For reasons too complicated and sordid to go into here, JazzFest got big about a decade ago.
Instead of an essentially indigenous festival, featuring the music of New Orleans and Louisiana, plus national acts with ties to its focus, it went nationwide pop.
In the old days, there would be no My Morning Jacket or Pearl Jam or Red Hot Chili Peppers, as this year, or Eagles or Counting Crows or Elton John or Bon Jovi as in recent years.
The byproduct of that shift, nay, the product itself, has been bigger crowds and more “success.” Meaning the Jazz & Heritage Foundation, which owns the Fest, gets more money that ever.
Many of the actual byproducts haven’t been so positive.
The crowds can be so huge, unengaged and without focus that it impedes the ability for listeners to laser in on acts they wish to savor on the big stages. There’s more sound bleed between stages, which in some instances is not a good thing at all.
As when Pearl Jam starts, and the DeJohnette, Coltrane, Garrison set at the Jazz Tent gets Eddie Vettered. Everybody does not need to hurt.
Other than the humongous crowds, which, like yesterday, are starting to get to me, my personal biggest peeve is that the sound at some of the stages isn’t as good as it used to universally be. Until five years or so ago, I would always mention, when talking Fest to people, how righteous the sound always is.
Reggae legend Alpha Blondy (& the Solar System) was one of my must sees Saturday afternoon, at the Congo Square stage. I grabbed my first chocolate sno ball of the day and headed over, arriving about five minutes before the scheduled start.
They couldn’t get the sound right, and the set was delayed a half an hour. Of course, the crowd was patient, and you could always go to one of the nine other stages, but . . .
I was reminded of a situation at the same stage several years back, when they never could get Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding’s stand up bass miced up. She had to play an electric bass her whole set.
Fortunately, they finally got the sound system working yesterday, but it wasn’t a good thing.
Thanks for allowing me to vent.
My pal described Rastafarian Blondy’s music, with a big, bold band and backup singers with sumptuous harmonies, as acid reggae.
Indeed it is.
Danceable. Political. Often in what sounded like tongues. (Was that Hebrew he was singing?) Ever charismatic. And all enveloping.
It was big and bold and boffo.
And, unfortunately too short a set, because they had to get back on schedule, with Mystikal and Maxwell still to play on that stage. Much to Mr. Blondy’s chagrin, when they essentially had to cut him off.
Oh, there I go complaining again. Sorry.
But in the middle of it, it was righteous. Most all of us were dancing.
I was reminded of perhaps my favorite Congo Square experience ever, years, decades ago. Mahalatini & the Mahotella Queens had everybody — literally every person in the packed crowd — dancing til we were a sweaty mass and our dogs were yelping.
Alpha Blondy sure got this old fart off his stool.
And the psychedelic reggae and horns — the Solar System, a perfect band name for this group — carried us through some Big Bangs, Black Holes, Galaxies Far Far Away and back.
* * * * *
Nigel Hall, singer, keyboard player, started the day, backed by a New Orleans funk, R & B contingent.
“This is the biggest band I’ve ever had. Two of everything.”
Conga drums. Sistas backing up on vocals. Guitars. A Hammond B3.
Lots of soul to start the day.
“Runnin’ away/ Needin’ some rejuvenation/ Runnin’ away/ Leaving a bad situation”
This stuff never gets old.
* * * * *
But the players — and, of course, the listeners, like me — do age.
Leo Nocentelli is NO music royalty, the guitar player for The Meters, a quartet that is in the argument, when the discussion is who invented funk?
But his set, even with youthful drum wizard Stanton Moore on traps, sounded stale.
* * * * *
So I slipped over to the Lagniappe Stage in the Fairgrounds’ Paddock area, where the groups are always lesser known and quirkier.
To check out big voiced Darcy Malone & the Tangle.
This was girl group, Top 40 meets Ornette Coleman, New Orleans nouveau Power Pop. (To make up a genre and try to describe the smile inducing music.)
The guitar player plays actual fills and solos, instead of simple strums as in most pop music these days.
And the very hot sax and keyboard player, a kid named Jagon Eldrich, which I know because his mom was sitting in front of me, and I retrieved her phone when it fell out of her pocket.
As proud mom kvelled, son just got his Masters in Music at LSU.
And he was stylin’ in pink and black, with long hair, looking like he might have played in some 70s group, like, say, War.
* * * * *
Which brings me to Van Morrison, whose set is distinctively difficult for me to describe.
For reasons that are very personal, such that I won’t even go into them.
And, because the crowd for his set at the Gentilly stage was so huge, so packed like sardines and so unengaged, that it was difficult to savor my favorite singer as I wished.
When Morrison broke into “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” some idiot twentysomething standing next to me, turned to her chattering girlfriends, and said, “Eileen’s mother knows the man who wrote this song.”
Which is, of course, an old blues standard, probably predating recorded music itself, and certainly of unknown origination. Though Big Joe Williams was the first to popularize it in the 1930s. The first person I ever heard sing it was Lightning Hopkins.
It was not written by Eileen’s mother’s friend in Metarie.
Morrison was engaged, even if I had trouble being so. His saxophonic vocal phrasings are as fluid and effective as ever.
Oh, I’m sorry, I simply can’t talk about his set any further. There are times when personal situations overwhelm the critic, rendering him unable to tend to his craft. This is one of those days.
* * * * *
Warren Storm and Willie T filled the air at Fais Do Do, with some classic old farts Swamp Pop.
Big Sam’s Nation remains as funky as ever.
Nathaniel Rateliff with his Night Sweats sounded way soulful, especially on the set closer, “The Shape I’m In.” I trust I would have really gotten locked into his set, had I the inclination to fight the crowd to get closer to the stage.
I did not.
* * * * *
Favorite t-shirt of the weekend: “Lettuce Turnip The Beet.”
— c d kaplan