Jazz Fest review: Frank Ocean, Mutemath, Fleetwood Mac, Norah Jones all worth the trip to New Orleans
(This weekend, Soundcheck correspondent Carole Liparoto took in her first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. She filed this report on her takeaways from one of the top musical destinations in the Southeast.)
After our inaugural Jazz Fest experience, we can’t help but wonder why we didn’t do this sooner. Sure, major music festival options are plentiful on the Gulf Coast, with Wanee, DeLuna, Hangout and Bonnaroo a bit further up. But c’mon, this is N’awlins, just 10 hours from the Bay.
Here are our favorite takeaways from Weekend 2 of Jazz Fest.
Conditions are perfect: Truth be told, the conditions upon arrival at Jazz Fest Friday were plenty intimidating. Festival home Fair Grounds Race Course, which had been destroyed in Katrina and rebuilt from the ground up, was an absolute bog after days of rain. Things were unseasonably cool, too. Better still, an omnipresent whiff of horse manure was in the air. (Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine found this particularly funny, cracking jokes about it during the band’s headlining set Friday night. If the Jazz Fest purists weren’t already cringing about Maroon 5’s mere presence, they certainly were now). So back to the matter at hand — how could moisture, mud, waste and wind chill possibly make a top list, you ask? The conditions were really just part of a bigger picture — a wild, wonderful adventure through the marsh.
Eat, drink and be jazzy: An official policy of Jazz Fest is “no carnival food.” Whee! And with more than 70 Louisiana-authentic food and beverage booths, it was easy to indulge. Peas and okra, cracklins, boiled crawfish, andouille gumbo, chicken livers with pepper jelly, beignets, muffulettas and pralines were all pretty boss. So keep your corndogs, suckers.
Gone Gospel: The gospel tent was one of the most awe-inspiring places at Jazz Fest. Passionate patrons sipped daiquiris and danced never fearing judgement. During Irma “Soul Queen of New Orleans” Thomas’ (above) tribute set to Mahalia Jackson, even her interpreter for the hearing impaired at stage right had a mighty fire about her.
The Nola natives are restless: Louisiana was extremely well-represented at Jazz Fest across a ton of genres. Some of our favorite sets came from natives like bayou soul baritone Marc Broussard, blues singer and pianist Marcia Ball (who grew up in Louisisana), rapper-crooner Frank Ocean (whose extended family was in the house — even Uncle Tony — but more on Ocean later), Carnivale music pied-pipers Galactic and bat guano crazy rockers Mutemath (more on them later, too).
Pies of all kinds: If ever you forget just how much diversity there is in jazz and other Nola-favored genres of music, go to this festival for an ultimate reminder. In the span of an hour and a half we caught zydeco by the Red Stick Ramblers, Dixieland jazz by immaculately dressed Dukes of Dixieland, theatrical Bourbon Street jazz by the New Orleans Bingo Show (with whom peppy Nola alt-rock act Givers made a guest appearance), ragtime by Lars Edegran and a handful of choice brass bands.
Cool covers: Sure, originals are tops for us here at Soundcheck, but there were some especially memorable covers at Jazz Fest. Our number one? Norah Jones and country “side project” doing Dolly Parton’s Jolene. The red-dressed Jones’ voice was like a little slice of a heaven at a horse track. Runner-up rights go to Galactic and David Shaw doing ODB’s Got Your Money — surprisingly stylish with a hell of a pulse, courtesy of expertly technical funk drummer Stanton Moore.
The culture club: While the locals just call it “Jazz Fest” (there can only be one), the actual full name is New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, with the “heritage” part playing a key role. In New Orleans, kids appreciate the same kind of music that their parents do. In fact, families were everywhere, celebrating the tunes of past and present, way more so than any of the other major music festivals we’ve been to. Bonus: The festival staff was especially cheery and accommodating. “Happy Jazz Fest,” they’d say. It was Fleetwood Mac fans who may have gotten the staff’s best greeting of all, though. Jazz Fest employees at the gate informed us that they had moved up headliner Fleetwood Mac’s start time to 4:40 p.m. Saturday night, giving them 30 minutes more than originally scheduled. In case you were wondering, the band filled them easily and expertly with hits and heartache. For a $60 single day pass, the set alone seemed worth the price of admission.
Favorite sets: Hands down, our favorite set at Jazz Fest came from Nola boys Mutemath. Singer Paul Meany told fans it was the band’s first time at Jazz Fest and that they were particularly pumped. It showed from the moment drummer Darren King taped his headphones around his face. The band busted through Blood Pressure, Spotlight, Noticed and Typical with handstands, full-band percussion, leaps, bounds and one totally cool way to use an air mattress. Meany surfed the crowd and sang from an illuminated blow-up mattress.
Our second-place prize goes to Frank Ocean and his outstanding cast of backing brass men, guitarists, drummers and more. How outstanding? We caught a moment where Ocean’s saxophone player had a case of the sneezes and still never missed a beat. Ocean was hard to look away from, though, particularly on Swim Good and Forrest Gump, where he proved his lyricism, unconventional R&B style and his strong opinions could totally translate to the big stage.
— Carole Liparoto, tbt*