The Travelin' McCourys perform at Jazz Fest.
Early morning dark clouds failed to keep crowds from heading to Jazz Fest at the Fair Grounds Race Course Friday, and attendees were rewarded with a breezy afternoon and stellar performances across stages and genres.
The Soul Brass Band got the party started at the Lagniappe Stage when bandleader/drummer/vocalist Derrick Freeman asked the crowd,“Who has love for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band?” When that drew a lukewarm response, he admonished them, “I said, ‘Who has love the Dirty Dozen Brass Band?' Y'all better act right!” The tightly woven funky ensemble then launched into the classic “Pet the Kat” from the Dirty Dozen's 1999 album, Buck Jump
With artist Johnny Bukaty painting vibrant swirls on a canvas behind him, Freeman stood at his stripped-down, stand-up drum kit and delivered an absurd but expertly executed vocal skat for Lenny Kravitz's ballad, “It Ain't Over til It's Over.” Guitarist Danny Abel then took the lead, laying down chicken-scratch guitar licks to introduce a romping cover of The Meters' “People Say.” Trombonist Michael Watson’s daughter was strapped in snug to his back for the best viewing spot.
R&B-throwback star Leon Bridges — resplendent in white-linen and black-shades — said, “I was wrong” about New Orleans, wondering if the crowd “Got the Juice” by way of introducing his club party anthem. He moved the audience into party mode with this prancing and smooth-yet-raw vocal delivery, which draws as much from doo-wop as hip-hop. Media darling du jour (thanks in large party to exposure via HBO’s series, Big Little Lies
), Bridges soon showed why he equals the hype with a rollicking take on Ginuwine's freak-nasty sensation “Pony” before winning hearts and minds with his perfectly placed, home-state shout out in “Mississippi Kisses.”
At the Congo Square Stage, the transcendent Mokoomba of Zimbabwe served up a soul-stirring performance marked by raised-palm chants set to intricate string music and pulsating percussion , including a masterful pounding on wood-block xylophone.
Proving that the best of bluegrass finger-pickers play with heavy-metal velocity, The Travelin' McCoury’s — the son and assembled offspring of genre titan Del McCoury — set guitars and fiddles ablaze in covering the Grateful Dead's “Cumberland Blues” at the Fais Do-Do Stage.
Paul Sanchez's sprawling Rolling Road Show delivered an inspired performance. It started with news that diminutive New York vocalist Kimberley Kay had come straight from a hospital bed. She meekly took to the mic but then unleashed a torrent of powerhouse, deep-blues vocal wails. Sanchez sent Threadhead Records head honcho Chris Joseph healing vibes and said he plans to a return and play next year. Sanchez, then introduced 18-year-old talent Jenny Guidry who offered a slice of Americana brilliance.
Phish frontman Trey Anastasio returned to the Fair Grounds for the Fest debut of his long-running side-project Trey Anastasio Band. A festive Phish tune “Cayman Review” kicked off the high-energy, up-tempo set. Latin-tinged horns and piano from the big band paved the way into two more Phish classics, Sena” and the old-school “Magilla,” with distorted wah-wah swells masterfully applied by Anasastio. A crowd-pleasing cover of Toots and the Maytals' “Sweet Dandy” was highlighted by Natalie Cressman’s trombone before trumpeter/vocalist Jennifer Hartswick swapped vocals with Anastasio for a deft take on the Gorillaz's “Clint Eastwood” and the tune’s silky-smooth “sunshine in a bag.”
Hartswick then dug deeper and pitched lower for a raucous vocal take of Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused.” The band then shuffled in a mini-encore of sorts for the joyous, good-vibes track “Push On til the Day,” but it ended at 6:43 p.m. — 17 minutes before the scheduled 7 p.m. stop. Remember Phish’s self-absorbed 20-minute set break during a performance at the Acura Stage two years ago?
If nothing else, the window allowed me a brief glimpse into the rump-shaking dominance that is the mash-up of NAS and the Soul Rebels.
In other Fest notes, there are now tall-boys of non-Miller beers at beer tents, including cans of Georgia-brewed Terrapin. Cheers to that.