Frankie Beverly and Maze perform at Jazz Fest.
Saturday’s heavy rains left the Fair Grounds a soggy mess for Jazz Fest’s finale on Sunday. The sometimes wet, windy and chilly day saw migratory geese milling about Acura Stage lagoons while a bevy of tribute shows filled stages, including standout homages to Allen Toussaint and B.B. King stood out.
Maze came to play Sunday. Formed decades ago in Oakland but long associated with New Orleans due its annual closing out of both Congo Square at Jazz Fest and Essence Music Festival, the band is propelled by an artist/audience exchange that’s as fun, funky and well-informed as they come. All clad in all white, the ensemble locked in a groove and the bassist’s expressions (appearing on video screens) showed it was time to get down to business as frontman Frankie Beverly strolled onstage. It was the slow and deliberate walk of a elder statesman in full command of his powers, and Beverly joked midway through the high-intensity set, “I’ll be blessed to turn 70 years old this year — 70! — but damn if y’all ain’t trying to kill me up here on this stage today.”
With surgical precision, he set to swoon his devoted crowd, which was determined enough to bear the elements. It was in blissful commune in the mud, dipping, sliding, twisting and bouncing beneath a kaleidoscopic sea of umbrellas when Beverly called our “Where are my Southern Girls?” while introducing set staple “Southern Girl.” After a percussive jam closed the tune, Beverly declared, “That was some garbage funk — some nasty shit right there.” Playing nearly 20 minutes past the 7 p.m. closing time, Maze’s annual Sunday service come to a spiritual conclusion with the classic “Joy and Pain,” with its “sunshine and rain” refrain, from the band’s same-titled fourth album from 1980.
Blues goddess and Los Angeles native Bonnie Raitt worked plenty of Afro-Caribbean rhythms into her funky set. As she did at this year’s Grammy Awards, Raitt helped pay tribute to lost legend B.B. King to close the Gentilly Stage following her own set. “We’re here with heavy hearts,” Raitt said as she hit the stage at 6:43 p.m. “but I’m really proud to be a part of this,” before lending her slide-guitar prowess and voice to “Never Make Your Move Too Soon.” Also having performed the King tribute at the Grammys, Gary Clark Jr. — still in town following a glistening Thursday afternoon set at Acura — joined in the parade of star players, coming out to sing and bang his tambourine on “Let the Good Times Roll.” The set reached a climax with Dr. John teaming up with blues/rock guitarist Elvin Bishop for “My Baby’s Gone” followed by Buddy Guy joining in the fun for a spirited rendition of “Sweet Little Angel.”
To end things at the Sheraton New Orleans Fais Do-Do stage, Rockin’ Dopsie flexed his zydeco-royalty status in a boogie-in-shrimp-boots take on Junior Walker’s soul classic “Shotgun” — “Do the sweet potato!” — before flipping his washboard on his chest with showman swagger, asking “Are y’all ready?” in call-and-response urgency before launching into “Show Me to Zydeco.”
After taking the Acura Stage well past his scheduled 3:45 p.m. start time, a drenched Neil Young took 30 minutes to play his first two tunes (“F—kin’ Up,” “Cortez the Killer”) before expending a precious 18 minutes in a smackish space jam, full of face slaps to his guitar strings and face-amp feedback dissonance. He ended with “Love and Only Love,” “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World” and “Powderfinger.”