Stevie Wonder at Jazz Fest - photo by Ryan O'Malley
Stevie Wonder at Jazz Fest - photo by Ryan O'Malley

Jazz Fest recap: Saturday New Orleans, LA May 6, 2017

Story and photos by Ryan O’Malley

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On a hot and dry Saturday, Jazz Fest returned with a bevy of top-shelf musicians set to take over each of the dozen stages set across the fairgrounds. Early in the afternoon, a double shot of New Orleans funk took precedence as the local legends Big Sam’s Funky Nation brought a tight hour-long set of thumping funk to the Acura Stage, while eight-piece brass outfit The Soul Rebels laid down a seriously energetic set on the Congo Square Stage.

From the YouTube channel of Marc Konings:

Not to be outdone, Ivan Neville brought his powerhouse band, Dumpstaphunk, to the Acura Stage for a mesmerizing set that had everyone in attendance dancing for the whole duration. The Neville name is highly regarded in the New Orleans music scene, dating back to Ivan’s relatives including Poppa Funk Art Neville, and the rest of the Neville brothers including the legendary voice of the incomparable Aaron Neville.

It’s always a treat to see people like Ivan Neville perform because it showcases how the next generation will carry on the family tradition. Following the Dumpstaphunk performance, the Queen of New Orleans Soul, the always elegant Irma Thomas, brought one of the best vocal performances of the weekend to the Acura Stage. Backed by an impeccable band known simply as The Professionals, Thomas’ sultry voice was a welcome addition to a day that was filled with mostly upbeat driving funk.  

Towards the end of Thomas’ set, the crowd started to fill in due to the next artist due on stage, the legendary Stevie Wonder, who was billed as the headliner of the second weekend. Initially booked to headline last year’s Jazz Fest, Wonder’s 2016 set was cancelled due to intense storms that left over 8 inches of water on the fairgrounds. For his return engagement this year, the weather was beautiful, which was both a blessing and a curse for the festival. It meant that Jazz Fest would finally get to see the Motown legend perform cuts from his immense catalogue of hits, but also meant that the crowd would be mammoth.

If people thought the crowd for Matthews and Reynolds on the previous night was bad, then the crowd for Wonder was a nightmare. From the YouTube channel of Gregory Marcus: Regardless of how crammed the Acura Stage was, Wonder was escorted to the front of the stage for his two-hour set and was met with thunderous applause. Instead of launching directly into his music, Wonder began with an emotional speech to the crowd where he repeatedly asked for everyone in attendance to utilize love to overcome hate, and to stand together united.

Not being one to shy away from politics, Wonder talked about the current state of the administration leading this country and begged once again for everyone to practice unity instead of letting our leaders divide our country, before pointing the finger at our current President who Wonder only referred to as “Mr. Number 45.” When the music did start, Wonder’s voice was in top shape as he belted out hits like “Master Blaster,” “Higher Ground,” and “Sir Duke.” His top-notch band sounded well polished and helped bring out the energy in the carefully-crafted compositions.

Following a barrage of hits like “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” “My Cherie Amour,” “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” and “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” Wonder invited another Jazz Fest performer, Corrine Bailey Rae, on stage for a passionate run through “Living For The City.” After paying homage to some of the musical heavyweights we’ve lost over the past year and a half (including David Bowie and Prince), the famous drum intro to his biggest hit, “Superstition,” kicked in, and Wonder delivered a rendition that had everyone dancing and raving about his performance.

From the video channel of Joe Burnham

At the same time as Wonder’s performance, contemporary pop artist and songwriter Meghan Trainor brought a dance-laden set to the Gentilly Stage, including her smash hit “All About That Bass.” A short walk over from the Gentilly Stage, hip hop legend Snoop Dogg delivered a fiery set on the Congo Square Stage. Like Wonder’s set last year, Snoop was also scheduled to perform in 2016 but was cut due to storms. For his return engagement, the rap icon brought some of his better known material including “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” “Gin and Juice,” and “What’s My Name,” and mixed in covers by other hip hop legends like Dr. Dre (“Let’s Get High,” and “The Next Episode,”), Notorious B.I.G. (“Hypnotize”), and his late colleague Tupac (“Two of Amerikaz Most Wanted”).

Back near the Acura Stage, Shreveport, La native Kenny Wayne Shepherd delighted the crowd in the Blues Tent with his raucous blues band, featuring former Stevie Ray Vaughan drummer Chris Layton and long time singer Noah Hunt. With so much good music running until the festival ended at 7, leaving the grounds proved to be a bit chaotic, but with a little patience and determination, everyone made it out safely, and prepared themselves for the final day on Sunday.

To submit a review or story for consideration hit us at [email protected]

Check out the Live Music News and Facebook page for updates and announcements.

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