2013 Jazz Fest Posters Wednesday, Jan 23 2013 

After all of these years, nothing in New Orleans should surprise me. Seeing Brad Pitt and former President Bill Clinton in the Lower Ninth Ward. Running into James Carville and Mary Matalin while waiting in line at the Acme Oyster House. Any time you spy Mardi Gras Indians, at night, on a darkened side street. Having an old pair of jeans, sneakers, and $70 stolen from my hotel room — OK, we’ll try to forget that, although it still strikes me kind of weird.

Jazz Fest 2013 poster

Jazz Fest 2013 poster

But today, here in frigid New Hampshire — we did eventually climb to eleven degrees, for ten minutes, not including the wind chill — I was still reminded of the wonders and magic of my adopted City. I got to work, cranked up my e-mail, and my blessed Spotify started up. It notified me of a new Aaron Neville cd. And even though he has once again left his brothers for solo efforts I had to listen. I mean, I still side with Charles, Cyril, and Art, they are HIS BROTHERS! But who can resist that voice, even if it’s coming out of a body better suited for a Saints’  linebacker? And it was great music to work by. Solid renderings of pop and r&b classics; warm and not over produced. It really hits a crescendo with his covers of “Tears on My Pillow” and “Under the Boardwalk,” but the rest was quite enjoyable, as well.

Congo Fest 2013 poster

Congo Fest 2013 poster

OK, back on track. I’ll blame it on the cold. SO! I went online at lunch to check some headlines and Facebook and I see a story about this year’s Jazz Fest and Congo Fest posters — and lo and behold, the angelic visage of one Aaron Neville graces the Jazz Fest poster. It is the work of veteran Jazz Fest artist James Michalopoulous. There are iron gates, snow white doves, with Neville’s powerful form front and center.

And that is not to detract from the Congo Fest poster of Buckwheat Zydeco. By artist R. Gregory Christie, it is as folksy as the Neville poster is ethereal. Like all New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival collectibles, both are available online from Art4Now.

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The Doctor is ON! Saturday, Apr 28 2012 

Dr. John

At approximately 2:30p.m. tomorrow afternoon, New Orleans native son, Dr. John and the Lowe 911 will take the Acura Stage at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. I say approximate, because time is not a fixed thing in New Orleans. Things happen when they are supposed to.

Some 71 years ago, Mac Rebbenack was born in New Orleans. He became a musician in some rough and tumble clubs during the 1950s. He played guitar before losing part of a finger in a bar fight. Between New Orleans and Los Angeles, he emerged a respected session musician. However, in the late 1960s and early 1970s he took on the persona of Dr. John, the 19th century voodoo priest. And as Dr. John, he will forever be tied to the music and culture of his native New Orleans.

I became acquainted with his music when I was in high school in the early 1970s. I loved his hits such as “Right Place, Wrong Time” and “Such a Night” (probably in my top five songs) without truly understanding the genre bending nature of Dr. John’s music. And, when you are tied to top 40 radio, you completely miss out on such albums as “Gris Gris” and “Desitively Bonnaroo.” In essence, I liked him for many years without really appreciating his essence, his true meaning.

Dr. John at the Uptown Mardi Gras Indians Parade, March 2009.

Since I have hopelessly embraced New Orleans, its music and its culture, that has understandably changed. In the process, I have collected all of Dr. John’s  music and have an enhanced appreciation for his music and its impact. I’ve even had the chance to bump into him him on the streets of New Orleans over the past few years. And while I generally have kept my distance, it has helped me place him as part of the Crescent City’s cultural fabric.

And while you might thing that a musician  in his eighth decade might have passed his prime, I am here, along with his current work, to argue otherwise.  When he takes the stage at Jazz Fest, Dr. John has five decades of music to draw from, but I believe that his most recent work is among his most vital and here is why.

I think “Locked Down” is the most important recording that Dr. John has made since the early 1970s. Yes, he has won awards and Grammies for music since then, but this is special. I don’t know if it is the collaboration between him and the Black Keys’ guitarist Dan Auerbach, whom Dr. John met last year at the Bonnaroo Festival, but it works and it works well.  On their collaboration “Locked Down,” he hits the electric piano more so than before. It is more personal, more self-centered. And many of the cuts have a Stax vibe that enters your gut never to the leave. Particular tracks to look for: “Locked Down,” “Revolutions,” and “My Children, My Angels.” But it is all great.

I wish I could be there tomorrow, but I am confident that Dr. John will solidify his position as one of the City’s central musical figures. And in a local career that dates back to a sideman with Professor Longhair in the 1950s up through his recent innovative efforts, who could argue?

Bruce Returns to Jazz Fest Wednesday, Apr 25 2012 

“From Chicago to New Orleans
From the muscle to the bone
From the shotgun shack to the Superdome
We yelled “help” but the cavalry stayed home
There ain’t no-one hearing the bugle blown
We take care of our own…”

–Bruce Springsteen, “We Take Care of Our Own” (2012)–

 

As Vice President Joe Biden might say, the upcoming New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival “is a big f**king deal.” Although I know from talking to friends and musicians in the Crescent City, the two big weekends of music are met with mixed emotions. It has become less about New Orleans’ indigenous music and more prone to corporate sponsorship. And while locals snap up brass passes and brave the heat and/or spring rains to be there, many consider April’s French Quarter Fest to be the real celebration of local music and the City’s musicians. But no one would have complained of such excess in the spring of 2006.

Lakeview, New Orleans, LA, March 2006.

April/May 2006. A few months after Katrina. Mardi Gras limped on, but early on many assumed Jazz Fest would not take place. Yet it did; it was a success. And things have grown to the point where few think back to those painful and uncertain times. Forget Mardi Gras. Forget Jazz Fest. Many were still wondering whether New Orleans itself would make it.

But the musicians came: Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Dave Matthews, Jimmy Buffett, Paul Simon, Lionel Ritchie and scores of local musicians. They all came back to the fairgrounds. Even Fats Domino, the reclusive native son, whom many feared had perished in his home in the Lower Ninth, made an appearance. And then there was Bruce.

Although just six years ago, it seems like a distant memory, but music critic Keith Spera recalls the appearance in a brilliant column in the Times-PicayuneIt was a time of uncertainty, but it seemed made for America’s troubadour for the dispossessed and down-trodden. And the stars seemed aligned because he was touring with his Seeger Sessions Band. Again, a nod to protest in a time of want and social upheaval.

Bruce and the eclectic band of roots/folk/jazz musicians played old tunes that seemed eerily current. They recounted times of war, times of trial, but most spoke of overcoming adversity or, at least, laughing in its face. And Spera recalled:

Springsteen performs at Jazz Fest, May 2006. Dave Grunfeld of the Times-Picayune.

In his most overtly political statement, Springsteen recalled his visit the previous afternoon to the 9th Ward. “I saw some sights I never thought I’d see in an American city, ” he said. “The criminal ineptitude makes you furious.” In response, he adapted Blind Alfred Reed’s “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live” with new lyrics dedicated to “President Bystander”: “My old school pals had some high times there/What happened to you folks is too bad, ” he sang, mocking President Bush’s comments in the early days after Hurricane Katrina.

The set’s watershed moment, literally, was “My City of Ruins.” Originally written for his adopted hometown of Asbury Park, N.J., on Sunday he dedicated it to New Orleans. To a hushed audience, Springsteen closed his eyes and began: “There’s a blood red circle on the cold dark ground, and the rain is falling down/The church door’s blown open, I can hear the organ’s sound, but the congregation’s gone . . . the boarded-up windows, the hustlers and the thieves, while my brother’s down on his knees . . . now tell me how do I began again? My city of ruins. . .” And then the refrain: “Come on, rise up! Rise up!” Thousands lifted their hands to the sky. I wept, my wife wept. And we were not alone.

Bill and Stephen Ross, Madison Square Garden, April 2012.

Bruce returns to Jazz Fest once again this weekend, this time with his E Street Band (albeit without Clarence Clemons). I saw them a few weeks ago in New York and they were magnificent. Probably the best concert I have ever experienced.  They will be returning to the same venue in a City still beset by problems, but it is a long way from those uncertain days of 2006. There will be biting songs from his new and very political album, “Wrecking Ball,” as well as some old favorites. It may even include some of those old protest songs from the concert six years ago. It will be a great three hours of music and Jazz Fest will undoubtedly be well-sponsored and a success.

But I don’t think that it could ever have the impact of that performance in the wake of the flood.