Jazz Fest 2017 - photo by Ryan O'Malley
Jazz Fest 2017 - photo by Ryan O'Malley

Jazz Fest recap: Thursday/Friday New Orleans, LA May 4 and 5, 2017 Story and photos by Ryan O’Malley

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When you make your way to New Orleans, a few things are a given: you’ll be surrounded by some of the best music this country has to offer, you’ll be indulging in some of the best food this country has to offer, and you’ll be experiencing a culture that is unique to the Crescent City. With such an array of things to experience, it could be tough to find the proper place to get a true feel for legendary New Orleans atmosphere.

From the YouTube channel of Gregory Marcus:

Luckily, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival Presented by Shell encompasses everything that New Orleans has come to stand for, and for a few days this past weekend, 200,000 people flocked to the Fairgrounds and Race Track for the second weekend of the acclaimed festival. Boasting a dozen stages with about 50 acts each day, Jazz Fest has become a music fan’s dream, with a diverse selection of musicians performing each day.

This year was no exception, as the opening day of Thursday – though a soggy, rain-covered field caused numerous people to miss the start – featured headlining sets by Southern jam stalwarts Widespread Panic, who delivered a blues rock-tinged performance that neared the three-hour mark on the Acura Main Stage. While Widespread Panic tours nationally, the South is where they draw biggest, and with numerous appearances at Jazz Fest, their crowds only seem to grow.

Across the way on the co-headlining Gentilly Stage, country rocker Darius Rucker led his band through a 90-minute set of new age country mixed in with familiar cuts from his longtime band, Hootie and the Blowfish.

While a lot of walking/running is required to catch all the performances you would like to, if you just take a casual stroll through the grounds, you can’t help but stop at one of the many food stands set up throughout the grounds. While most festivals offer your standard fare of hamburgers, hot dogs, and soft pretzels, those items are impossible to find at Jazz Fest. Instead, you’ll be quenching your appetite with everything from crawfish beignets to jambalaya and gumbo. It’s something that, like New Orleans itself, is overwhelming to the average attendee.

Friday’s festivities kicked off in the early afternoon with sets from New Orleans staples like the funky Bonerama, who put in one of the livelier sets of the afternoon on the Acura Stage. Proving their loyalty to Jazz Fest, Bonerama continues to return year after year, and has continuously moved up from performing on smaller stages to finally reaching the main stage. Opposite Bonerama was another southern Louisiana staple, Sweet Crude, and eclectic younger outfit who are gaining momentum on the national scene due to catchy music and their usage of the French language in many of their songs.

At the same time in the Jazz Tent – often the site of many of the best performances of the weekend – Gov’t Mule friend Ron Holloway and his band provided the perfect escape for anyone looking to avoid the larger crowds in front of the main stages. Later in the afternoon, guitar master Sonny Landreth delighted the crowd at the Acura Stage with a tight hour-long set of blues, while roots outfit Lake Street Dive captivated the crowd on the Gentilly Stage.

Lake Street Dive garnered some of the louder applause of the day due to the innovative music styling the band offers, and the dynamic vocals of lead singer Rachael Price. Towards the later part of the day, New Orleans music was once again the focus as popular rockers The Revivalists put in one of the best performances of the weekend on the Acura Stage, including their current hit “Wish I Knew You.” Front man David Shaw is a commanding presence both on and off stage.

Whether engaging the crowd to sing along, or literally coming out into the crowd and walking around shaking hands and giving high fives, Shaw makes the crowd feel like they’re part of the show. On the Gentilly Stage, New Orleans native Anders Osborne brought some dirty southern blues to Jazz Fest, as he has done for the past dozen years. As for Friday’s headliners, the main problem with Jazz Fest occurred. With a dozen stages running simultaneously, it’s nearly impossible to get to see everyone you want to. Such was the case as Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, Wilco, and Earth, Wind and Fire were all on between the hours of 5 and the festival’s closing at 7. On the Acura Stage, Matthews and Reynolds had one of the biggest crowds of the weekend, and didn’t disappoint.

Kicking off with a three punch combo of “Crush,” “Satellite,” and “Warehouse,” Matthews and Reynolds brought a fresh take to music that’s 20 years old. While Matthews is the star of the show, Reynolds ability to flawlessly cover every inch of a guitar while making it sound brilliant is something that should not be taken for granted. Following a few staples like “Jimi Thing,” “Two Step,” and “Funny The Way It Is,” the duo supplied the biggest surprise of the day when they welcomed Jimmy Buffett to the stage for a cover of his chestnut “A Pirate Looks at 40.”

The massive crowd Matthews and Reynolds had made it impossible to leave the Acura Stage area and head over to the Gentilly Stage for Wilco, or the Congo Square Stage for Earth, Wind and Fire. Ironically, the people who were there for Earth, Wind and Fire echoed the sentiments about not being able to leave the stage due to the crowd, but also praised the performance of the R&B and funk pioneers.

From the YouTube channel of Matthew Gaubert:

Overall, it was a fun way to end the Friday of the second weekend, and send the crowd out into the city’s esteemed nightlife, where hundreds of after-shows were taking place featuring everyone from Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, to wishlist ensembles featuring some of New Orleans’ favorite musicians including George Porter Jr. and Ivan Neville.

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