NOLA hosts their annual Jazz and Heritage festival including this weekend’s shows May 4-7 2023. By Andy J. Gordon
The second weekend of the 2023 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival followed the first weekend’s magical performances with a new cavalcade of stars and regional artists. From Thursday May 4 through Sunday May 7, fans flocked to the New Orleans Fair Grounds to see headliners like Santana, Jon Batiste, Dead & Company, Tom Jones and Trombone Shorty.
While the big name acts draw fans from all over the world, amazing local performers make up the bulk of the diverse lineup. The thirteen stages are filled with artists performing rock, soul, R&B, blues, jazz, funk, gospel, zydeco and other styles of music. We laced up our best walking shoes and covered as much of the festival as possible so that we could experience the uniqueness of Jazz Fest. Here are highlights and photos from the second weekend.
Legendary blues musician Buddy Guy is on his (alleged) farewell tour and stopped at Jazz Fest on Thursday. The Louisiana native still plays like a world class youngster in his prime and his between song banter is hysterical. After playing a scorching “I Got The Blues” he quipped, “I don’t like to curse, but if you don’t like the blues, you in the wrong fucking city.” Additional clever dialog ensued between crisp versions of “Skin Deep,” Muddy Waters’ “I Just Want To Make Love To You” and Johnny Moore’s “How Blue Can You Get.”
Santana came out blazing with their headline set on Thursday. They delivered a greatest hits performance including “Jingo Ma,” Evil Ways” and “Black Magic Woman.” The entire band was terrific, but Carlos Santana’s distinctive guitar playing and Cindy Blackman Santana’s drumming were the highlights of the show. Cindy’s sister Tracy Blackman came out to sing a couple of songs. The band also covered The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” and closed the show with their megahit, “Smooth.”
Friday’s performances exemplified the musical magic of the region. Marcia Ball lives in Texas but is from Louisiana. She sang and played the piano while the crowd danced and sang along. Her high energy swamp blues mixed with rockabilly was mesmerizing. Big Sam Williams is one of the endlessly talented horn sensations from NOLA. His trombone solos were amazing but his stage presence and energetic dance routines kept the audience in a party mood.
Trumpet Mafia is one of those “only in New Orleans” experiences. Several of the best local and national horn players converged for a throwdown. Backed by Galactic’s Stanton Moore and Lettuce’s Adam Deitch on drums, up to 16 horns, including trumpets, trombones and a variety of saxophones played all at once. We spotted Dumpstaphunk’s trombonist Alex Wasily, Lettuce’s trumpeter Eric Bloom and Tedeschi Trucks Band’s trumpeter Maurice Brown among the horde of horns.
New Orleans native Jon Batiste closed the biggest stage on Friday. The Grammy winning artist had a large band with dancers, backup singers and multiple musicians. They were supported by about 30 members of NOLA’s renowned St. Augustine High School Marching 100, which is Batiste’s alma mater. Also on stage for the entire set were the Gospel Soul Children choir – both local groups are Grammy winners. Batiste showed his versatility by playing guitar, saxophone, piano and melodica in addition to singing. In between infectious songs like “We Are” and “Freedom” the band leader smiled, laughed and interacted with people in the large crowd.
Saturday’s scheduled performances got truncated due to a massive rainstorm. Fortunately, things cleared up late in the day for Dead & Company’s headlining set. This was their first show since the band said it would be their farewell tour. Just two weeks ago drummer Bill Kreutzmann also announced that he would not participate in the final shows so RatDog member Jay Lane filled his seat behind the drum kit.
From the opening notes of “Truckin’” with its “busted down on Bourbon Street” New Orleans reference, to the “Standing On The Moon>Not Fade Away” reprise finale, the Deadheads and casual fans that braved the torrential onslaught found refuge in the classic tunes. Bob Weir and John Mayer handled the vocals while keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, bass player Oteil Burbridge and percussionist Mickey Hart helped drive the jams. The inevitable Rhythm Devils section contained a local element as Big Chief Sunpie and the North Side Skull and Bones Gang joined Hart for some creative percussion adventures. Before the final notes of the set sounded, the crowd enjoyed favorites like “Shakedown Street,” “Cumberland Blues,” “Playing In The Band,” “Uncle John’s Band” and The Other One.”
He’s Gone (>)
Playing in the Band (>)
Uncle John’s Band (>)
Drums (with Bruce ‘Sunpie’ Barnes &… more )
Not Fade Away (>)
The Other One (>)
Standing on the Moon (>)
‘Not Fade Away’ reprise
The closing day of the festival included local, regional and national stars – a reflection of the spectacular seven day event. Hometown funk heroes Galactic, along with their dynamic vocalist Anjelika Jelly Joseph and guest percussionist Mike Dillon, got the crowd fired up under a blazing, sunny sky. Jelly and the band played thumping versions of “Clap Your Hands,” “Into The Deep” and “Going Straight Crazy.”
No one exemplifies Louisiana swamp blues better than Tab Benoit. The guitarist and vocalist has been a mainstay of Jazz Fest for over 20 years and his set in the Blues tent solidified his reputation. In addition to a cover of CSNY’s “For What It’s Worth” that received his distinctive blues infusion, Benoit thrilled the crowd with a scorching version of his “Medicine.” For the “We Make a Good Gumbo” finale, he brought out his brother Tyron who played accordion, his son Tab Jr. on guitar and his Mom who played tambourines.
Every day of the festival presents difficult choices. On the last day, fans were forced to choose between Tom Jones, Melissa Etheridge, Herbie Hancock and the band that has had the honor of closing the biggest stage for ten years. Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue are the perfect group to close the Festival. Troy Andrews is a local hero, dynamic singer, trombonist and trumpet player with a stellar supporting cast. Their show drew from rock, jazz, soul, funk, hip hop and traditional New Orleans music.
After a few of the band’s songs, Jon Batiste came out from the wings and stayed for the remainder of the set. Batiste and Shorty are currently the two biggest stars from New Orleans that have broken out internationally, so it was no surprise that their combined stage presence and talent created a magical experience. Each artist took solos – Shorty with his trombone, Batiste on melodica on several songs including a version of Louis Armstrong’s “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” The medley that ended the show included Shorty’s “Do To Me” into “Down By the Riverside” and “When the Saints Go Marching In” before segueing back to “Do To Me.”
Jazz Fest 2023 was extraordinary and thankfully back to normal after pandemic fueled cancellations. Several hundred thousand people from all over the globe converged on New Orleans for the most diverse, unique music and cultural festival in the world. Many people have such a blast that they return every year. We recommend making plans early for your trip to the marvelous New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. The 2024 edition will run from April 26 to May 5.
Photos courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©2023
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