By Andy J. Gordon

The 2024 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival spanned two extended weekends at the end of April and beginning of May. The festival took place each day at the Fairgrounds horse racetrack, but the nightclub scene and special activity spaces around the city of New Orleans went into overdrive during that special time of year. We joined the convergence of musicians and fans from around the world who gathered to enjoy live music in the city that never sleeps.

Under normal circumstances, the clubs around New Orleans have live music through the night and into the early morning hours. During Jazz Fest, that continues, but the diversity and level of talent increases dramatically. Some of the world-class artists that play at the festival also have night gigs, often as sit in guests. Other musicians come into town, skip the festival and only perform at clubs or special event shows. The choices are ridiculous and sublime. We tried to hit a varied range of shows that covered rock, blues, funk, soul, jazz and a mash up of musical styles that can only be found in New Orleans. Here is a recap of the performances we attended during our time in the Crescent City.

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  • The business district of New Orleans has a nice park called Lafayette Square that hosts Wednesdays at the Square, a free music series that runs from springtime through the summer. We saw J and the Causeways, a local soul/R&B band open, followed by The New Orleans Suspects. Jordan Anderson, the lead singer/keyboardist for J & the Causeways provided a few compelling songs supported by his solid band including a strong trumpet and saxophone player. The New Orleans Suspects are a local swamp rock band with formidable talent. Guitarist Jake Eckert, keyboardist CR Gruver and saxophone player Jeff Watkins led the band through several tight funk, R&B and jam leaning rock songs that kept an enthusiastic park crowd dancing.
  • Later that night we went to the campus of the University of New Orleans for an intimate performance by two student jazz ensembles. The big draw was trumpeter and vocalist Jennifer Hartswick (Trey Anastasio Band). The funk/jam band star sat in with each group. The student musicians demonstrated their skills, but it was Hartswick who truly impressed the audience with her powerful voice and incredible trumpet playing.
  • We caught a wild show billed as Bayou By Bus at the Civic Theatre. This was a mashup of New Orleans funk/soul royalty with reggae and jam band legends. It was quite a combo – two generations of Nevilles (Ivan, Ian, Cyril, Jason, Omari), The Nth Power (Nikki Glaspie, Nick Cassarino, Nate Edgar), Widespread Panic’s Jimmy Herring, Stephen Marley and an all-star horn section that included Bonerama’s Mark Mullins. The first part of the show featured classic NOLA songs including The Neville Brothers’ “Yellow Moon” and The Wild Tchoupitoulas “Meet de Boys on the Battlefront.”

Once Herring and Marley joined the band, it was a unique reggae, by way of NOLA party. The band played inspired versions of Bob Marley and the Wailers classics, including “Concrete Jungle,” “No Woman, No Cry,” “Jammin’” and “I Shot The Sherrif.” Marley, Cyril Neville, Ivan Neville and Nick Cassarino traded and shared vocals. The superstar band went out with a bang playing “Exodus,” “Redemption Song” and “One Love.”

  • We attended the Global Jam at the Joy Theatre, hosted by Expedia, the official travel site of Jazz Fest. It was billed as a night celebrating culture and music. The show opened with Mardi Gras Indians and a second line of horns and percussion by the All For One Brass Band that marched through the audience before ending up on the stage. Local funk, soul and hip-hop band Tank and the Bangas followed with some up-tempo songs that got the crowd energized. Later, a Columbian group called Bomba Estereo played a short set of electronic dance and pop beats. Anderson .Paak closed the show. Trumpeter Maurice “Mobetta” Brown did a hypnotic intro before the full band came out for a set of soul, funk, R&B and hip-hop jams led by .Paak on drums and vocals.

Photo credit: Erika Goldring / Getty Images for Expedia Group

  • The Fillmore Theatre at Harrah’s casino/hotel hosted the Delta Blues Explosion show. It was an all-star lineup of blues/rock talent led off by Eric Gales. The left-handed guitar slinger ripped it up before giving way to Tab Benoit’s distinctive version of swamp blues. Benoit always delivers a pure, exhilarating performance – no distortion, no special effect pedals, just straight ahead, foot stomping Delta blues with his ancient, but dependable Fender Telecaster. His “Medicine,” “Nothing Takes The Place of You,” “Solid Simple Things” and “Why Are People Like That?” hit all the right notes.

Samantha Fish closed the show. Fish has been on fire lately with a Grammy nomination and appearance at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival. She opened her set playing slide with a four-string cigar box guitar. Her vocals and lead guitar chops were on point during “Bulletproof,” “Better Be Lonely,” R.L. Burnside’s “Poor Black Maddie” and Nina Simone’s “Either Way I Lose.” Fish brought out blues titan Kenny Wayne Shepherd for an intense guitar duet. Shepherd stayed and led the way with his “Dirt On My Diamonds” and “Talk To Me Baby” before they closed out the blues explosion with another R.L. Burnside classic, “Goin’ Down South.”

  • The days between Jazz Fest weekends used to be relatively quiet. Clubs still had live music, but the crowds thinned out as the first weekenders left town and second weekenders had not arrived yet. A few years ago, things ramped up. Chris “Shaggy” Davis, known as the Crawfish King, launched Crawfish Fest. His three-day festival takes place on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday between Jazz Fest weekends at The Broadside, a mostly outdoor space with one main stage and a small indoor stage. It is always loaded with many of the best musicians in New Orleans plus a carefully curated selection of out-of-town stars.

Another mid-week festival called Daze Between Festival launched in 2022 and is held on the Tuesday and Wednesday between Fest weekends at the Faubourg Brewery. Daze Between is focused more on the jam scene and big-name bands from that world. However, they also place lots of local talent on their lineup. The large outdoor space at the brewery has two stages with an alternating schedule so live music is continuous each day of the event. Both Crawfish Fest and Daze Between Festival start in the mid-afternoon and run until about ten PM so attendees can still go to late night club shows afterwards. We hit both special festivals this year, trying to catch as much of the talent as possible.

  • At Crawfish Fest, we saw Kapow!, a special, one-off group that mixed local musicians with stars from national funk, jam, jazz and blues bands. Ari Teitel played guitar, Jennifer Hartswick sang and played trumpet, Kevin Scott (Gov’t Mule) played bass, Jamison Ross (Snarky Puppy) played drums and Steve “Swatkins” Watkins (The Positive Agenda) played keys. Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars) was the artist at large for Crawfish Fest and sat in for a few tunes.
  • IKO Allstars also played at Crawfish Fest. This was another mashup of mostly local talent doing songs from the Jerry Garcia Band catalog. Billy Iuso and Mike Doussan played guitar and sang, Reggie Scanlon (Radiators, New Orleans Suspects) played bass, Eric Christmas played drums (New Orleans Suspects). Michael Fauquier also played drums, Joe Ashlar was on keys with Sari Jordan and Renee Gros on backing vocals. Once again, Luther Dickinson sat in. The band did outstanding versions of “How Sweet It is (To Be Loved By You),” “Get Out of My Life Woman,” “Lay Down Sally” and “Tangled Up In Blue.”
  • Eric Krasno (Soulive) put together a Kraz & Friends show that was a blast. Krasno, on guitar and vocals, was joined by Tony Hall and Ivan Neville (Dumpstaphunk) while Raymond Weber played drums. Several special guests joined the band. Some of those special guests included the ever-present Luther Dickinson, sax player Cochemea Gastelum, vocalist Grace Potter and guitarist Duane Betts for blow out versions of Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On” and Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everyday People.” Anders Osborne joined in for “Let The Good Times Roll” and CSNY’s “Ohio.” All the guests helped with a rambling, jam heavy version of Grateful Dead’s “Turn on Your Lovelight.”
  • The first day of Daze Between Festival had a diverse mix of jam bands with a traditional New Orleans brass band thrown in. Cool Cool Cool played a set of inspired funky and soulful tunes. Their formation after the dissolution of Turkuaz has been a wonderful addition to the jam scene. The band was joined by Swatkins on keys and Nth Power’s Nate Edgar on bass. They played excellent versions of their first single “Never Noticed” and a new song called “Dynamite.”

Old school NOLA was represented by Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Their stellar horn section led the way through a classic medley that included The Meters “Hey Pocky Way,” Dr. John’s “Right Place, Wrong Time” and their own “My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now.” Eric Krasno and drummer Stanton Moore from Galactic brought their Krasno Moore Project to Daze Between. Keyboardist Eric Finland completed the trio and they had a sit in by Cochemea Gastelum. They did groovy interpretations of Sharon Jones’ “Nobody’s Baby” and The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.” Lettuce (lCHECK OUT THE REVIEW HERE.) headlined the first day of Daze Between.

  • Back at Crawfish Fest, we saw up and coming 14-year-old star vocalist and keyboard player River Eckert lead a band with his dad Jake Eckert on guitar, Eric Christmas on drums and Papa Gros Funk alum Jason Mingledorff on sax. John Boutte crooned on the big stage later in the afternoon, but we made a tough decision to miss George Porter, Jr. & Runnin’ Pardners as well as John Cleary & the Absolute Monster NFC Allstars so that we could get back to the last few sets at Daze Between.
  • Those last sets at Daze Between were funk, jam and rock standouts. First up was a killer set by Galactic. Singer Anjelica “Jelly” Joseph belted out “Making It Better,” “Higher and Higher” and “Hey Na Na” before delivering an earth-shattering version of Led Zeppelin’s “Nobody’s Fault but Mine.” Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe had the crowd dancing with funky, up-tempo songs. Denson’s vocals, saxophone and flute were on point all set. Guest singer Danielle Barker added her compelling voice to “Supernatural Slide,” “I Think You’re Just Fine” and “The Hump.”

Gov’t Mule with very special guests had the closing show of Daze Between Festival. Warren Haynes and the band have a long history of epic night shows during Jazz Fest and their Daze Between set exceeded expectations. Haynes led the band through two magical sets of music starting with Mule staples like “Banks of the Deep End” and “Revolution Come, Revolution Go.” The first guests arrived when the Dirty Dozen horns filled the back of the stage for versions of Blind Willie Johnson’s “John The Revelator” and Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon.”

The second set was jam packed with guests. Ex-Allman Brothers Band and current Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell joined the band along with Daniel Donato for “Soulshine.” Leavell stayed for the entire set. Grace Potter added her powerful vocals on The Stones “Wild Horses.” She and Haynes did a beautiful duet on Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman.”

Duane Betts came out to sing and play guitar on his father’s “Blue Sky” with awe inspiring solos by Betts, Leavell and Haynes. Ivan Neville joined the party to sing “Dreaming Out Loud,” a song he recorded with Gov’t Mule in 2023. The guests kept coming as John Scofield arrived to add his scorching guitar playing to “Devil Likes it Slow,” then Karl Denson added his saxophone to Little Feat’s “Spanish Moon.” Scofield and Haynes traded solos for the show and festival ending “Sco-Mule.”

  • Later that night Eric Krasno curated a special show at Tipitina’s dubbed the Daze Between Band. In addition to Kraz, the group included Dumpstaphunk’s Ivan Neville and Tony Hall plus Raymond Weber, Chuck Leavell, John Scofield and appearances by Duane Betts, Jennifer Hartswick and Lettuce’s Ryan Zoidis. The band covered The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” as well as The Allman Brothers Band’s “Dreams,” “Jessica,” “Southbound” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” The guitar solos were epic as were the keyboard stylings.

Kraz then led the way on a wild cover of Jimmy Hendrix’s “Fire” before George Porter Jr. came out to lend a hand on a medley of NOLA funk favorites. He sang lead to wrap up the show on The Meters “Fire On The Bayou,” “Ain’t No Use” and “Hey Pocky Way.”

  • We went to the beautiful, historic Saenger Theatre to see Samantha Fish and JJ Grey & Mofro. We had seen Fish at Jazz Fest earlier as one of the opening acts before The Rolling Stones. At the Saenger, she played her “Kill Or Be Kind,” “Watch It Die” and “Chills & Fever” before a scintillating version of Nina Simone’s “You Put a Spell On Me.” JJ Grey & Mofro had multiple horns, backing vocalists and a very dramatic light show that did a great job of spotlighting Grey and whoever was being featured with a solo.

Grey sounded splendid as he belted out soulful blues and rock tunes. During the ballad called “A Woman,” Grey got many in the audience to sing along. For another ballad called “The Sea,” Grey and guitarist Pete Winders, bass player Todd Smilie and vocalist Katie Dutton sat at the front of the stage under a spotlight and harmonized beautifully. When the full band was going all electric, the house rocked on songs like “99 Shades of Crazy,” “Slow, Hot and Sweaty” and “Orange Blossoms.” The best part of the show was when Grey did a slow harmonica intro for “Lochloosa” before the band joined in and built the momentum. The entire audience stood, clapped along with the beat and Grey let them sing the chorus.

  • When Jazz Fest ends on the second Sunday, many fans are too exhausted to go out or have early flights to catch the next morning. However, all the clubs are still open that night and there are lots of choices for more live music. It has become somewhat of a tradition to close Jazz Fest at Tipitina’s with Dumpstaphunk, who exemplify the melting pot sound of New Orleans – inherently funky, but with influences from jazz, blues, rock and soul. Since founding member and bassist Nick Daniels III had just died about one week earlier, it was particularly melancholy to see the band performing without him at Tip’s.

People in New Orleans treat death with a mixture of sadness and celebration. Musicians are no exception and Ivan Neville led his band through a wildly celebratory set of music, occasionally calling out Daniels between songs. The band was on fire with an expanded horn section (Brad Walker, John Michael Bradford, Ashlin Parker, Alex Wasily) plus Viveca Hawkins on vocals and Ari Teitel on guitar. They added to the usual funky mischief produced by Ivan Neville, Ian Neville, Deven Trusclair and Tony Hall.

Hawkins did a bang-up job on Ike & Tina Turner’s “Sexy Ida.” After Ivan Neville said, “We’ve played a lot of music over the past days. Everything we do is dedicated to Nick Daniels III,” the band launched into “Itchy Boo,” a horn heavy instrumental supplemented by guest sax player Skerik. Ivan led the band through a thumping, rowdy “Where Do We Go From Here” before Hall took over lead vocals on the Daniels penned “Make It After All.” Hall got emotional and had difficulty getting through the song.

Cyril Neville came onstage with Bonnie Raitt’s bass player, Mike Hutchinson, who used to play with The Neville Brothers. They did The Meters “Dance With Me” and both Ivan and Hall took over lead vocals for “Jungle Man.” The band took a small break but came back with Nikki Glaspie taking over on drums for “Dancing to the Truth.” The show ended with Link Wray’s “Fire and Brimstone.” Each of the horns took extended solos and the funk filled, emotional show finally ended.

  • Another annual tradition took place at Tipitina’s on the Monday after Jazz Fest ended. Papa Grows Funk, a legendary band led by John Gros, did their reunion show. The band called it quits a decade ago but get back together for the post Jazz Fest gig each year. They were so tight, it is hard to believe they don’t play regularly. Both John Gros and saxophone player Jason Mingledorff talked a lot about Russell Batiste, Jr., who died in September 2023. He was a regular band member in their early days. Batiste gave Mingledorff the nickname “Big Wind.” The band played an instrumental by that name to honor Batiste and showcase their amazing saxophone player.

Guitarist June Yamaguchi played a twangy, distorted solo during “John Brown.” Mingledorff  blew an amazing solo on “Rat a Tat Tang” while Gros’ solid vocals and sweet organ playing highlighted “Needle in a Groove.” The slow burning instrumental “Dolemite Returns” started off with Mingledorff’s haunting sax intro accompanied by Gros’ organ. The rest of the band eventually joined in for a funky climax that ended the special show.

The span of time that included both weekends of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was loaded with amazing performances at clubs throughout the city. We only saw a small portion of the shows available, but what we saw was spectacular and memorable. We cannot imagine any place else in the world that gathers such an immense, diverse concentration of world-class artists for two weeks of live music bliss. It was a glorious, exhausting experience that we hope to repeat in 2025.

Photos courtesy of Andy J Gordon ©2024
FB: andy.j.gordon1
IG: andyjgordon1

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

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