First weekend of Jazz Fest hits high notes

Kaela Rusher l Staff Reporter Avery Fiftal l Contributing Reporter Laura Rostad l Print Arcade Editor

Last weekend’s beautiful New Orleans spring sun shone down on the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival attendees at the Fair Grounds Race Course. With headlining acts including Steely Dan, Van Morrison and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the first weekend was a huge success.

Friday started off strong with New Orleans-based artists like Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes and the Hot 8 Brass Band. Throughout the afternoon and into the night, more and more people walked through the so-called golden gates to catch the afternoon performances from artists like Buckwheat Zydeco, Grace Potter and the Panorama Jazz Band. Each tent has a different genre to offer, including plenty of music discovery.

The biggest dilemma of Friday’s schedule was the heartbreaking choice between Steely Dan and Janelle Monáe. The Arcade had to make a sacrifice and went with Steely Dan who began the set fashionably late with a cover of “November Afternoon” by Donald Byrd and Booker Little followed by “Black Cow” off the 1977 album “Aja.” Throughout Steely Dan’s hour-and-a-half long set, the rock group played nearly all their most well known hits: “Reelin’ In the Years,” “Black Friday,” “Josie” and “Peg.”

Local funk band Galactic has been a staple at Jazz Fest for over a decade. On Saturday, they celebrated the twentieth anniversary of their debut album, “Coolin’ Off,” by bringing back their original lead singer, Theryl “Houseman” DeClouet. Housemen had to leave the band in 2004, but came back as a guest on several songs for their legendary Jazz Fest performance.

The Gospel Tent at Jazz Fest always hosts a plethora of local gospel choirs and New Orleans local performers. A stand out was Glen David Andrews, known as the “Treme prince,” and the Treme Choir who kicked off the set with classic gospel song “I’ll Fly Away.” It was clearly as crowd pleaser as all the gospel-goers jumped up to sing and swing along with the time-honored hymn. The rest of the set interlaced other well-known gospel songs with Andrews’ preaching, jazz vocals, and expert trombone work.

Van Morrison stepped on to the Gentilly stage in pin-strip suit that would have fit right in with Al Capone’s Chicago crew back in the day. He kicked off his set with a jazzy seven-minute-long sax performance. Morrison hit all of the high notes, bring back his classics including “Moondance,” “Baby Please Don’t Go,” and of course, “Brown Eyed Girl.” The 70-year-old’s vocals and scatting brought to life the often overplayed and overworked “Gloria.” Morrison even managed to include Hank Williams’ “Jambalya” that got the crowd going like no other. 

Sunday, the Gentilly Stage showcased local pop-rock group Royal Teeth. Duo vocalists Gary Larsen and Nora Patterson shared the spotlight, and neither missed a beat. A definite highlight of the set was Royal Teeth’s cover of classic Bowie and Queen collaboration “Under Pressure.”

Next up on the Gentilly stage was Nashville native Elle King, adorned in shimmering gold face paint and a shiny sequined gold outfit to match. King’s rich and powerful vocals were supported by saxophonist Ari Kohn, trumpet player Cyrus Nabipoor and trombonist Evan Oberla, the horn section of local funk band Sexual Thunder!. King’s playful demeanor shined through her lyrics about love and heartbreak.

Later that afternoon, swarms of anxious fans staked out spots in front of the Acura Stage, waiting for legendary rock band the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Shirtless, tattooed and sweaty, Flea railed on the bass, jumping around on stage with vocalist Anthony Kiedis, drummer Chad Smith and guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, proving that the band’s best years are not behind them yet.