Friday at Jazz Fest

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New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Producer Quint Davis with the family of artist Bruce Brice, whose likeness was added to the Jazz Fest Ancestors. - BRAD RHINES
  • BRAD RHINES
  • New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Producer Quint Davis with the family of artist Bruce Brice, whose likeness was added to the Jazz Fest Ancestors.

Lightning and heavy rains caused the early closing of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival's opening day. Jimmy Cliff fans had to settle for a five-song set at the Congo Square stage, which appropriately ended with “Sitting in Limbo.” Festival attendees didn’t know whether to head for the exits, take cover or just keep on partying as the rain poured and lightning flashed. Before the show was canceled, Cliff led his band through “By the Rivers of Babylon,” a rollicking version of his hit “You Can Get It If You Really Want,” a singalong of Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” and “This is My Love Song.” The 67-year-old reggae icon was in good shape and high spirits, dancing and spinning across the stage, and he seemed to be just getting warmed up as the set was called off.

Earlier in the day, Hozier packed the Gentilly Stage and ran through almost all of the songs on his recently released self-titled debut album. Despite his limited catalog, the young Irish singer/guitarist put on a well-rounded performance. Highlights included a couple of swampy blues numbers, “To Be Alone” and “It Will Come Back,” followed by a guest appearance from local bluesman Alvin Youngblood Hart for a cover of Skip James’ “Illinois Blues.” Hozier threw in another unexpected (and perhaps ill-advised) cover, the 2005 pop song “1 Thing” by Amerie, before closing out his set with the megahit “Take Me to Church” and his soulful new single “Work Song.”


Drummer Jason Marsalis performed with NOCCA alums in the NOCCA Pavilion. - BRAD RHINES
  • BRAD RHINES
  • Drummer Jason Marsalis performed with NOCCA alums in the NOCCA Pavilion.

The festival is marking the 40th anniversary of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) at the NOCCA Pavilion, a tent in the infield between the Congo Square area and Food II area. In the pavilion, alumnus Jason Marsalis paid tribute to one of the school’s first jazz teachers, his father Ellis Marsalis. From behind his drum kit, Marsalis introduced a NOCCA alumni band, a group of young NOCCA grads including trumpeter John Michael Bradford (who opened the Jazz Tent earlier in the day), Miles Berry on saxophone, Shea Pierre on piano and Jasen Weaver on bass. Marsalis highlighted some of his father’s lesser-known tunes, including “The Garden” and “Tell Me” from the 1985 album Syndrome, and “Nostalgic Impressions” from the 1982 album Fathers and Sons, which featured Wynton and Branford Marsalis. Jason said that album was an important influence on the early solo work of his brothers.

One of the most touching moments Friday was the second-line parade honoring the late artist Bruce Brice, who designed the poster for the first fest in 1970 and who has been a regular participant at the fest’s art market ever since. The parade featured New Wave Brass Band with Keep ‘N It Real and We Are One Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs. The band started with a rousing rendition of “Bourbon Street Parade” and ended with a slow procession through the arches at the back of the Congo Square stage to the cluster of wooden memorials known as the “ancestors” of Jazz Fest. Brice’s wife and son, Jackie and Eben Brice, were there to dedicate a memorial to Brice, and Jazz Fest Producer Quint Davis called Brice “a great man, a great artist, and part of the foundation of this festival.” Regarding the memorial, Davis said, “When you’re an ancestor here, it means you’ll never leave the festival. He’s going to stay with us forever.”


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