Festival Thrills with Big Stars and Regional Talent. By Andy J. Gordon

The second weekend of the 2024 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was a fitting bookend to the spectacular first weekend. There were four more days of steamy, hot weather, huge crowds and a fabulous mix of world class artists. Starting on Thursday May 2nd and running through Sunday the 5th, audiences enjoyed marvelous performances by some of the world’s most famous musicians including The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Foo Fighters, Greta Van Fleet, Bonnie Raitt, Earth Wind & Fire, Steel Pulse, Queen Latifah plus many more international and regional stars.

The festival takes place at the horse racetrack on the property of the New Orleans Fair Grounds, where thirteen stages are set up for music that includes rock, soul, R&B, blues, jazz, funk, gospel, zydeco and much more. This year’s second weekend was probably the most highly anticipated in the 54-year history of the festival. The Rolling Stones were booked to perform on Friday May 2. The band was initially scheduled to celebrate the festival’s 50th anniversary in 2019, but Mick Jagger needed heart surgery and the band had to cancel. They were rebooked in 2021, but that year the festival was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The band and a reported half million fans made it to Jazz Fest this year – hotels were at 97% capacity over the two weekends and experts estimated that over $400 million was pumped into the local economy. Fans from around the world converged on New Orleans for the unique cultural experience that is Jazz Fest in the amazing Louisiana city. While the Stones were the biggest draw of the second weekend, the lineup was loaded with talent and completely different from the schedule of the first weekend. We fueled up and wore our sturdiest running shoes so we could experience as much of the second weekend’s action as possible.

Highlights from the second weekend:

This was the second stop for The Rolling Stones on their Hackney Diamonds tour, launched to support the widely praised album they released last year – their first with original material since 2005. Jazz Fest was their only festival appearance on the tour. Mick, Keith, Ronnie and the rest of the band were clearly fired up for the performance and got the crowd equally energized with “Start Me Up” to open their set. Mick Jagger sounded good and the band was terrific. While Mick no longer has the energy to dance around the stage for two plus hours, he did an occasional dance step and a fine job of encouraging sing-alongs and clapping.

The band went way back for “Get Off Of My Cloud” before they played “Angry,” the first single from Hackney Diamonds. Jagger told the crowd, “We’re so pleased to be in New Orleans and we’re so pleased to be playing here, at Jazz Fest.” As a nod to their location, Jagger introduced Zydeco accordionist Dwayne Dopsie who joined the band on “Let It Bleed.” Jagger then told the crowd about hearing a great song in 1964 – it was Irma Thomas’ version of “Time Is On My Side.” They decided to record the song and it became their first top 10 hit in the U.S. Not surprisingly, the Soul Queen of New Orleans came out from the wings and did a duet with Jagger on the now 60-year-old song! It was their first time performing it together.

The band picked up the tempo with excellent versions of “Tumbling Dice,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and a scintillating “Sympathy For The Devil” with strong solos by Chuck Leavell, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood. Leavell delivered another rollicking piano solo during “Honky Tonk Woman” while Jagger broke out his harmonica for a solo during “Miss You.” “Gimme Shelter” was a showcase for backing vocalist Chanel Haynes, a native of New Orleans, who hit some incredible high notes while singing with Jagger. Richards and Woods played incredibly overlapping guitar solos to end the song. The amazing show wrapped up with pleasing sing-along versions of “Jumping Jack Flash” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”

Neil Young has performed at Jazz Fest a few times, most recently in 2016 during a heavy rainstorm that had him playing to a soaked and small crowd. For 2024 he brought along Crazy Horse, the trio that supported Young from the late 60s through 2014. This set took place on a hot, sunny evening in front of a massive crowd. Young relied heavily on his older material and that included a nearly constant barrage of fuzzy, distorted guitar effects and distinctively twangy vocals. “Cortez the Killer” started things off. The band kept up the jam with “Down by the River” and a sweet version of “Cinnamon Girl.”

Backing off from the amplified distortion, Young sat alone onstage playing “Ohio,” reminding the audience that present day campus protests could end tragically like they did at Kent State 54 years ago. The band went back to full electric distortion for “Fuckin Up” and a raucous, set closing “Hey Hey My My (Into the Black),” which drew heavy applause.

The Foo Fighters are another huge band that has played at Jazz Fest previously, but this was the first time without long time drummer Taylor Hawkins, who died tragically in 2022. Bandleader Dave Grohl gave shout outs to Taylor throughout the show, but also paid special attention to new drummer Josh Freese. Grohl called out Freese during some machine gun like beats and stood on the edge of Freese’s drum kit while playing guitar solos. The band always gives high energy, live performances. Grohl romped across the stage with his hair flailing wildly and got the crowd to sing along to several of their hits.

Lead guitarist Chris Shiflin blasted amazing solos during “All My Life,” “No Son Of Mine,” “Breakout” and “Learn To Fly.” Grohl started “Days Like These” solo with a shout out to the Stones. He said, “this is dedicated to the fellas.” For “My Hero” Grohl said, “if you know this one, sing it with me, let’s make it loud.” The audience cooperated and the band played the instrumentals while the crowd did the collective lead vocals. The mood shifted when Grohl told the audience they play one song every night – Taylor’s favorite – “Aurora.” He said, “He would have loved to be here. Maybe he is.” The mood picked up again for the show closing sing-along, “The Best of You” and a rapid-fire, explosive “Everlong.”

Dumpstaphunk was given the coveted spot of preceding the Stones (at this point in the day, all the other stages went dark, so the entire festival crowd was at the main Festival stage for the Dumpstaphunk and Stones shows). Ivan Neville never needs a special incentive to deliver a great performance but opening for the Stones, his long history with Keith Richards (they were in the band X-Pensive Winos together) and the sudden death of Dumpstaphunk co-founding member and bass player Nick Daniels III just six days earlier, clearly heightened the moment for him and the band.

They had an expanded horn section and additional guitarist, Ari Teitel, on stage. The band played super funky versions of “Where Do We Go From Here,” and “Truth’ll Set You Free.” Ivan gave a shout out and asked for a moment of silence for Daniels before fellow bassist Tony Hall took over lead vocals for the Daniels penned “Make It After All.” Daniels’ bass guitar was on a stand at center stage during the song. They finished the set with horn heavy songs, Buddy Miles Express’ “United Nations Stomp” and Earl King’s “Street Parade.” It was an emotional and powerful set.

Samantha Fish is one of the best, new generation artists keeping the blues alive, while putting her own spin on it. Her great vocals and guitar playing on blues-rock songs have garnered a Grammy nomination, an invitation to play at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival and headlining shows around the world. Her Jazz Fest set proved that the honors are deserved. Fish belted out several of her catchy tunes including “Kill or Be Kind,” “Chills & Fever” and “Watch It Die.” She also did a sultry version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell On You.”

Once considered a blues guitar prodigy, Joe Bonamassa is now known as a world class veteran and guitar master. He was also at the most recent Clapton Crossroads festival and his Jazz Fest set demonstrated his guitar chops, impassioned vocals and showmanship. His fast, precise playing on tunes like “Moving On,” “Mountain Time” and an amazing cover of Albert King’s “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home” had the crowd on their feet and boogying.

There are so many local and regional performers (about 80% of the acts) at Jazz Fest that are amazing talents, it can be overwhelming and exhilarating. We have our favorites – bands that are a must see if they travel to our home city and are a particularly special treat when they play Jazz Fest. Over the course of the second weekend, we saw amazing sets by Galactic, the hometown funk rock band; Dragon Smoke led by the Galactic rhythm section with Eric Lindell plus Ivan Neville; Leo Nocentelli, the incredible lead guitarist from The Meters; Tab Benoit, the swamp blues guitar legend who brought out several family members to join his show; The Radiators, who are local legends that have been doing New Orleans swamp rock in a jam band style since 1978.   

The latter part of the last day of the second weekend is always an embarrassment of riches. The festival organizers treat it like the last minute of a half hour fireworks show – throw all the best explosives at the audience during the last minute, for a grand finale. However, at Jazz Fest, that means putting great, big name bands on several stages at the same time for the final sets of the festival and forces the crowd to decide who to see.

We took that as an enjoyable but exhausting challenge. During that last hour or so of the festival, we had to choose among Kermit Ruffins doing a Louis Armstrong tribute, The Wallflowers, Tower of Power, George Thorogood & The Destroyers, Earth Wind & Fire, Bonnie Raitt and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue.

We managed to see some of all of them except Tower of Power and EW&F. Kermit sang and played his trumpet to the delight of an attentive audience. Jakob Dylan and the Wallflowers played several of their catchy, radio friendly hits. George Thorogood held court in the Blues tent, blasting out scorching riffs during “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” “Bad To The Bone,” and Hank Williams’ “Move It On Over.” Bonnie Raitt still has her magic fingers and sterling vocals. She played her “Nick of Time” and “Something To Talk About” in between lots of covers including John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery.”

The honor of closing the Festival stage has gone to Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue since 2014 – they took over for the Neville Brothers. Shorty is a modern day musical Swiss army knife. He plays virtually every instrument, but focuses on and is world class with his trombone and trumpet. He is also a great singer and stage presence, always knowing how to stir up the crowd. The band is loaded with talent and Shorty always gives them space to stretch out. Their closing set was a strategic blend of guests, original songs, select covers and New Orleans classics that paid tribute to those that came before them.

Their ”Do To Me” segued into Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” That led to Allen Toussaint’s “On Your Way Down” which transitioned into The Original Pinstripe Brass Band’s “Ooh Na Nay” back to Shorty’s “Here Come the Girls.” All through this sequence, Shorty blasted trombone and trumpet solos while giving space to the other horn and guitar players to solo as well. Guests included Cyril Neville who sang on “Fire on the Bayou.” Shorty took over on drums while Neville played percussion for a duet. Shorty also did an incredible circular breathing exercise while playing a repetitive trumpet note sequence that he sustained for a few minutes. The New Orleans anthem “When The Saints Come Marching In” pulled it all together and marked the end of Jazz Fest 2024.

This year’s Jazz Fest ran eight days over two extraordinary, extended weekends. The Rolling Stones finally made it and were joined by a brilliant collection of musical artists that spanned several genres. After 54 years, the event has grown from a local show celebrating jazz to an elaborate, multi-stage festival that highlights multiple styles of music and culture that can only happen in New Orleans. We fully enjoyed the experience and encourage all music fans, especially those who have never attended, to start planning now for 2025. The festival will be back April 24-May 4 next year.

Check out the full gallery of photos by Andy J. Gordon here.

Photos courtesy of Andy J Gordon ©2024
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