Thunderstorms could only do so much to dampen spirits at Jazz Fest Sunday.
The Martha Redbone Roots Project performed at the Fais Do-Do stage early in the day. She sang several songs off her recent album of William Blake songs. Redbone is of Cherokee, Shawnee, Choctaw and African-American ancestry, and her band is a southern Appalachian string band, with a guitar, banjo, fiddle and stand up bass. And Blake's poetry suited her vocals and the band's picking. Off the album she sang "Garden of Love" and "A Poison Tree." She also sang "This Train'" (or "This Train is Bound for Glory"), which was popularized as a religious tune and later adapted into a folk anthem. But the highlight of the set was Redbone's beautiful and haunting version of "Drums," Native American singer Peter LaFarge's song about holding onto Native American heritage and pride in spite of assimilation into a culture that essentially viewed them as vanquished. Johnny Cash recorded a notable cover. (Older video of Redbone singing "Drums" after the jump.)
On the Gentilly stage, Calexico's set included songs from its recent album Algiers, recorded on the West Bank, with older songs accented with mariachi horns and Latin grooves. But the band brought a New Orleans horn section on stage for many numbers. And it all came together when the band played "See You Later, Alligator" in tribute to Bobby Charles.
The Midnight Disturbers had a raucous set going before an afternoon thunderstorm arrived. The lineup included Big Sam Williams, Galactic's Ben Ellman and Stanton Moore, Roger Lewis of the Dirty Dozen, Shamarr Allen, trombonist Corey Henry, Skerik, drummer Kevin O'Day, sousaphonist Matt Perrine, Bonerama's Mark Mullins and others. As the band played Henry's tune "Buck It Like a Horse," they recorded video on an iPhone of single audience members dancing, in some cases calling out individuals who had not been dancing enough in Allen's opinion. They promised to post the videos on YouTube. Stay tuned.
The band was working through a series of solos when rain hit, and Perrine quickly segued into a sousaphone-only version of "Singing in the Rain."
The rain only let up intermittently for the rest of the afternoon. Earth, Wind and Fire made a bid to keep fans in Congo Square by opening with "Boogie Wonderland," "Sing a Song" and "Shining Star" in quick succession. It worked because the crowd overflowed the stage area back to the infield.
The day was also marked by multiple tributes to "Uncle" Lionel Batiste. The Treme Brass Band participated in a jazz funeral for its iconic former drummer. The procession started at the Economy Hall Tent, which now bears Batiste's likeness as a second line grand marshall over its entrance. It made its way to the back of the Congo Square area, where a painting of Batiste has been added to the Jazz Fest Ancestors display, where it joins the likenesses of Danny Barker, Al Hirt, Allison Minor and other musicians and Jazz Fest personnel remembered there.
The Treme Brass Band also closed the day in the Economy Hall Tent, and it was a larger than usual contingent in the band, including the Dirty Dozen's Roger Lewis and trumpeter Gregg Stafford. There were several testimonies offered about Batiste and the Treme Brass Band. And the band played both standards like "Little Liza Jane" as well as John Boutte's "Treme Song," which the band apparently has adopted as its own, turning it into an extended brass band jam. But regardless of what the band was playing, the final half hour of the set featured a continuous second line circling the tent. At first it was led by a social aid and pleasure club contingent, but by the end, the band took to the aisles as well. Outside, rain poured relentlessly throughout the entire set, but inside, hardly anyone noticed, and it's hard to imagine any stage closed out the day in higher spirits.