JazzFest ’23, Wknd 1: Friends, Fine Tuneage and a Turducken Po Boy

Posted: May 7th, 2023 | Filed under: Food, JazzFest, Music, New Orleans | 8 Comments »

So after entering on Day 2 of my 34th JazzFest, I was on my way to grab a Crawfish Strudel before heading to the Gentilly Stage.

Because nothing bellows, “Good Mornin’ JazzFest!” like a Frozen Latte and that unique Crescent City delight.

I got a text from an old JF pal Mitchell, whom the Film Babe and I met with his bride Suzette a dozen or so years ago as we were all on way the Day Before for some in store performances at Louisiana Music Factory. They’re yearly regulars now, this year herding a group of 13.

We’ve been able to hook up just about every year, to catch up, etc, etc. Many of his gang were where I was headed, so we hung for awhile during Johnny Sketch.

It was just one of the blessings of this year’s Fest, where sharing with friends enhances the experience,

Indulge me for a second while I explain why that’s important for me.

My first Fest was a half century ago. I’d been introduced by an old college chum Marc, and hung with him. For years I’d go down alone, come home and in a a display of ego-driven musical oneupsmanship would lord it over my friends. Like, “I’ve got this goin’ on, and you don’t.”

Then one year in the early 90s, I was sitting in a smaller tent, listening to a sublime solo set by Aaron Neville, distraught at myself because I Didn’t Have Anybody To Share The Moment With. Since then, on purpose, I’ve been able to share the experience with pals from home, pals I’ve made through the years from New Orleans and elsewhere.

It’s part of the deal. It’s not like we’re always at the same stages at the same time — everybody’s got different tastes — but we’ll gather at night over a feast. Or, make plans to meet at various times during the day.

So, a different Mark and I caught up under the big oak at the back of Gentilly audience area during Dragon Smoke, an NO “super group.” Gary from New York and I connected at Fais Do Do during Roddy Romero. I ran into the original Marc at Allison Russell, Rose and Allen at my favorite Sno Ball stand, Jill and Robbie walking along the track, an old Juvenile Court buddy Jim somewhere around.

Larry and Jane were inside the Cultural Pavilion tent during Mdou Moctar, while Mark and I were camped just outside the crush inside, after which set we all exhaled, shimmering in what we’d just heard. (Back at home in Oregon, a few days later, Jane offered that her “eyes are still bleeding.” And, Michael, before and during Tedeschi Trucks Band. He also at Mosca’s. Oh yeah, Sally too, one night before dinner.

At night I supped at some of NO’s favorite eateries with some conglomeration of that krewe or another. JF Eve at Mosca’s. Still my favorite restaurant anywhere. Chicken a la Grandé is grandé. GW Fins, the best seafood place in a seafood town. Bayona. Brennan’s. Clancy’s. A quick lunch at Felix’s the Day Before.

 * * * * *

Among the many theories I’ve postulated about JazzFest is: If the first act of the day resonates, it’s going to be a good day at Fest.

(Yes, there are some days that don’t fire for whatever reason, even with 50 or so choices of music on a dozen stages.)

So I inquire. What were you doing at 11:30 am Friday morning before last?

I was at the big stage, sipping on one of those frozen lattes, listening to a group I’d never heard before called the Seratones.

They more than resonated.

The rock & soul group from Shreveport proved worthy of their burgeoning reputation, having been named of one of Paste Magazines top new bands a couple of years back. Lead singer AJ Haynes, set the tone for the day (and the weekend) when she belted out “Good Day.”

Other early arrivers and I were smiling.

So it went.

One of my favorite aspects of JF is the opportunity to hear contemporary African groups I wouldn’t otherwise.

This year it was Bassekou and N’Goni Ba. They’re from Mali. They play electrified acoustic string instruments, the names of which I haven’t a clue. Drums of course. Their lyrics were in a language I can’t identify.

Like most of these groups, the music was rhythmic, hypnotic, melodic.

We danced beneath the azure sky.

On to hear Las Cafeteras, a Chicano band from LA, whom I discovered at Fest last year, and were just a day before replacement this year for a group that couldn’t appear. They continue to mesmerize.

It’s Mexican folk mixed with rock & roll with some doo wopish harmonies, and a tune or two that has all that propelled by a reggae rhythm. Leader Daniel French is charismatic, singers Denise Carlos and Leah Gallegos move the soul.

We danced.

My fave of that opening day was Allison Russell on the Fais Do Do Stage. I know her music from her days with hubby in Birds of Chicago. They played Clifton Center about a decade ago. So taken was I, two albums were purchased. One, self titled, is in regular rotation on my box.

She now tours with an all female band. Her voice and messages are beauteous. She brought husband AJ Nero out for a duet.

Day Two began with that Breakfast of Festers and a big helping of NO locals Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes on the Gentilly Stage.

Mr. Sketch, or whatever his real name is, trained classically. He brought out an electric cello during one jam. Sweet. Different. On another tune, the chorus was to the strains of Richard Strauss’s “Und Sprach Zarathustra.”

I turned to my pal and opined, “Only in New Orleans.”

 * * * * *

Quick aside: The food lines were inordinately long this year because the Fest went cashless, and it just takes longer. (Don’t get me started.)

On opening day, I simply didn’t eat much, because of the wait in line.

The same was happening the next couple of days, not that I didn’t get too many calories anyway, even if missing some of my faves. But I noticed one time when walking by that the Turducken Po Boy line was just a couple of people long.

It was a new entry this year to the food fare. I love turducken. Have gotten one for Thanksgiving several times. So I went for it.

Good choice, my man, good choice. It shall now be part of my regular programming.

 * * * * *

Sunday began with Niger’s Mdou Moctar. He’s from the nomadic Tuareg people of Saharan Africa. I’ve heard him before, and he was one of the acts I was most looking forward to seeing.

He did not disappoint.

His sound is part snake charmer, part Hendrix. Hypnotic. Electric. He tried to set the day on fire. He came close.

On to a six string antidote at the relatively bucolic Lagniappe Stage in the Paddock Area of the Fairgrounds Race Track where the Fest resides. There are chairs. People sit and listen.

This time to the New Orleans Guitar Masters, a put together trio who play the Fest yearly. John Rankin. Jimmy Robinson. Cranston Clements. Old timers, who know all sorts of music. They teach around town. Gig solo and together here and there. Always masterful.

Their second to last tune was the Meters “Cissy Strut.” They finished with a stunning version of the Dave Brubeck Quartet classic, “Blue Rondo a la Turk.”

Sidney Bechet was to New Orleans clarinet and soprano saxophone as Louis Armstrong was to the Crescent City trumpet. There was a tribute to him at Economy Hall Tent, which features traditional New Orleans jazz. (Which many refer to as Dixieland.)

Dr. Michael White, Aurora Nealand and Donald Harrison, along with Detroit Brooks on banjo, led the top flight group.

The set was both educational about Bechet and his importance and sublime to listen to.

My weekend ended with a searing set by Tedeschi Trucks Band, which I consider the best band extant. I’ll be glad to explain why if you insist.  “Midnight in Harlem”: so so soothing. Their take on Dr. John’s “Walking on Gilded Splinters” was righteous. And featured some unique interplay of the two drummers I can’t begin to explain. But it sure amped up the tune.

They are my favorite group.

They were on.

It was a perfect end to my 34th JazzFest experience.

— c d kaplan



8 Comments on “JazzFest ’23, Wknd 1: Friends, Fine Tuneage and a Turducken Po Boy”

  1. 1 MNeal Cooke said at 4:17 pm on May 7th, 2023:

    Next best to being there…thanks Chuck!

  2. 2 Mitchell S said at 4:22 pm on May 7th, 2023:

    Chuck, great to see you as always! We were at The Seratones and Mdou Moctar and Dragon Smoke too. Good minds…….

  3. 3 David leibson said at 5:08 pm on May 7th, 2023:

    Where oh where are The Brazilian Girls?

  4. 4 Gary Becker said at 7:07 pm on May 7th, 2023:

    Yay, great recap, GREAT video – Best Band in the Land!

  5. 5 Allen Bush said at 7:38 pm on May 7th, 2023:

    Chuck, this was our 4th JazzFest and by far the best. Terrific review. I wish I’d caught half the acts you saw. Next year… Thank you, my brother.

  6. 6 Redstein said at 7:38 pm on May 7th, 2023:

    Pleased you had such a great time. Video inspired me to play “Loan Me a Dime” loudly to get that Duane Allman vibe to its crescendo.

  7. 7 Larry W. said at 7:48 pm on May 7th, 2023:

    I’ve been trying to describe Mdou to friends who weren’t there, and you nailed it — “part Hendrix, part snake charmer.”

    And I can attest to the fact that Jane’s eyes (OK maybe just her right eye) really were bleeding!

  8. 8 Janet said at 4:21 pm on May 19th, 2023:

    So glad you had such a fabulous time.
    So glad to know about Tedeschi Trucks!

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