My Favorite JazzFest Moment: Aaron Neville 1988

Posted: April 22nd, 2023 | Filed under: JazzFest, Rock & Roll Rewind | No Comments »

Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise, next week I’ll be at my 34th.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

I write about JazzFest. I talk about JazzFest. My walls are adorned with JazzFest posters and photos I took there decades ago with one of those cameras where you had to take the film to Walgreens to get developed.

JazzFest is the gravitational pull of my year, has been the epicenter of my musical fixation for decades.

Such has been my incessant preaching about it, more years than not I’ll get a call from someone going to their first who wants a primer on what to expect.

There are a couple of questions I get asked. On a yearly basis, who were my favorite acts?

My answer to that one follows a pattern. I’ll advise that I’m more interested in local New Orleans performers, Third World groups and acts I’ve never heard before than mainstream headliners such as 1/2 of The Who, whom I heard in ’70 when they were whole.

Which is to not disregard that this year, I’m looking forward to Tedeschi Trucks Band, my faves, as well as Robert Plant & Allison Krauss.

The other question, and my purpose here, what is my favorite JazzFest moment ever?

There have been so so many great ones.

Frankly, just walking in on the first morning each year is a thrill.

There’s the moment Richard Thompson defined it all from the Gentilly Stage while tuning his guitar between songs.

“Where else would you possibly want to be right now, except in New Orleans at JazzFest?

Where else indeed.

As for music. Professor Longhair at my first Fest. Mighty Chariots of Fire once in the Gospel Tent on an Easter Sunday, when it felt like we were levitating. Legendary Ernie K-Doe at a Dew Drop Inn Revisited night show. Allen Toussaint too many times to count.

Ali Farke Touré and Ry Cooder on the Congo Square stage. New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars about a decade ago at the Lagniappe Stage. Randy Newman singing “Louisiana 1927” when it was pouring, the raindrops as big as softballs.

Mahalathini & the Mahatolla Queens in ’90 when I danced so much, I sweated through all my clothes including socks and shoes. Topsy Chapman and Doreen Kechens and Tuba Skinny in the Economy Hall tent.

The Fats Domino/ Dave Bartholomew reunion.

But there is THE moment.

In 1988.

Not sure why I didn’t make it back down until ’81 after my first one in ’76. I do know why I didn’t make it back after that until ’88. I had to clean up my act, move on from some debilitating habits, and become secure with all that before returning.

When I made it back, I was a mad man for the music. Literally. I couldn’t get enough, charging from stage to stage trying to make up for lost time.

Oliver Morgan and Jesse Hill and Leo Nocentelli and the Hackberry Ramblers and Bobby Cure and Los Lobos and the Radiators and Little Feat restart (with Bonnie Raitt playing Lowell George slide parts) and Sugar Minott and Buckwheat Zydeco and Hank Ballard & the Midnighters and Salif Keita and Al Green and Henry Butler.

As they did for decades, the Neville Brothers closed Fest on the biggest stage. (Dr. John was at the other end of the track. Choices have to be made.)

Cyril, Charles, Art and Aaron were then at the top of their game. They were everything wonderful about New Orleans music and more.

Midway through the set, everybody left the stage except Art on piano and Aaron at the mic.

He sang “Arianne.” Honest, I just teared writing that sentence remembering the joy.

It was so beauteous and transcendent, The trills, swoops and swirls of his voice carrying me to a blissful space I’d never been.

Such that I had enough even though their set was far from over. For the first time in my life I was totally sated. At the end of the tune, I turned, walked to the car and awaited the others.

I vowed I’d never miss another JazzFest. But for ’91 when I was recovering from a car accident, I have not.

— c d kaplan

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