the living hell out of Cajun music.

It's awesome stuff.

Here is my video and another from today, and for some more Pine Leaf Boys, check out their media page here.

At this time Laurie went over to the Congo Square stage. I would join her there soon but I wanted to catch the last part of the set in Economy Hall by Leroy Jones and his band, which he calls New Orleans' Finest. This was the same band who I saw perform last year on Day 4

The music is traditional New Orleans jazz with a decidedly modern touch, and it is truly special. The band is made up of Jones on trumpet, Bruce Brackman on clarinet, Katja Toivola on trombone (who I have learned is Leroy's wife), Meghan Swartz on piano, Jason Stewart on bass, and Barnaby Gold on drums. Laurie and I also saw Jones at the House of Blues on Day 8 in 2015 as he participated in Kermit Ruffins' Big Easy Trumpet Battle Royale, and you can catch his background there.

This is yet another local group that have made it to the not-to-miss list, which is expanding to the point where it is going to be impossible to not miss them all. But I guess that's a good thing. Here's my video from today's performance. These two are from 2012, with the same musicians except for bass and drums: Why Don't You Go Down to New Orleans? and the Meters tune They All Ask'd for You. And this longer performance from NPR last year has Jones, Toivola, Stewart, and Gold along with Daniel Farrow on sax and Paul Longstreth on piano.


Over at the massive Congo Square stage, I found Laurie relatively easily. On stage was Mokoomba, a band from the west African nation of Zimbabwe, specifically Chinotimba Township, on the border with Zambia near the tourist center of Victoria Falls. The band has been playing together since 2002, when the members were teenagers attending high school and their biggest problem was finding instruments to play. Their music incorporates hip-hop, ska, soukous, and Afro-Cuban tunes into the traditional music of Zimbabwe. They sing in the Tonga language. While Mokoomba's music sounds modern, it draws heavily on traditional songs and Tonga rhythms. 

The band is made up of Mathias Muzaza (lead vocals), Ndaba Coster Moyo (drums, backing vocals), Trustworth Samende (lead guitar, backing vocals), Donald Moyo, (keyboards, backing vocals), Miti Mugande, (percussion & backing vocals) and Abundance Mutori (bass, backing vocals). Mutori says Mokoomba's distinct sound is a product of the band's hometown, which is a melting pot of cultures.

"With all the elements that it has, and becoming also a border town to other South African countries, is what makes also our music more, you know, different and interesting," he says. "Because we are fusing also with all these other elements that we grow up listening to, from these pan-African sounds and fusing them with our own tradition and culture."

The band's name is also a reference to its culture, specifically along the Zambezi River, which courses through the country. Mokoomba is what Zimbabweans call the vibrant life experience lived on river banks. It reflects their deep respect for the river and for the boundless energy which it brings to the culture and music of the Tonga people, who are a minority ethnic group in Zimbabwe.

The group got most of their experience with the help of a local bandleader, the late Alfred Mjimba, who was "the only guy with musical instruments in the area. You'd go round to see him, and try to play this or that, and if he liked what you did, he'd say, 'There's a gig, come and play with us,'" Mutori said. "He was no major star, but he played in local hotels and small clubs." Although it was initially impossible for Mutori to play in bars because as the youngest member of the band, he was under age, and his parents objected.

The would-be musicians lived in a high-density area outside the smarter, affluent one reserved for white people and tourist hotels near the spectacular Victoria waterfall. As a border town, close to Zambia, Botswana, and Namibia, Victoria Falls was a melting pot, according to Mokoomba's young manager, Marcus Gora. "When you were growing up there, you couldn't escape different cultures, languages, and musical influences. There was music from the local Tonga tradition, Congolese rumba and soukous, funk, pop from the Beatles, and even country. That's what our parents played."

The band reflects these different cultures, especially the powerful, soulful singer Muzaza, who travelled widely in southern Africa as a boy with his Angolian and Zambian parents. The band played in restaurants or busked for tourists and developed their own distinctive style. "It's Afro-fusion," says Mutori. "A mixture of Tonga rhythms, soca, soukous and the other things we listened to growing up."

While Zimbabwe today is deeply associated with its (now former) leader, Robert Mugabe, Mutori says the band doesn't like to discuss politics in its music. "We just want to entertain people and to showcase of our culture," he says. "As a band, we have made a conscious decision to build our career outside of politics until a time we are established enough to have an effective voice."

Mokoomba's infectious Afro-pop grooves, lock-step dance moves, and vocal harmonies were a real treat. We haven't seen much African music at Jazz Fest over the years, so we really enjoyed this performance. Here is my video. For more, here is an intimate performance from KEXP radio, and here is a full concert from the 2016 Polé Polé Festival in Belgium.

After the Mokoomba concert ended, Laurie was off to do her jam-band thing, this time with the Trey Anastasio Band at the Gentilly stage. Anastasio is a founding member of the band Phish. His solo act has a sound that can best be described as jam-band funk with Latin jazz influences and Led Zeppelin-esque shredding (Anastasio is known for his epic, expressive improvisations). He was joined by drummer Russ Lawton; Tony Markellis on bass; a horn section of Jennifer Hartswick, Natalie Cressman, and James Casey, all of whom also did backing vocals; Ray Paczkowski on keyboards; and percussionist Cyro Baptista

I'm no expert on either Phish or Trey's band, but Laurie said they were pretty cool. Strangely, I can't find any video that shows the scene at Jazz Fest today, so here's a full show from this year's Del Fest in Cumberland, Maryland. It's a long one, but if you're into this kind of thing, it is very good.

While Laurie was doing that, I hit the Jazz and Heritage stage again, this time to see the Cuban-born, relocated to New Orleans percussionist Alexey Marti and his band. Since his arrival in New Orleans in 2008, Marti, born in Havana, has become a part of the fabric of the city. He performs with many different musicians in any number of genres, and we have seen him on stage many a time, but never as a leader. In particular, I saw him on Day 8 last year as a member of Bill Summers' great Jazalsa band. Among the others who have used his skills on congas and the bata drum are Herlin Riley, Davell Crawford, the Headhunters, Los Hombres CalientesDavid Torkanowsky, and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.

Marti incorporates elements of modern New Orleans percussion into his flavorful Cuban conga and rumba music and the result is a dance-worthy, entertaining and high-energy show that includes elements of jazz, funk, Afro-Cuban folklore, and salsaWith just two snares, two sticks and three cowbells, Marti is able to do things must drummers could only dream of. When he starts to heat up, the beat stays steady and his imagination runs wild. His band utilizes a traditional drum kit, hand drums, and other Cuban percussion instruments.

He began performing in Afro-Cuban religious ceremonies at the age of 7. When he was 16, he started to study percussion under the rigorous guidance of Oscar Valdés, percussionist and singer of the famous Cuban group Irakere. He started to play professionally with Diákara, an Afro-Cuban-Latin Jazz group formed by Valdés. At that point in Havana he began to perform with many great Cuban jazz and Afro-Cuban ensembles. Once in the United States, his Afro-Cuban hand-drumming skills won him first place in the prestigious Thelonious Monk Jazz Institute's competition. 

Here's my video from the Jazz and Heritage stage today. For a couple more, although not with the same band, here are 1, 2, and 3 videos of Marti at the Congo Square New World Rhythms Festival in New Orleans. The first two feature another great Cuban-born percussionist, Pedrito Martinez, and the third showcases Marti's go-to drummer, Julian Addison. Alexey Marti is just another in a long list of uniquely great New Orleans musicians. 


Another New Orleans musician I've take a liking to is the Western honky-tonk band leader Kim Carson, who, with her band the Real Deal was performing at the initmate Lagniappe stage in the paddock area of the Grandstand. This was her 22nd Jazz Fest. 

I caught Carson at the Fais Do Do stage on the last day of the Fest in 2015 and you can read more about her there. Today the Real Deal was augmented by Lance Caruso's accordion for a few songs, giving the music a bit of a Tex-Mex feel. Other members of the band are Jason Bishop on guitar, Dwight Breland on pedal steel, Will Darvill on fiddle, and Matt Keegan on drums. Carson plays mostly original music, and it's very good, as you can see in my video. For some more, here are 1, 2, 3, 45 , 6, and 7 videos that amount to an entire show from the Cowboy Boots Festival this year in Barcelona, Spain. 

Now, in the middle of the Anastasio set, Laurie and I met for a few minutes at the Fais Do Do stage, which was really crowded, as it often is later in the afternoon. In such cases we have found a place off to the side of the stage, under a tree, where a whole bunch of people set up chairs to spend the day at the Fais Do Do. If you stand behind them you get a fairly good view of the stage. You don't see all of the musicians, but you do get very good sound ... and some bonus shade. That location was especially ideal today because Laurie was coming over from the Gentilly stage and I was coming out of the Grandstand. We met to catch some of the show by the Travelin' McCourys.

No other band today has the same cred when it comes to playing traditional bluegrass. As the sons of bluegrass legend Del McCoury (see Day 11 in 2013), Ronnie McCoury on mandolin and Rob McCoury on banjo continue their father's lifelong dedication to the power of bluegrass music to bring joy into people's lives. And with fiddler Jason Carter, bassist Alan Bartram, and Cody Kilby on guitar, the ensemble is loved and respected by the bluegrass faithful. And that's pretty much what the big crowd got today. Frogive the double negative, but nobody in the crowd wasn't having a blast.

The McCourys' cred does allow them to stretch out into more progressive music as well. For example, they have played with the Allman Brothers and at Warren Haynes' annual Christmas Jam, where their jam with the Lee Boys was hailed by many as the highlight of the evening. They’ve also performed with the Warren Haynes Band and Phish. They can do all this because their roots are so deep. The band has a confidence that only comes with having spent 20 years on the bluegrass road.    

Ronnie says, "We like to go in and play traditional bluegrass music the way we do it with Dad, but we also like to be able to step into situations where we can really stretch out. If we need to plug in, we’ll plug in. We're open to anything." As they say, just like Bill Monroe was in the 1940's.    

I wish this performance hadn't been so crowded, and we could have been closer to the stage. Here's what we saw, complete with people getting up from their chairs and packing it in for the day! For some more, here they are doing Cumberland Blues and the Grateful Dead tune Loser. And, should you want a lot more, here's an entire performance from the 2016 Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival.

Laurie headed back to the Gentilly stage for the end of the Anastasio set. My goal was the Jazz Tent, but on the way I stopped at Economy Hall, where two great young vocalists, Meschiya Lake and Quiana Lynell, were doing a tribute to the legendary New Orleans blues singer Blue Lu Barker. 

We've seen Meschiya Lake before, with her band the Little Big Horns on Day 8 in 2013. You can read her fascinating story there. A keeper of the flame for sure, she is committed to traditional jazz music but adds a lot of modern touches to it and creates her own music in that vein as well. She has become a fixture in New Orleans.

Of her first visit to the city, she says, "I saw the fire in the gas lamps, and the iron in the balconies and the horse carriages. I just felt this sense of home and the feeling of timelessness. And it just has never gone away. 

"No matter how strange you are in New Orleans, there's someone stranger than you," she said. "It's very nurturing. People with what's called alternative lifestyles in some places, are celebrated. So instead of being degraded or down upon for your differences or special things, they're celebrated."

In all of years in New Orleans, we have never encountered Quiana Lynell. With a smile that will entrance you and a voice that helps your troubles disappear, the vocal dexterity of this Baton Rouge resident allows her to perform a limitless repertoire. Infusing her classical training with her gospel upbringing she approaches jazz as a storyteller. 

Lynell grew up in a small town in west Texas and gained an appreciation for all types of music. She also realized that music was a way to connect to the rest of the world.  She graduated from Louisiana State University's School of Music and since then has been on stage as a clinician, performer, arranger, bandleader, and songwriter. She has performed with jazz artists such as Herlin Riley, Roderick Paulin, Don Vappie, and countless other local artists and bands. She has performed with the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra as the principal soprano and in several musical theater productions in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

Lynell's love for music carries over into all interactions of her life. She spends most of her days creating new musicians as the music instructor at a primary school. She has also created a program, "Made in America: Lyrically Speaking," in which she delves into jazz, blues, and traditional American music from the vocalist perspective. She shares this program in clinics nationally. She is also a voice instructor at Loyola University's College of Music and Fine Arts.

Lynell sees each opportunity to share music with any audience as a chance to create memories and build the soundtrack of life. Whether she is leading the band or supporting another artist, she is thankful to have the opportunity to sketch new memories that last a lifetime. 

While Lake shares Blue Lu Barker's affection for irreverence, Lynell's recent musical tribute to Baton Rouge suggests a sense of place resonates in her work, as it also did in Barker's. While maybe in different ways, Lake and Lynell honored both the woman and her trailblazing for women in blues. The band today was led by pianist and arranger, Michael Esnea.

Blue Lu Barker was born in New Orleans in 1913. In the 1930's and 1940's she was one of the more popular blues performers, often appearing alongside artists such as Cab Calloway and Jelly Roll Morton. Sometimes it was her husband, musician Danny Barker, who opened the doors to musical groups such as Sidney Bechet's, but no bandleader ever tossed her offstage when she clambered up for a vocal, especially once she started cutting hit records. 

Barker's most famous recordings were done in 1938. Don't You Feel My Leg was a well-crafted song that seemed to encourage promiscuity and restraint simultaneously, always a good thing for the music business. (The song got a second round of popularity in the 1980's courtesy of Maria Muldaur.) The early Barker material features her husband on banjo and guitar. Danny wrote most of Lu's songs, and the couple would continue performing together until his death. 

Blue Lu (Louisa Dupont) and her father ran a grocery store and pool hall, cashing in big time during prohibition with a stock of bootleg liquor he made at home. As a kid she focused on dancing, but she was singing as early as seven years of age. Yard concerts would feature a piano, maybe a kazoo. Her risqué persona was born out of those times, a performer's mask to hide behind. 

At 16, Lu left school and married Barker. They remained married until Danny died 64 years later. Her career really hit in the late 1930's when she recorded 24 sides for Decca Records (here's He Caught That B&O). Her delicate voice gave the songs the right dollop of intrigue and the perfect foil for genius trumpeter Henry Allen’s horn lines. In 1930 the couple moved to New York, hooking up a variety of performing situations including the contact with Jelly Roll Morton. At the 1938 session during which she cut her first vocals, the producer checked her out and came up with the "Blue Lu" Barker stage name. 

Eventually, Danny Barker's fame outgrew hers. Still, Blue Lu Barker remains an important icon of New Orleans jazz and blues. In 1966, the Barkers moved back to New Orleans, where Blue Lu was more than just some famous musician's wife. She performed with Danny at Jazz Fest regularly. And while her best-remembered material dates from the 1930's when she was living in New York City, she continued performing, all the way up to a final appearance at Jazz Fest in 1998.

Barker was the antithesis of today's glitzy seductresses. She sang with daring suggestion, delivered in a subtly timbred, high voice that told you more by what she didn't say than by what she did. Mischief and hijinks lingered in between each pause, and the music playing behind her offered more of the same. "On stage I say all these things, and I shake and dance," Barker told The Times-Picayune in 1987. "It might give you the impression that I'm a bad or fast person. But if you know me you find out that I ain't none of those things. Because I don't even flirt. I'm not a real rowdy person. I'm a fun person."

This was another very cool show. The Jazz Fest people are always surprising you with tributes, woodsheds, and collaborations. Just another reason why this is a festival like no other. Here is my video from Economy Hall today. Here's Meschiya Lake at the Louisiana Music Factory record store this year, and here's Quiana Lynell at the same place. For some more historical context, here is Blue Lu Barker doing Bow Legged DaddyThat's How I Got My Man, and At the Animal Ball.

Onward I went, to the Jazz Tent, where I had my first encounter with Astral Project

In 1978, Tony Dagradi gathered together the brightest, most energetic young players in New Orleans and started out on a path that would help shape the modern jazz scene for years to come. A devoted student of Eastern philosophy (quiz next week), Dagradi coined the band name as a reflection of the group's quest for a higher plane of experience. As everyone who has seen the band in concert knows, each performance finds these men reaching for the stars with cutting edge improvisation and near telepathic interplay over deep New Orleans grooves.

Over the years the group has remained remarkably constant. Master drummer John Vidacovich continues to direct the rhythmic ebb and flow of the music as only he can. A brilliant soloist and highly sensitive accompanist, he plays with a command of dynamics, distinctive melodic accents and effervescent swing. On bass, James Singleton is a conduit of pure energy. His solid rhythmic concept and harmonic sense are the foundation of this innovative group’s improvisational strength. Steve Masakowski has long been regarded as one of the best guitarists and composers in contemporary music. His technique on the unique seven string instrument that he designed has influenced a generation of guitarists. Performing on tenor and soprano saxophones, Dagradi brings an emotional urgency to each solo. His huge tone and soaring lines speak of the entire tradition of jazz and constantly push the energy of the band forward.

The band did their first performing at the Absinthe House on Bourbon Street. During their early years Bobby McFerrin was known to often sit in on vocals. Vidacovich and Masakowski are native to New Orleans. Singleton and Dagradi arrived around 1977. "I don't know how long you have to be here to be a native," Dagradi says. "You get involved in the scene and you're part of the community, ultimately."

Astral Project was Dagradi's concept. "When I arrived in New Orleans, I had been playing with a great group I had in Boston called Inner Visions. I wanted to have a group, someplace where I could do whatever I wanted. After I was in New Orleans awhile I scoped out the local artists -- and there were many. I just brought people together that I thought would be a good combination. When I came to New Orleans I only intended to check it out and stay for a short time. But the music scene is so vibrant and so incredible that I just kept staying and staying.

"I had in mind to do something a little more electronic, with electric keyboards, and an electric bass, because this was 1978. I was thinking about Miles. I was thinking about Weather Report. But the more we played it became apparent that our backgrounds and hearts were really in acoustic and very interactive music. So it started out from that fusion place but ultimately went to very acoustic jazz and very interactive music."

"Everybody writes," Dagradi said. "I probably bring in about 50 percent of what we do. Steve writes a lot. Steve Masakowski is a great, great composer. James is a unique composer. Johnny writes probably the least, but when he brings in something, it's great. We rehearse very infrequently, but when we do what happens is someone brings in their music and they have a good idea of what they want. But everybody looks at the music and decides, or takes a little liberty with it and develops his own part. That sometimes involves the actual arrangement, like 'Let's lose the interlude, or only do the interlude in one place.' So the arrangement itself evolves a little bit at the rehearsal, but then a lot on the bandstand."

When asked about the New Orleans influence, Dagrasi says, "New Orleans is the most important city when you start talking about jazz, where it started to begin with. The music was in the air and happening in lots of places, but geophysically, New Orleans is a very unique place. The fact that it's surrounded by water and totally isolated has helped it to sustain its individuality and culture. There are so many elements, the culture, the melting-pot aspect, there was so much music here from so many different places. That's why the music evolved here as it did. 

"Given that, there's a tradition of families – Marsalis, Jordan, Batiste. There are a lot of extended families, so that anybody who’s from here is probably related to a musician. It's part of the fabric of the whole city, so that if you're not related, you probably know a lot of musicians. We've all had a chance to play with Professor Longhair. I've recorded with Ellis Marsalis. We all take part in this big community.

"The one thing that really I found exciting and remarkable when I first got here was that you would go to one gig and it might be a wedding. You would go to another and it might be a funk gig at a club, and you would go to another and it would be a straight jazz gig. And you would see some of the same faces on all those gigs. For me that showed how versatile the individual musicians are and how connected they are."

This is so true.

The performance today was certainly a showcase of some tremendous modern jazz. It was packed with compelling solos. It straddled the line between funk, rock and modern jazz. It was astounding in that Vidacovich and Singleton do much of the heavy lifting for Astral Project. Singleton doesn't just stand there. He dances with his instrument: slapping and plucking the strings, conjuring growls with his bow, plunging across bar lines with long descending blue notes and landing on the beat with popping funk accents. Put him on stage with Vidacovich -- a master of jazz polyrhythms who isn't afraid of a big rock downbeat -- and you have one of the most potent rhythm sections in New Orleans, one that deserves a place beside George Porter Jr. and Zigaboo Modeliste of the Meters. And Masakowski and Dagradi reach expressive heights within that rhythm without a hard edge, so the music is utterly fascinating. 

Here's my video from today, and here's a longer excerpt from a previous Jazz Fest. If you'd like to delve deeper into this great jazz, here is a full hour from 2014. 

That could have ended the day, but there was still a bit of time left. Laurie and I decided to meet at the Fais Do Do stage. On the way over, I stopped for a few minutes at the Jazz and Heritage stage to get some late-day brass from the Pocket Aces Brass Band. Brass band music is always fun, and at this time, late in the Jazz Fest day, the crowd at the Jazz and Heritage stage is fun as well. I wrote about the Pocket Aces on Day 3 last year. They don't do a lot of self-promoting, and are happy to do their thing locally without a lot of fanfare. They are very good.

Then I stopped at Food Area II and got a Cuban sandwich from the booth of Canseco's Market. I stowed it away to eat when we got back to the hotel because we had evening plans and didn't know how much time we'd have for dinner. I had one of these great sandwiches on Day 3 way back in 2012 and also on Day 9 in 2013. It is roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard between two slices of Cuban bread, which is similar to Italian bread except it has a small amount of fat in the form or lard or something akin to Crisco (vegetable shortening). It is then pressed and toasted. 

Laurie had the same thing on her mind because she got a late-day veggie muffuletta from DiMartino's Famous Muffulettas of Gretna, Louisiana. She's had this twice before, on Day 3 in 2014 and Day 8 in 2015. It's a thick, sesame seed sandwich roll stuffed with Swiss cheese and covered in an olive salad with red peppers, yellow peppers, mushrooms, green olives, spices, and olive oil. She ate this on site as opposed to taking it with.

We met at the back of the Fais Do Do crowd to catch some zydeco toward the end of the set by Geno Delafose and French Rockin' Boogie

This band is one of the reasons that we decided to give Jazz Fest a try back in 2012 when we saw them at Wolf Trap's (apparently late, great) Swamp Romp in 2011 along with Steve Riley, Sonny Landreth, and Trombone Shorty. However, we've never seen them at Jazz Fest.

Geno Delafose learned the craft and the joy of zydeco music from his father, John Delafose, a legend in the zydeco genre. He grew up in the small town of Eunice. Deep in the heart of Louisiana's bayou, it is a Creole town with multi-racial roots and a music tradition that borrows from traditional French and African music.

He first played the scrubboard in his father's legendary band, John Delafose and the Eunice Playboys, when he was just 8 years old. He went on to play drums, and then the accordion. He played on seven of that band's albums, including a collaborative effort with his father, "Pere et Garcon Zydeco," in 1992. The elder Delafose passed in 1994.

Geno, still in his early 30s, now leads his own band, bringing in a new generation of zydeco fans, finding them wherever he goes. "We have that old country feel," Delafose said during an interview in the late 1990's, "that soft swing, and then we have that loud, bluesy, get-down thing going on, too. We try to mix it up, give everybody something they can dance to."

Geno's sound is both unique and traditional. He finds inspiration in the traditional Cajun and Creole melodies, but he and his band have crafted their own rich gumbo of Cajun, zydeco, R&B, country, and blues. He's been called the young hope of traditional zydeco, but hasn't forgotten how he got his start, as he spends a lot of time teaching the next generation of zydeco musicians, including his own nephews, how to play. He now lives in Duralde, Louisiana, near Eunice, on a ranch, raising cattle and horses. He also holds fan appreciation parties annually at the ranch.

There's nothing fancy about Geno's zydeco; it's all accordion with his fabulous singing, backed by lots of rhythm to drive it. Here's my video from the Fais Do Do stage today. Also, for a real treat, here's an hour of Geno and French Rockin' Boogie on that wild Swamp 'n' Roll TV show out of Lafayette in 2015 and another, a bit longer, from the Festival International de Louisianne this year in Lafayette. 

And that was the end of Day 1 at Jazz Fest 2017. Holy smoke, that was a lot of music packed into one day. But that's how we've learned to roll here. Lots of moving around to get maximum music and avoid FOMS as much as possible. We zipped onto one of the plentiful shuttle busses waiting to take us back downtown and got back to the Staybridge with enough time for me to eat and the both of us to rest a bit. 

After awhile we headed back out into a beautiful Louisiana evening. We walked across Canal Street onto Decatur Street and then turned up St. Peter Street, crossing Royal Street, and ending up at Preservation Hall, where we were going to catch the 10 p.m. show by John Batiste and Stay Human, who everybody knows now as the house band for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Jon Batiste was born in 1986, in Kenner, Louisiana, a member of a long line of musicians from the Batiste family. He was introduced to music through the Batiste Brothers Band, a funk group in the style of the Neville Brothers in which he played percussion and drums at age 8. His father, Michael, was the group's bassist. At his mother's suggestion, he switched to piano at the age of 11. He took classical lessons and transcribed songs from video games.

At the age of 17, he released his first recording as a band leader "Times in New Orleans," which featured New Orleans musicians like Jason Marsalis, Donald Harrison Jr., and Christian Scott. He graduated from the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) along with Troy Andrews (Trombone Shorty), and then went on to study at the Juilliard School in New York. While at Juilliard, he released his second recording, "Live in New York: At the Rubin Museum of Art."

Batiste showed up at Juilliard already hooked on the melodica, which is both a mouth-blown reed instrument and a keyboard. (He calls it a "harmonaboard.") "I must have played it 12 hours a day," he says, "Up and down the halls." Some saw the instrument as a toy, especially the Juilliard administrators who expressed dismay. But it appealed to the like-minded classmates who joined Batiste in Stay Human.

In 2007, he played at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, producing and performing his own show. In addition to the show, he conducted music clinics and master classes and workshops throughout the Netherlands in underprivileged neighborhoods. He was then invited to do this show at Carnegie Hall in New York. The performance included six young musicians from the Netherlands. It was viewed as a hugely successful cultural exchange and garnered national attention. In 2012, he was appointed associate artistic director at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem as part of the leadership entrusted with the development and growth of the institution.

His music and New Orleans connection got him into several episodes of the HBO television series Tremé, and was cast as organist T.K. Hazelton in the Spike Lee film "Red Hook Summer," for which he composed and performed all of the organ music that was a part of the film score.

In 2005, Batiste began performing regularly around the New York music scene in a trio with bassist Phil Kuehn and drummer Joe Saylor. Both Saylor and Kuehn are from Indiana, Pennsylvania, where incidentally my sister and daughter attended college. A few years later he recruited Eddie Barbash on alto saxophone and sometime after that Ibanda Ruhumbika on tuba. They had all attended Juilliard. Batiste named the band Stay Human.

Batiste and his band are known for actively engaging with audiences in an effort to create greater accessibility to and appreciation for the art of live music. The band draws its name from the belief that the human interaction of a live musical performance can uplift humanity in the midst of the "plug-in/tune-out" nature of modern society. Either on tour or during time off, the band sometimes spontaneously plays in nontraditional venues, such as impromptu performances in the streets, which Batiste and the band call "Love Riots."

In 2011, the band released "MY N.Y.," which was recorded in its entirety on actively running New York City subway trains, a concept that grew from the question of how to connect with people.

"I'm doing this for an artistic reason," Batiste says. "Jazz performances can seem esoteric, like an experiment or a recital. Here, there's no hat passed around. We're not practicing, either. We're playing at the highest level we can. And we're doing it two feet from your face, right where you live." In fact, the Stay Human Band sound as sharp crammed into a subway car as they do onstage at a club, and edgier, in a good way. Batiste says, "The whole idea grew out of late-night conversations we'd have at the West Side Diner about why this venue or that didn't seem right for us. And about how to connect with people."

"You get on a train, and you see people who are afraid or sad," Saylor says. "And then you start to play, and there’s this spiritual thing. Their whole countenance changes, and you can see it, you can sense it."

When Stay Human signed on to be the house band for The Late Show, they added Michael Thurber (bass), multi-instrumentalist Louis Cato, Grace Kelly (wind instruments), Maddie Rice (electric guitar), and Jon Lampley (trumpet and tuba). Kelly has recorded with jazz greats like Lee Konitz, and Rice, who attended Berklee College of Music via Utah, is also a member of a five-piece band called Rubblebucket.

At Preservation Hall, we were seated in the front row, with only one row of people sitting on the floor between us and the band. (Always get a reservation at Preservation Hall if you can). The entire band took to the intimate stage, but Batiste sat down at the old piano made famous by Sweet Emma Barrett among others to first play a few tunes, including a classical number, before the entire band kicked in. That's a picture of Jon at the piano at the beginning of this section. They ask for no photos at Preservation Hall, and when asked, I oblige. This one, and the one below, were taken by the Hall's house photographer. 

Soon, the evening became epic when members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, including Charlie Gabriel, Clint Maedgen, Ben Jaffe, and Ronell Johnson, joined in. What a crowd that made! And what a glorious noise! The performance turned into a monster jam, with musicians from each band taking turns on solos, stretching well beyond the hour allotted for the show. Lucky us! (Always go to the third performance of the evening at Preservation Hall if possible, because you never know what will happen).

On The Late Show, you get a feel for what Batiste's band can do, but in a show like this you see who they really are. They are a more vibrant and complex band than the show makes clear. So Batiste is right, and one of the reasons we know this is because this was the third time we've been to Preservation Hall. Seeing artists like this so up close and personal, no matter how famous, definitely humanizes them, and that's a good thing. That also was a perfect way to end this near perfect Jazz Fest Day. We strolled back to the Staybridge, just marveling at the wide range and quality of the performances we had seen today. And the great food. Although that could be said of most any Jazz Fest day. And this was just the first of seven days.



© Jeff Mangold 2012