I had the good fortune to spend a week in the beautiful and vibrant city of New Orleans recently and attended the second week of the 2017 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
I confess, I’m not a big festival person. The older I get, the less driven I am to even go to ticketed concerts. But JazzFest is the holy of holies when it comes to music festivals. The festival does a great job for one main reason: it doesn’t try to be just a big festival of big name performers. JazzFest is all about New Orleans as a musical and cultural spring. The musicians who play JazzFest are there because New Orleans matters. This includes a whole lot of great musicians from the Crescent City and the Gulf Coast, but it also appeals to many musicians who are not from New Orleans. The result is a festival where in a single day you can experience a huge range of music that includes the best in Jazz, Zydeco, Blues, Honky Tonk, Alt-Country, Funk, R&B, Gospel, Rock and much more.
It’s absolutely worth mentioning (and I’ve been writing about this elsewhere) that JazzFest is incredibly accessible — by which I mean it has gone to great lengths to be accessible by all. All 12 of the stages have areas that are wheelchair accessible and there are sign-interpreters working at every stage. There are seating areas at the concession areas reserved for handicapped visitors and plenty of restrooms reserved for people with mobility limitations. On several occasions I saw people in t-shirts marked STAFF assisting people in wheelchairs so they didn’t have to travel through mud to get to restrooms. This attention to to people really impressed me.
It’s also kid/family friendly and I saw lots of people with kids of all ages, from infants to teenagers. There are people smoking marijuana and drinking beer present, as you would see at any concert. If you find these things troubling, you might look elsewhere for family fun.
In New Orleans, strangers will call you “Baby” as they take your arms and pull you into a dance (a uniquely New Orleans expression of welcome). You will experience food that is as rich and varied as the history of South Louisiana. And the food vendors at JazzFest offer amazing food. Don’t let the simple concession stands fool you. I ate a bowl of Quail and Pheasant Andouille Gumbo with a plastic spoon in a paper cup that was so delicious it nearly brought me to tears. You will also experience great music. Life changing music.
"We dance even if there’s no radio. We drink at funerals. We talk too much and laugh too loud and live too large and, frankly, we’re suspicious of others who don’t.” Chris Rose, 1 Dead in Attic (2006)
To give you an idea of what this experience is like, here’s a breakdown of each day I spent at JazzFest. Keep in mind, this is just the stuff I managed to see. It represents probably less that 25 percent of the all the acts that performed. If you account for all the other cultural activities, including the cooking demos, book signings and readings, etc, what I saw was hardly 10 percent. And this is just the stuff happening inside JazzFest, not all the other stuff happening around town. To grasp the amount of music all over New Orleans during JazzFest, consider what the publishers of the website jazzfestgrids.com have stated, “over the 15 days of JazzFest we have posted 1678 different sets among 743 shows and approximately 65 venues.” Thanks, New Orleans! That’s a lot of entertainment.
JazzFest Day 1 – Thursday, May 4, 2017
- Gospel Tent – Lake Area High School Singing Leopards
- Blues Tent – Henry Gray
- Jazz & Heritage Stage – Big Chief Bird and the Young Hunters – Mardi Gras Indians
- Acura Stage – George Porter Jr. and Runnin’ Pardners
- Gentilly Stage – Marcia Ball (with Mike Schermer on guitar and Joe Krown on organ)
- Acura Stage – Voices of the Wetlands All Stars – Anders Osborne, Waylon Thibodeaux, Johnny Sansone, George Porter Jr. And Johnny Vidacovich.
- Fais Do-Do Stage – The Iguanas
- Congo Square – Corinne Bailey Rae
- Blues Tent – Eric Lindell and the Grand Nationals (featuring Anson Fundergurgh on guitar)
- Gospel Tent – Erica Campbell of Mary Mary
- Fais Do-Do Stage – Dale Watson and his Lonestars (with Don Pawlak on pedal steel)
- Fais Do-Do Stage – C.J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band
- Gentilly Stage – Darius Rucker
- Congo Square – Tower of Power (led by Emilio Castillo)
- Blues Tent – Ms. Lisa Fischer and Grand Baton
- Jazz Tent – Herb Alpert & Lani Hall
- Congo Square – Earth, Wind & Fire
- Fais Do-Do Stage – Nathan and the Zydeco Cha-Chas
- Gentilly Stage – Wilco
- Blues Tent – Rhiannon Giddens
JazzFest Day 3 – Saturday, May 6, 2017
- Economy Hall – Topsy Chapman & Solid Harmony
- Gospel Tent – Arthur and Friends Community Choir
- Jazz & Heritage Stage – Panorama Jazz Band
- Acura Stage – Big Sam’s Funky Nation
- Blues Tent – John Mooney & Bluesiana
- Acura Stage – Irma Thomas (with her amazing 8-piece band The Professionals)
- Acura Stage – Stevie Wonder
JazzFest Day 4 – Sunday, May 7, 2017
- Gentilly Stage – El Septeto Santiaguero of Cuba
- Congo Square – Walter “Wolfman” Washington & the Roadmasters
- Blues Tent – Deak Harp
- Jazz Tent – Ellis Marsalis
- Gentilly Stage – Preservation Hall Jazz Band
- Fais Do-Do Stage – Roddie Romero & the Hub City Allstars
- Gentilly Stage – Buddy Guy
- Congo Square – Patti LaBelle
- Gospel Tent – Irma Thomas – “The Gospel Soul of Irma Thomas”
- Jazz & Heritage Stage – AsheSon
- Acura Stage – Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue