The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is celebrating the Mardi Gras Indians at this year's Cultural Pavilion, and Indians made guest appearances on many stages Saturday. The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra began its performance with Big Chief Monk Boudreaux singing solo and playing tambourine. And tambourines seemed to be everywhere (even Tom Petty picked one up for a couple songs). In the previous Jazz Tent slot, Evan Christopher's Clarinet Road show featured what, at the time, I would have guessed was the longest tambourine solo ever performed in the Jazz Tent: when the band did "King of Treme" in honor of drummer Shannon Powell, he performed a long solo on tambourine. Christopher said he wrote the song for Powell, who does claim "King of Treme" as a title, and Christopher also said it is Powell's birthday. I couldn't immediately confirm that, but Christopher does seem to put a lot of effort into tracking musicians' birthdays.
Christopher's set ranged from Duke Ellington compostitions to originals such as "Creole Wild West," which included a spoken word interlude by Chuck Perkins in homage to the spirit of the Mardi Gras Indians and New Orleans.
Both Christopher and Powell stuck around for the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra set, which after Monk Boudreaux's introduction featured a very reverent rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" with Irvin Mayfield leading on trumpet. The set included a slew of special guests including Kermit Ruffins singing "I've Got the World on a String," and Christopher and Ed Petersen delivered some amazing solos.
One of the more amusing performances I caught was by the woman providing sign language translation at Cee Lo Green's set. The show really picked up near the end when Goodie Mob reunited to do "Soul Food" and the group's new tune "Fight to Win." The sign interpreter gamely provided interpretive fills during instrumental parts, and she seemed to really feel the songs as much as the MCs. Bravo.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers spent two hours mostly mellowly touring through their catalog and dipping into some Traveling Wilbury hits. The band started with "Listen to Her Heart" and then throttled down to softer tunes with a few bluesy detours into Bo Diddly and J.J. Cale covers — and then an even mellower stretch with Petty on acoustic guitar. Throwing "Free Falling" into the mix picked up the audience, which was happy to sing along. If one was wondering if the sun or heat prompted Petty to tell the story behind "Spike," a song about a guy wearing a dog collar walking into a rough Gainseville, Fla. bar called the Cypress Lounge, the answer is no. He told the same story to an audience in Denver last week. (And the band followed almost the exact same set list.) Petty even threw in the same addition of "guitar thieves," referring to the theft and recovery of the band's guitars in California a couple of weeks ago.
But the crowd wasn't at all disappointed with the fired up finish with "Refugee," "Running Down a Dream," "Mary Jane's Last Dance" and "American Girl." It was a strong finish only slightly buzz-killed by the stage announcer saying "Jazz Fest had its best Pettycure ever." That joke might have been better in sign language.