My Favorite JazzFest Musical Memories, Part Deux

Posted: April 26th, 2020 | Filed under: JazzFest, Music, New Orleans, Ruminations | 1 Comment »

Oh my, the power of suggestion.

As I write this Saturday afternoon, I’m listening to old JazzFest classic sets at, which the station will be streaming again Sunday the 26th, and next Thursday through Sunday, noon to 8:00 EDT.

Today’s sumptuous slate opened with Bonerama, which as I write I am confirming to myself might be my favorite of the current New Orleans fusion maestros. (I’d like to more definitive, but, my ears are easily turned, faves change on a whim.)

You know Bonerama’s like funk and rock and some second line Longhairish rumba, all fronted by — Ready for it? — a trio of trombones. Which they play straight up or synthesized.

I mean, ya know, it’s New Orleans. Where else?

And, listening to them open today with “Big Chief,” reminded me of a favorite JF musical moment I’d forgotten.

At the first Fest after Katrina, a miracle really but so endearing and fun, Bonerama’s set featured a searing version of the Zeppelenized version of Memphis Minnie’s seriously appropriate at that moment, “When the Levee Breaks.”

I couldn’t find a youtube of that particular performance, but here’s the band doing it another time at a different gig:

OK, I assume you now realize that, unlike the first entry in this series, meant to help take my mind off the reality that I’m not actually at JazzFest in 2020, this will not be a podcast.

But it does include music. So, hey, it’s got that goin’ for it, which is nice.

 * * * * *

So, as I’ve mentioned a trillion times, my first JazzFest was in ’76. My first experience was not actually at the Fest during the day, but an evening show on the Riverboat President. Allen Toussaint. Professor Longhair. Gatemouth Brown.

Pretty overwhelming actually. Joyously so. To be brutally honest, mea culpa, I’m pretty sure I’d never heard of any of them at age 31, despite my addiction to rock & roll and all its permutations.

Chuckie had some catchin’ up to do. A task not the least bit onerous.

That was a Friday night. The following Sunday, Longhair closed the first weekend of Fest.

It remains to this day, thousands of concerts before and after, my favorite set of music E.V.E.R..

I could go on and on about the situation. I’ll just say I was swallowed whole by it.

Longhair could, as they say, tickle the ivories. In a manner as unique as any in the history of music.

Here’s a grainy video of Fess at another gig:

And, yes, in case you’re wondering, that’s the same Earl King-penned “Big Chief” tune Bonerama covered at the outset of their set today.

 * * * * *

For years, until some time in 90s, the whole daily Fest was contained within the infield of the Fairgrounds Race Track. All the stage, concessions, porta potties, crafts.

It was getting crowded.

But, before the Fest spread out all over the grounds, the Congo Square stage was jammed along the backstretch between the Jazz Tent and maybe Fais Do Do, if that stage was called that back then.

Anyway, Congo Square was bumper to bumper that afternoon. When I experienced the dancingest music I’d ever heard, an enthralling set of tuneage that made me seek out contemporary African music at every opportunity.

I shvitzed through my clothes so much did I dance. Blisters on my toes.

For Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens.

Urgent. Primal. Invigorating. Have I mentioned, I and everybody else at the stage could not not dance? The whole time?

A sample of their stuff. Again, not from JF.

 * * * * *

Two of my favorite musical memories actually came back to back on the same day in ’94.

My buddy Mark joined me down there after returning from a visit to India. He was so spiritually light, we put some weights around his ankles. At any rate . . .

. . . we were wandering around the grounds, as one is wont to do, and by chance and dumb luck came upon Ry Cooder and Ali Farka Touré.

From Mississippi to Mali.

From Timbuktu to Tunica.

A merger of the Delta blues and the rhythms of the Sidasso.

We were transfixed. We stopped meandering and let the sublime sounds soak in.

After that laid us low, with the skies turning ominous, we strolled over to the Gentilly Stage, where one time New Orleanian Randy Newman was weaving his sardonic magic.

My memory is that Newman was singing “I Love L A,” when the clouds opened and poured forth. With those kind of softball sized raindrops one can get drenched with in the Crescent City.

Newman stopped in the middle of the song, and broke into his iconic “Louisiana 1927.”

It was a transcendent JazzFest moment, which many performers in years hence when covering the song would reference.

Here’s a different live rendition, one which can’t quite capture how special that moment in the downpour was, but as good a way to end this portion of the proceedings.

I’ll be back with more in a day or two or three.

— c d kaplan

One Comment on “My Favorite JazzFest Musical Memories, Part Deux”

  1. 1 Gary said at 5:51 pm on April 26th, 2020:

    Love it, Chuck!

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