Rain cancels Saturday at Jazz Fest


Jazz Festers wade through the Fairgrounds for a bite before leaving after bad weather and rough conditions at the festival canceled the remainder of the afternoon's performances.
  • Jazz Festers wade through the Fairgrounds for a bite before leaving after bad weather and rough conditions at the festival canceled the remainder of the afternoon's performances.
Stevie Wonder's Saturday morning soundcheck included Prince's "Purple Rain," seemingly setting up his headlining set at the 2016 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival for one of the biggest tributes to the late artist over the two festival weekends.

Instead, Wonder sang it with the crowd through a megaphone from the Acura Stage after announcing his 5 p.m. show had been canceled. So were all other stages for the rest of the day — including sets from Beck and Snoop Dogg and the second half of sets from Dr. John and Hurray for the Riff Raff, among others — after heavy downpours formed shin-deep pools and winds sent water onto stage equipment. Jazz Fest last shut down early during an anticipated but lightning-filled Wilco set in 2015.

Crowds bottlenecked near the exits — including an ankle-deep Sauvage Street exit where water for some reason had a current — and spilled out into the surrounding neighborhoods. Though the rain backed off to a drizzle, the Fairgrounds already had turned into a lake.

In the middle of her hell-raising, soul-searching set of high-powered R&B and electric soul at the Fais Do-Do stage, Kristin Diable paused to thank the weather gods for the good fortune of an overcast sky — the crowd quickly stopped her in case she jinxed it. The rain drizzled as the band conjured dueling, Crazy Horse guitars with grinding organ, and Diable, whether slinking around stage, falling to her knees or roping the microphone cable around her neck, breathed southern soul into her brittle-but-elastic voice on tender R&B highlights "True and Natural Man" and "True Devotion" from her 2015 album Create Your Own Mythology. With seconds left of her set to spare, she pleaded with the stage manager for one more song: "Pretty please? Seriously, just a minute and a half." It worked, and the band closed with a tribute to Allen Toussaint with a loose and light "Yes We Can Can."

Armed with a purple-clad full band and white-frilled shirt and sparkling purple pants, queen of bounce Big Freedia led a massive crowd at the Congo Square Stage in a band-backed singalong of Prince's "I Would Die 4 U" and "Purple Rain," complete with remarkably tone-perfect guitar solos — while it rained. For one of her largest Jazz Fest crowds yet, Freedia (also wearing a white jacket with several of Prince's love symbols) unleashed an arsenal of dancers, including two of her nieces, as she emceed "Azz Everywhere." (Every time I've seen Freedia, when she invites people from the crowd to dance onstage, some bro — often shirtless or mostly shirtless — gets up there and does not dance. Why is this. Also, one man in a Detroit Pistons jersey wheelbarrow-twerked another man in tiny orange shorts.)

The rain settled into a light pour while Alynda Lee Segarra's Hurray for the Riff Raff soundchecked on the Gentilly Stage and stage crew raked pools of water offstage with tall squeegees. "I wish I could put all of you under a big umbrella," Segarra said.

Returning to New Orleans for the first time since last fall, the band (with a string section including Yosi Perlstein and Helen Gillet) opened with "Levon's Dream" from the band's 2014 breakthrough Small Town Heroes followed by "Ode to John and Yoko" from 2012's Lookout Mama. Heroes' "End of the Line" transformed from the album's uptempo folk to a heavier jam finding a meatier groove in a slowed-down take. The band also performed a new song from an upcoming album, showcasing Segarra's confident vocals, able to belt out muscular lines with her signature voice and hit falsetto highs — the song glimpsed the next stage of Hurray for the Riff Raff's evolution from Segarra's intimate folk to its full-band, high-voltage country- and folk-inspired progressive rock 'n' roll.

My boots sunk into the mud that wasn't there before the band started, and with a soaked-to-the-bone crowd standing under hilariously relentless and unforgiving rain, the band closed early with "The Body Electric," Segarra's powerful prayer against violence and oppression. Thunder and lightning boomed behind either side of the stage, and the crowd hollered and cheered for the rain as much as it did for the band, hitting a divine high with strings reaching a crescendo as the song crashed into its stinging chorus. Segarra, who repeatedly thanked the crowd for enduring the weather, closed with three words: "Fuck Donald Trump."

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