Anthony Hamilton performs on the Congo Square Stage.
Across the Fair Grounds on Friday, soul singers — in a variety of forms and styles — wailed, growled and warbled their way through music that came from the heart.
In the Blues Tent, indigenous Australian guitarist and singer Gurrumul performed a mix of familiar and new songs in the Yolngu language. Gurrumul’s bassist Michael Hohnen spoke to the crowd throughout the set, but the heartache in the blind singer’s performance needed no translation. On slower, more pensive tunes he pushed his voice to its limits, issuing waves of emotion that were as reflective as they were spiritual. Holding his guitar upside down, he strummed through the often country-tinged set with his left hand, but his voice made the more lasting impression.
At the Acura Stage, two of the multiple female singers featured on Galactic’s forthcoming album, Into the Deep
, delivered a more traditional form of soul. After warming things up with a tight set of instrumental music featuring Mike Dillon on percussion alongside Stanton Moore’s drum kit, the band welcomed Macy Gray to the stage.
Clad in a long-sleeved, floor-sweeping red and black sequined dress and fluffy boa, Gray repeatedly addressed the crowd as “you sexy people” between funky versions of songs from her 1999 hit album, On How Life Is
. On “Why Didn’t You Call Me” and “Do Something,” Gray’s kittenish rasp contrasted with the band’s groove-centric exchanges, giving the songs more interesting dynamics and textures than they had on her studio album. She wrapped up her appearance with the pensive and lovely “Stoned” from her 2014 release, The Way
, which she introduced with a story about a time when “a big fat joint” ultimately solved the problems between her and her man. On the album, the song has a folky, mellow feel. When Jeff Raines took over the main guitar part, he doused it in blues, yielding a deeper, more soulful feel.
Erica Falls, who’s been on the road with Galactic and also appears on the new album, followed Gray as the band’s singer, kicking the set back to its pre-Gray, up-tempo, rhythm-centric state by enticing the crowd to clap and bounce along with her on “Right On.”
Friday also marked Irma Thomas’ return to the Gospel Tent for a spin through the church music that inspired much of the New Orleans R&B she’s known for. By the end of the set, the tent was overflowing as an angelic-looking Thomas, dressed in white, soared through Mahalia Jackson’s “Come On Children Let’s Sing” and delivered a sky-rattling rendition of “I Found the Answer.”
As the sun began to sink over Esplanade Avenue, Anthony Hamilton, also dressed head-to-toe in white, showed off the full range of his silky tenor (and forays into an airy falsetto) on the Congo Square Stage. Along with three male backup singers, his set was full of four-part harmonies, thumping bass lines and romantic riffs on classics like “Can’t Let Go” and “Charlene.”
At the end of the day, the Voices of the Wetlands Allstars pushed past the festival's normal 7 p.m. closing time. Led by Johnny Sansone’s fiery harmonica peels and an emerald green feather-bedecked Monk Boudreaux, the combination of swamp blues and reggae-drenched Mardi Gras Indian incantations spurred members of the audience to the aisles for a rousing, end-of-the-day dance party.