The Return of New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
After three failed attempts and 1091 days the fifty first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival took place April 28th through May 10th. During the seven days of the festival, which was spread over two weekends, hundreds of bands played on twelve stages at the fairgrounds, which is located in the middle of the city.
At Jazz Fest there is something for everyone. The three main stages feature popular rock, country, R&B, and rap performances. Separate blues and jazz tents host local and national artists of each genre. Two stages celebrate the unique music and culture of New Orleans and Louisiana. Another tent features old time jazz, and lets not forget the Gospel Tent!
As you walk into the festival this is the first tent you are introduced to. No matter your faith or lack of, this tent draws you in. From 11AM to 7PM hymns and sacred songs are performed at an ear splitting volume. It is not uncommon for a group of worshippers to be sitting next to beer drinkers. Groups such as The Legendary Rocks of Harmony, and The Zion Harmonizers keep the faithful and the fallen on their feet.
Jazz Fest virgens often are attracted to the festival by the big name artists, but the real gems are the local performers you are introduced to while wandering the fairgrounds. The majority of performers at the festival are from Louisiana or have adapted the state as home. The quantity and high quality of Cajun, zydeco, roots, and blues artists performing at Jazz Fest is unimaginable. After close to twenty years of attending the festival I still discover acts I was unfamiliar with. Since I hadn’t been to New Orleans in 1091 days I wanted to refamiliarize myself with some of my favorite musicians and make new discoveries.
Louisiana is the birthplace of zydeco and Cajun music. The music is ingrained within the soul of this region. Each weekend the state’s best cajun and zydeco bands were featured. Zydeco was well represented by Rosie Ledet’s accordion playing and sultry lyrics. Nathan and The Zydeco Cha Cha Chas fast paced accordion driven dance music had the crowd breathless by the end of their set. Once again Jeffery Broussard proved why he and his band, The Creole Cowboys, are so influential during a truly dynamic performance. These bands are wildly popular in Louisiana and east Texas, drawing young and old fans alike.
Let’s not forget, although the two genres of music share similarities, Cajun and zydeco are not the same and the terms cannot be used interchangeably. Acadiana fiddler Jourdan Thibodeaux et les Rôdailleurs’ Cajun foot-stomping two steps woke up the crowd and kept them on their feet. The Lost Bayou Ramblers may be considered today’s most popular cajun band. Singing almost entirely in Cajun French the band played traditional classics suitable for dancing two-steps and waltzes mixed in with high energy numbers influenced by western swing and rockabilly.
Besides Cajun and zydeco music, New Orleans also has a strong history of roots/americana music. Leyla McCalla, who’s played with the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Our Native Daughters debuted selections off of her most current release Breaking The Thermometer. The entire set was sung in French or Hatian Creole with McCalla explaining the story behind each selection. Eric Lindell has always been one of my favorite New Orleans based artists. The singer/songwriter/guitarist pumped out a set of funk/blues/roots rock featuring an interplay of guitar, organ, and horns which had the crowd in a frenzy. Gal Holiday has been representing the New Orleans country scene for over fifteen years. Her impeccable songwriting and musicianship were evident during her sixty minute set. New Orleans native Esther Rose, who now resides in New Mexico played a well received set of what she calls “farm emo.” In the past she had previously collaborated with her ex-husband Luke Winslow-King. Since then she has released three albums of swaying vocals and straight ahead instrumentation.
The blues were well represented at Jazz Fest. Troy Turner, who was unknown to me, delivered a powerhouse blues set. Since then I have deep dived into his discography and have not been disappointed. Louisiana’s most furious bluesman Jonathon ‘Boogie’ Long slayed the Blues Tent audience. Although I had heard of Mr. Sipp, I had never listened to any of his music until attending Jazz Fest. I was floored by the guitar playing of the McComb, Mississippi natives performance. One of my favorite sets this year was CC Adcock and Sonny Landreth’s tribute to blues/zydeco singer and guitar player Lil Buck Sinegal who passed away in 2019.
These were only some of my highlights of this year’s Jazz Fest. I could also describe in detail the best food of over one hundred food booths spread through the grounds. I can write pages about the unique history and culture of the Mardi Gras Indians, brass bands, and the origins of jazz. I haven’t even mentioned attending performances by Irma Thomas, The Who, Jason Isbell, Avett Brothers, Marcia Ball, Billy Strings, Black Crowes, Elvis Costello, Buddy Guy, or the shows I went to every night after the fairgrounds!
For twelve days I was immersed within a unique culture. I watched bands almost every waking hour. I had some of the best food our country has to offer and I washed it down with copious amounts of liquid refreshments. Jazz Fest is a marathon not a sprint. Your mileage may vary but I hope to see you there April 28 through May 7th 2023.
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival: https://www.nojazzfest.com