First Weekend of the 47th New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

First Weekend of the 47th New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
New Orleans, LA, Fair Grounds Race Course
New Orleans, LA
Photographer/Writer: Mark Robbins

The aromas of boiling crawfish, sweet beignets stuffed with pralines, curry, pecan catfish meuniere, fried soft shell crabs and so much more blew over the fairgrounds pulling you in along with the music of Alex McMurray and His Band playing on the Gentilly Stage. The 47th New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was underway!

Running for two  consecutive weekends (always the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May) the festival offers up a gumbo of musical genres, cultural activities and mouth watering dishes that help make New Orleans one of the top food destinations in the world. This year welcomed a thirteenth stage to the festival, the music of Cuba. With the easing of political tensions, Quint Davis (CEO of Festival Productions) welcomed Cuban Ambassador, Jose Ramon Cabanas, to the festival along with New Orleans Mayor, Mitch Landrieu; former U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu; and Jazz and Heritage Foundation President Donna Santiago.

As always the difficult decisions for the day, other than what to eat, was what stages to be at and how long to stay before moving on to the next. With 13 stages of continuous music from 11AM to 7PM the choices are many and sometimes difficult. As the days grew later and the big names came out to play, the choices became harder.

Friday brought New Orleans favorite Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns (she was once a performer on Royal St.) at the same time as The Pedrito Martinez Group, who play a fusion of Western funk, Afro-Cuban rumba and African Yoruba chants. 50’s and 60’s soul sensation Leon Bridges overlapped another local and international favorite, Kermit Ruffins and the Barbeque Swingers, who overlapped 14 year old jazz phenom Joey Alexander. Closing the first day were Harry Connick, Jr, Trey Anastasio Band (sound problems pushed them back around 20 minutes), NAS with The Soul Rebels, Astral Project, and Aaron Neville…as well as the other 8 stages.

Saturday’s weather was just as perfect as Friday; though a little bit breezier, the temperatures stayed at a comfortable level. The choices once again were difficult and it took careful planning to hear everyone one wanted to hear.

New Orleans pianist and band leader of the Stephen Colbert Show Jon Batiste and Stay Human performed on the Acura Stage. At the other side of the grounds on the Gentilly Stage was old school folk singer songwriter Amos Lee, and in between at Congo Square, the original New Orleans funk sound of the Rebirth Brass Band. Closing out the five big stages on Saturday were Maroon 5, Alabama Shakes, Delfeayo Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra, Usher and the Roots and Jonny Lang. In total, Friday and Saturday consisted of 134 performances on 13 different stages!

Sunday was a monsoon with steady rain and thunderstorms all day. Any seasoned Jazz Fest goer knows it’s going to rain at least once each weekend and to wear shoes that you plan on leaving in New Orleans. Rain boots have become the normal foot fashion of the festival.

The gates finally opened Sunday a little after 3PM but a combination of minor flooding and snarled traffic made it impossible for this photographer to get there. Oh well – an afternoon in the French Quarter is not the worst thing in the world.