Records were once again shattered at the 2002 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, but not of attendance. Blistering heat made it even more of a sensory endurance run than usual, but fear not, the Count was there every step of the way, notebook in hand, recording all the highlights (and a few lowlights) of Jazz Fest. Did you miss Zachary Richard's unannounced appearance on the Acura Stage? Still trying to find out who that guest guitarist was on stage with Bonnie Raitt? Wondering if the sound at the Jazz Tent was beamed in from an AM transistor radio? Well, settle in as I, Count Basin, guide you through the musical sauna that was the Fair Grounds in late April and early May.
Best World-Jazz Fusion
David Murray and the Gwo-Ka Masters win the prize. The energy of his band's gwo-ka beats and bell-clear vocals combined with Murray's fluid avant-garde reed style for 75 minutes of entrancement. Murray's unaccompanied bass clarinet segment featured squeaks and snaps interspersed between fast-running melodies, an effect that sounded like several instruments at once. Relying on his amazing abilities at circular breathing, he barely paused during the 10-minute solo.
Best Marketing Plan
Egg Yolk Jubilee pulled off a clever, Fest-based marketing plan. The band's members handed out rubber fried eggs with instructions to enhance your Jazz Fest experience by licking the back of the egg and sticking it on your head. Before long, egg-sporters infiltrated the Fair Grounds. One bold fellow wore an egg on each nipple, while an elderly man used it to cover his bald spot, yarmulke-style.
Marketing Plan Most in Need of Customer Service
Stage sponsor Sprint PCS left its cell phone-users out in the cold on the second weekend, as heavy call volume frequently blacked out service.
Best Nod to Hometown Roots
Playing to a packed Congo Square hungry for a much-anticipated homecoming, Wynton Marsalis took the stage Sunday dressed in a tan cotton suit, and undaunted by the 90-degrees-plus heat. The diverse crowd listened appreciatively and calmly to Marsalis originals like "Black Codes" until late in the set, when "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" was followed by a raucous stomp through "Big Fat Woman." Dancing and joyous second-lining ensued.
Best Drum Solos
Sam Butera drummer Bob Ruggiero and Victor Goines' drummer Ulysses Owens. Ruggiero's sheer power raised the roof of Economy Hall, while Owens' deft stickwork was as splashy and cool as his bright green necktie and black suit ensemble.
Best Stage Fright Recovery
Proving that even top-selling acts and Grammy Awards nominees can be intimidated by playing Jazz Fest, nouveau soul queen India.Aire confessed to some jitters while beginning her set Saturday to close the Congo Square Stage. "I am trippin', y'all," she told the crowd. "Man, there are so many of you! Y'all are making me nervous." But she recovered quickly and supplemented her usual invocation of music giants like John Coltrane and Sam Cooke to include Louis Armstrong, singing his name six times to the cheering local crowd.
Best Doubleheader Performance by Kids and Then for Kids
Before Friday morning's opening show, Davis Rogan corralled his 31 students from John Dilbert School, who delighted fans young and old with an inspired set of New Orleans classics and beyond ("Blue Monday," "Charlie Brown") with Rogan accompanying them on keyboard.
Then Rogan set up his own all-star band to perform his popular version of Peter and the Wolf. Imagine Prokofiev growing up in Treme.
Best Weather Moment
What seemed like the only large cloud to cover the sizzling sun through the entire Jazz Fest gratefully appeared as Buckwheat Zydeco revved up "Hard to Stop" at the often-steaming Sprint PCS Stage. Besides his great command on his cream-colored piano accordion, Buckwheat deserves kudos for using a full horn section, a rarity on the zydeco scene.
Best Weather Moment, Part Two
As Donald Harrison Jr. played "Mr. Cool Breeze" -- the song named for Lena Horne's nickname for Harrison -- a strong, refreshing cross-current of air magically blew through the Jazz Tent.
Best Elvis Citing
On the Music Heritage Stage, blues belter Carol Fran recounted how miffed she was after recording "Crying in the Chapel," only to have Elvis Presley record it shortly after and turn it into a hit. Seeing Presley in the crowd at a subsequent show not long after, she approached him and scolded him for stealing her song. "I told him, 'You took bread off my table,'" the 68-year-old recalled, to which Presley apologized and replied, "I didn't have anything to do with that. Don't be mad at me; that's how it goes." Fran then said Presley whipped out his checkbook, scribbled out a check and said, "Here's a check for lunch, now please don't be mad at me."
According to Fran: "I put the check in my purse, and didn't even think about it. Ten days later I was cleaning out my purse, which I rarely do, and I pull out the check and saw all these zeroes. It was for $10,000 -- for lunch!"
Best Surprise Guest Appearances
Bonnie Raitt with Oliver Mtukudzi (and vice-versa); Bob Weir with Monk Boudreaux & the Golden Eagles; George Thorogood with Elvin Bishop; Bonerama with Ingrid Lucia & the Flying Neutrinos; Nicholas Payton, Irvin Mayfield and Brian Stoltz with Bob Weir & Ratdog; Carol Fran with Marcia Ball; D.L. Menard with Jambalaya Cajun Band; Donald Harrison Jr. with Terence Blanchard; keyboardist Brian Coogan and guitarist Jesse Lewis with Quintology; Davell Crawford with New Zion Trio + One; Zachary Richard and Sonny Landreth with Jimmy Buffett.
Best Hank Williams Tribute
The Jambalaya Cajun Band honored its namesake's creator with an encore set featuring spirited versions of "Jambalaya" and "I Saw the Light," accompanied by former Williams pedal steel guitarist Don Helms.
Biggest Sound Gaffes
Where to begin? Sound bleed from the Acura Stage was a frequent annoyance, as Lenny Kravitz's arena rock trampled India.Arie's Congo Square set, and the Counting Crows disrupted the Ladysmith Black Mambazo a cappella set. At the Fais Do Do Stage, legendary guitarist (and featured artist) James Burton was barely audible for half his set, while his bandmate Kenny Bill Stinson's guitar was cranked to volume 11. (Nathan Williams' accordion didn't fare much better.) Sound in the Jazz Tent was so abysmal for the entire first weekend that a whole new sound system and different staff were installed for the second weekend.
Best Way to Silence a Chattering Crowd
Bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley's chilling a cappella version of "O Death."
Most Depressing Heritage Stage Interview Tidbit
Former New Orleans street singer Mike Younger said he'd finished recording his second album, which features backing by three legends: pianist/producer Jim Dickinson, Hammond B-3 wizard Spooner Oldham and drummer Levon Helm. But his record company, Beyond Records, refuses to release the album, which has now been on the shelf for more than a year.
Best Return to the Fold
After the 2001 departures of vocalist Susan Cowsill and drummer Russ Broussard, the Continental Drifters debuted a new incarnation of the band featuring former Drifter Ray Ganucheau. The talented vocalist and multi-instrumentalist wasted no time making his presence felt, singing beautiful versions of "The Mississippi" and "Daffodils." John Maloney (formerly of Thousand $ Car and Bluerunners) handled drumming duties.
Best Hemingway Moment
The old man passed the other old man on his way out of the Economy Hall Tent, with Tricia "Sista Teedy" grooving the crowd with her set of standards.
"Is it hot?" one old man asked of the shirtless other.
"Yes, it is very hot," he replied softly.
And the old man walked out into the afternoon sun. He was dreaming about the lions.
Best Patti Labelle Substitution
During Allen Toussaint's version of "Lady Marmalade" at the Acura Stage, the video beamed out guest vocalist Irene Sage singing "gitchee gitchee ya ya da da."
Best Pop Tune turned Blues Smoker
Kenny Neal's sister Jackie singing Erykah Badu's "Tyrone" at their set in the Blues Tent.
Biggest Split Decision
Reaction to the Blues Tent was decidedly mixed. The layout and design was a winner -- it was amazing on opening day to watch Louisiana guitar wizard Sonny Landreth shredding his bottleneck slide, with a backdrop of Michael P. Smith portraits of other Jazz Fest blues luminaries from Howlin' Wolf to Stevie Ray Vaughan. And the stage crew did a terrific job soundwise, giving esteemed local bluesmen like Jumpin' Johnny Sansone the treatment they've long deserved. However, the lack of ventilation was stifling -- and nothing was more aggravating than having hordes of chair-toting fans cover every available inch of free space, making dancing and even getting inside the tent at peak times a near impossibility.
Most Disappointing No-Shows
Papa Wembe reportedly had visa problems and couldn't get in the country, but New Orleans R&B legend Earl King had no such excuse and simply didn't show up for his scheduled set. King's longtime backing band, the Minneapolis-based Butanes, gamely handled the difficult situation and played despite King's absence.
Best Meters Admission
Before original Meters guitarist Leo Nocentelli played "Cissy Strut," he informed the crowd that he visits his mailbox weekly for royalty checks from the classic song.
Best One-Two Knockout Punch
R&B and soul belter Delbert McClinton capped off a blistering headline set in the blues tent to two roaring standing ovations, thanks to full-throttle versions of roadhouse anthems "Livin' it Down" and "Why Me?"
Most Inspiring Comeback
Singer Teddy Pendergrass appeared in a wheelchair, performing for the first time in 19 years after being paralyzed. He still had his amazing silky voice and charm, sending the women in the crowd into a swoon.
Best Crowd Participation
On one of the festival's hotter afternoons, 007 guitarist Alex McMurray pointed to his beer huggy (aka koozy) and said, "You know, for years I laughed at this," he said, "but it just makes sense." After finishing said beverage, he groveled to the crowd, "Hey, if I give someone three dollars, will they go get me another beer?" Before long, four cold Miller Lites appeared at the edge of the stage, one for each band member, and McMurray claimed his order.
Strangest Variation on "They All Ask'd for You"
Dash Rip Rock's song "Monkey," about dropping seven hits of acid and watching the primates at the zoo.
Best Example of Living Up to Your Nickname
Lloyd "Mr. Personality" Price's set was gregarious and high energy. He's in great shape, looks fantastic, and when he sang his classic "Just Because," it was 1955 all over again.
Most Cliched Covers in a Row
Reggie Hall and the Twilighters ended their headlining set at the Acura Stage with the numbing triumvirate of "Proud Mary," "Don't Mess With My Toot-Toot" and "Lean on Me."
Best Pan-Generational Performance
The Second Morning Star Mass Baptist Church Choir wasn't the largest Gospel Tent ensemble, but it showcased an impressive range of talent through the ages. Dashone Wright, 13, evoked memories of a young Michael Jackson with "Goin' Up Yonder"; Pat Rayfield, 52, had the crowd clapping and dancing to "Jesus is the Rock"; and 76-year-old Sarah Ricks proved that some voices only get better with time on "Blessed Quietness."
Best Moment of Reincarnation
"Do any of you remember Mahalia Jackson?" asked One-A-Chord director Betty Wynn, pointing to the large Michael P. Smith photograph of the late gospel great hanging in the Gospel Tent. "Well, we're going to bring her back." Margueret Smith then stepped up to sing "Just a Closer Walk With Thee," inspiring a standing ovation.
Most Compassionate Moment/Questionable Security Breach
The man in charge of searching the backpack of an Atlanta couple at the entrance didn't even unzip it. He felt the warmth, rubbed his hands over the bumps in the canvas and whispered one word: "Crawfish?" They nodded, and he let them carry it inside.
Best Imitation of Emily Litella
The late Gilda Radner's spirit loomed in a letter to the editor in The Times-Picayune that raged about a booth where beer vendors supposedly yelled "show your tits" to women as they approached the counter. What the enthusiastic group was really screaming was "show your tips." As the Saturday Night Live comic used to conclude at the end of her misdirected rampages, "Never mind."
Best Pas de Deux
Zimbabwe legend Oliver Mtukudzi's Congo Square show was a Jazz Fest highlight, and best of all was the set-closing dance-off between Mtukudzi and singer Picky Kasamba, which began as a ballet and ended as a mock duel.
Also at Congo Square, South Africa's vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo incorporated a full-on kick line, and their physical activity didn't diminish the perfection of their a cappella vocal magic.
Best Performance by a Kid in a Grown-up Tent
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band gave a typically rousing performance to close out the second weekend at Economy Hall, but the biggest ovation went to 7-year-old Sheena Powell, for her gospel-inflected rendition of "This Little Light of Mine." Sheena, daughter of drummer Shannon Powell, brought the crowd to its feet.
Oddest Leading Question
Leading off his interview with Bob Weir of Ratdog and the Grateful Dead, UNO historian Douglas Brinkley connected a couple of Weir's teenage summers near the Colorado forest with Weir's participation in a few Rainforest benefits, asking Weir, "How did you become so associated with trees?" Weir stared blankly at Brinkley and replied, "I'm not sure I understand the question."
Most Unappreciated Stage
Introducing the Joe Krown Organ Combo, the announcer at the Lagniappe Stage declared, "We don't have the biggest bands, just the best bands." And Krown's searing set, featuring tracks from his new CD Funkyard and a cover of Booker T. & the MG's "Time Is Tight," wasn't the only Lagniappe act to live up to that proclamation. Time and again, the tiny stage tucked in the Grandstand was witness to some electrifying moments, including All That's roaring sousaphonk assault, Uptown Okra and John Boutte's rousing sing-a-longs, and James Andrews leading the crowd in a chant of "Shorty! Shorty!" in appreciation of his younger brother, Troy Andrews.
Best Goosebumps for Deadheads
Even the most diehard Grateful Dead followers will be the first to admit that the band could sound horrible on any given night, but there was plenty to cheer about when former band members Bob Weir and Phil Lesh played back-to-back on the second Sunday. Bob Weir's band Ratdog turned in a fiery set that featured Nicholas Payton and Irvin Mayfield adding some bluesy brass to "New Minglewood Blues" and "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl"; Weir then joined Lesh for the second half of Lesh's set, for a mini-set of Dead favorites that peaked with a tight, epic reading of the band's classic "Help on the Way/Slipknot/Franklin's Tower" medley.
Best Chaka Khan Hit Performed in the Gospel Tent
The North Carolina-based gospel group Evangelist Bertha Jackson and the Annointed Jackson Sisters turned in a thunderous performance that included a re-tooled version of the Rufus/Chaka Khan classic "Tell Me Something Good." The Sisters also somehow rendered the Luther Ingram hit "If Loving You Is Wrong" from an ode to dysfunction into a soulful prayer.
Oddest Evocation of Britney Spears
Matt Savage, the 9-year-old jazz piano prodigy who leads the Matt Savage Trio, introduced one of his tunes in the Kids' Tent thusly: "Did Britney Spears write this song? No! Did I write this song? Yes!"
The Act that Should Have Been on a Bigger Stage -- Maybe
It's a tough call. Many frustrated fans tried to squeeze their way into the Gospel Tent to catch recent Grammy winners The Five Blind Boys of Alabama, but the crowd was too daunting. On a stage such as Congo Square, the Blind Boys could have been preaching to a much bigger church. But those who squeezed into the Tent agree that the traditional gospel setting brought out a particularly inspired performance from the group.
Coolest Addition to the Fest
The Fest has sported ahhhh-inspiring "mist tents" for years, but this year it added "people misters," big portable fans scattered around the Fair Grounds, spraying cooling mist onto hot and sweaty music lovers.
Best Old-school Stage Entrance
Following a revue of various singers and players, Deacon John, looking resplendent in a chocolate brown suit and white carnation, brought the occupants in the Blues Tent to their feet when he came strolling from the crowd, belting out his version of Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross" into his hand-held mic. More than a few in the audience recalled how, last summer, Deacon John performed the song for Ernie K-Doe's funeral.
The Angelic-voiced Singer Most in Need of a Piano Player
Aaron Neville's famed falsetto took wing in his solo performance in the Gospel Tent. But the taped music that backed him ranged from being unfortunate ("The Lord's Prayer") to downright embarrassing ("Bridge Over Troubled Waters"). There were probably 20 piano players within shouting distance of the tent whose accompaniment might have been as inspired as the singing.
Riskiest Booking That Paid Off
A string quartet in Economy Hall? In this case, the Speakeasy String Quartet's vintage jazz, arranged by violist David Laurence, was just the ticket. The quartet offered up versions of tunes by Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller that otherwise wouldn't have been played anywhere at the Fest, and their approach -- what one critic has called "live remastering" -- was electrifying. Who knows, maybe it's time for the Kronos Quartet to close out the Lagniappe Stage?
Best Filling of Big Shoes
Opening up the Fais Do Do Stage on the Fest's first Saturday, accordionist Poncho Chavis kicked his set with the same breakneck three-minute zydeco tunes that his father, the late Boozoo Chavis, once used to stir a crowd into a frenzy. "They're here in spirit," said Chavis, pointing to nearby photos of his father and brother Charles, who also passed on last year.
In the past, C.J. Chenier seemed almost reluctant to strut his stuff as the leader of the Red Hot Louisiana Band. That made sense, as he was more accustomed to be a sideman of his father, Clifton Chenier. Now he's a peacock at the edge of the stage, pumping his accordion on new tunes like "It's About Time" and the Clifton classic "I'm Comin' Home." C.J. keeps growing as a musician and vocalist, and this might have been his best Jazz Fest set yet.
Best Way To End the Fest
Cyril Neville launched into Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" as Jazz Fest drew to a close. Many of the Neville brothers' kin, including Omari, Jason, Aaron Jr. and Ivan, plus friends like trumpeters Irvin Mayfield and Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, joined in to fill the stage with New Orleans spirit.
Once Again, It Really Does All Become a Blur After Awhile
At 12:15 p.m., after dub-reggae rapper Myself did a heartfelt song for his musical ancestors that rapped about influential forefathers like Bob Marley and Louis Armstrong, he thanked the crowd for coming out "tonight."
- Scott Saltzman
- The Blind Boys of Alabama's Clarence Fountain rocked the Gospel Tent.
- Scott Saltzman
- Lloyd Price's set brimmed with personality.
- Tracie Morris/Young Studio
- Sam Butera's Jazz Fest homecoming was worth the wait.
- Scott Saltzman
- Deborah Coleman's guitar duel with Kenny Neal was a blues tent highlight.