JazzFest ’17: A Soggy Sayonara

Posted: May 2nd, 2017 | Filed under: Culture, Music | 1 Comment »

So my pal Marc — He’s the frat brother who introduced me to JazzFest in ’76 — and his bride Jill — Recall she’s a Louisville gal who hooked up with her groom at a Little Feat concert during Derby in the 70s — host what’s become an annual JazzFest/ Derby Crawfish Boil on the last Sunday in April.

It celebrates the end of the first weekend of JF, and the beginning of Derby Week. Which they return to every year. Marc’s actually been coming to Derby longer than I’ve been doing JazzFest.

At the Crawfish Boil, I got into a conversation with some friends of a NO friend. They seem to show up in NO during fest time every year. It’s addictive for many, as if you hadn’t already surmised that.

We were chatting about the acts we’d seen, who we liked, etc, etc, etc.

He wanted to know what I thought of Jon Batiste and Stay Human. I advised I was at another stage. (Economy Hall for the Pete Fountain Tribute.) Which choice I explained by saying I’d seen Batiste before, and was saddened how he’d become a Stephen Colbert sycophant, what Doc Severinsen became for Johnny Carson, the music guy at a great regular gig, forced to laugh at all of comedian’s jokes, funny or no. Said I loved Batiste, from one of the city’s first musical families, but was simply drawn elsewhere.

Then the fellow went on and on about Maroon 5, and what a great band leader Adam Levine is. I told him I hadn’t the slightest desire to hear that band with zero connection to New Orleans musical tradition.

Perhaps frustrated by my failure to veil my imperiously expounded upon musical tastes, he asked, “Well, what bands would you pay to see?”

I mentioned Van Morrison and Tedeschi Trucks immediately off the top of my head, then realized this . . .

. . . “Oh yeah, Richard Thompson, whom I have tickets to hear tonight in the Parrish Hall at the House of Blues.”

 * * * * * *

Thus my musical weekend ended on an incredible high with the brilliant song writing, stentorian singing, and genius level guitar picking of the glib and engaging former member of Fairport Convention.

Thompson is a legitimate Hall of Famer, whether the yahoos that run that deal in Cleveland have seen fit to put him in or not.

And though between song, while sprinkling clever bon mots while retuning his guitar, he gigged Quint Davis, who runs the fest and picks the talent that appears, for not having him on the bill, Truth is RT did perform at JF maybe a decade and a half ago. He and his amplified acoustic guitar commanded the attention of a very large crowd at the Gentilly Stage, which was, I guess, the first time I ever heard him live.

The guy is nothing if not a significant presence on stage.

During that set, Thompson uttered my favorite line of banter of any I’ve ever heard from a stage, at the fest or anywhere else:

“Where else would you possibly want to be at this moment than here in New Orleans at the Jazz and Heritage Festival?”

Preach, brother.

Sunday he sang all of my old favorites, save for “Tear Stained Letter.”

The guy can cut a phrase.

“Red hair and black leather/ my favorite color scheme.”

“I feel so good/ I’m gonna break somebody’s heart tonight.”

“You can go with the crazy people in the Crooked House/ You can fly away on the Rocket or spin in the Mouse/ The Tunnel Of Love might amuse you/ Noah’s Ark might confuse you/ But let me take my chances on the Wall Of Death.”

“But I misunderstood/ I thought she was saying Good Luck/ She was saying Goodbye.”

Plus he is one of The Great Guitar Pickers, able to play different but complementary rhythms simultaneously on the bass and treble strings, drawing invigorating nuance which is damn near overpowering and certainly mesmerizes.

His version of “Valerie” included one of the great guitar solos I’ve ever heard. This version from years ago, though not as quite as transcendent as Sunday night’s will nonetheless give you an idea:

So that gig would have been enough to make the whole trip worthwhile. But, of course, if you’ve been paying attention, you know there’s been much much more.

But it was a great way to say goodbye.

 * * * * * *

Because of tornado watches and two inch an hour rain, the opening of the fest on Sunday was delayed with most of the lineup washed out.

But when it was announced the gates were opening mid afternoon, I threw on my duck boots and scurried out for a few hour fix.

The last time I remember doing that was years ago. The festival is rarely delayed, and only a couple of days have been canceled through the decades. But going late on Sunday reminded me of the only other time I did it. Mr. Music and I were sitting forlornly in a coffee house in the Quarter, during a rain storm, chatting up some people he knew from Louisville. We both saw the rain stop and a bit of sun cut through, and we got up, threw some money on the table — I swear I don’t recall even saying goodbye — grabbed a cab and got to the fest in time for Toots & the Maytals. Where we ran into then C-J music critic Ronni Lundy. (Who, by the by, just won the James Beard Award for Best Book of the Year.)

Sunday’s interlude, though short, was a godsend. Otherwise, there wouldn’t have been proper closure for the JazzFest portion of thiS year’s venture.

So it was synchronistically appropriate when the first lyrics I heard when entering the gates in late afternoon, were iconic from New Orleans icon Dr. John,

“You’re in the right place/ At the wrong time.”

Do the musical Gods have a sense of humor or what? It was salutary moment. I stopped to dance with Ms. Zenella, one of the crowd herding flag ladies by the entrance gate.

During my short final day, it turned out to be a smidge of this and a pinch of that.

The always a rollick Mavericks at Fais Do Do for a couple tunes, including a soaring love ballad by Raul Malo, who has one of the great voices in contemporary music.

How’s that one song of theirs go? “I’ll love you forever/ At least until November.” Or, something like that.

Southside Johnny & the very tight Asbury Jukes for a couple of tunes in the Blues Tent. That boy from Jersey has one of the great rock & roll voices ever.

Latin rockers Gente de Zena, who actually had their crowd doing the Macarena. Honest. No, really, I’m not kidding. When you’re willing to go ankle deep in muck to hear music, you’re up for about anything, I suppose.

The Clark Sisters in the Gospel Tent for a hint o’ spirituality.

Flock of Seagulls. No, not the big hair band, a real flock of seagulls that, for some reason, were circling the festival grounds in great numbers.

A walk by of Shamar Allen and the Midnite Disturbers.

A sighting of my favorite t-shirt of the day: “Emmylou Harris for President.”

One last chocolate sno ball.

A few tunes by Tom Petty, who was backed by the luminous, golden voiced sisters, Hattie and Charley Webb. Whom you might have heard with Leonard Cohen.

 * * * * * *

So, there ya have it. One guy’s take on the first weekend of JazzFest ’17

There have been many years when I’ve done the whole schmear. Both Weekends. 10-11 days of New Orleans.

No more.

But unlike the last few years, after which fests I’ve hinted they would be perhaps my last, I’m already committed for ’18.

But I won’t start my countdown until next Monday, when the whole ’17 thing is over.

— c d kaplan


One Comment on “JazzFest ’17: A Soggy Sayonara”

  1. 1 Jim McGovern said at 11:22 am on May 3rd, 2017:

    Tell me Sir Richard did Bee’s Wings.

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