By Ty Simmons
Jazzfest is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year, and it’s set to be a phenomenon. With rich culture and food, an illustrious history, and an outstanding musical lineup, it has no shortage of spectacle or novelty.
The festival has two weekends, the first from April 25 to 27, and the second from May 1 to 4. Musical acts are spread pretty evenly across both weekends, and tickets are sold on a single-day basis ($55 in advance and $70 at the gate), so it’s best to take care in choosing when you go.
Friday, April 25, the first day of the fest, is admittedly pretty slow. But that doesn’t mean that it’s lacking in substance. Jazzfest has packed its twelve stages with countless obscure and local jazz, gospel, and blues acts that go beyond the posted lineup. On Friday, it’s best to just wander around the grounds making musical discoveries of your own. Until night time, that is.
April 25-27 & May 1-4, 2014
New Orleans Fair Grounds
11:00am – 7:00pm
New Orleans Fair Grounds
11:00am – 7:00pm
Starting at 5:10 p.m. with Santana, headliners begin to simultaneously close out the day. Santana plays the Acura Stage, The Avett Brothers play the Samsung Galaxy Stage, Public Enemy plays the Congo Square Stage, and Gregory Porter plays in the Zatarain’s/WWOZ Jazz Tent.
Saturday, April 26, is all about one headliner: Phish. The legendary and extremely talented long-touring jam band has been gifted the longest set of the festival, beginning at 4 p.m. and ending at 7. However, to avoid having to swim through the ocean of phish heads and their cannabis-scented clothing, you’ll have to arrive at the Acura Stage a little early, at least to watch local singer-songwriter Anders Osborne.
If Phish isn’t in your sights, Saturday can still be wonderful. The early morning sees the Shotgun Jazz Band playing from in the People’s Health Economy Tent. Jon Cleary brings his funk-based R&B to the Blues Tent later in the afternoon, and Los Hombres Calientes play the Jazz & Heritage Stage. Grammy-winning bluesist Keb’ Mo’ plays around the same time on the Sheraton New Orleans Fais Do-Do Stage.
Closing out the evening is a toss-up between Robert Plant, former lead singer of Led Zeppelin, and former guitarist of Steve Miller Band, Boz Scaggs. Plant plays with his Sensational Space Shifters on the Samsung Galaxy Stage, and Boz plays the same timeslot in the Blues Tent.
Sunday, April 27 is another wanderer of the day. North Mississippi Allstars play the Acura Stage early in the day, and Bonerama and The Rebirth Brass Band play simultaneously later. Bonerama is followed by Galactic on the Samsung Galaxy Stage, and Rebirth plays the Congo Square Stage.
As the evening approaches, Jazzfest brings another conflicting series of simultaneous headliners. Eric Clapton plays the Acura Stage, Vampire Weekend plays the Samsung Galaxy Stage, and Rodriguez (of “Sugar Man” fame) plays the Blues Tent.
Thursday, May 1, heralds the beginning of Weekend Two. It begins with Flow Tribe playing on the Acura Stage, and ends with String Cheese Incident on the same stage. The rest of the day is peppered with acts like Soul Rebels, Greensky Bluegrass, and The Wailers.
Friday, May 2, is easily the festival’s weakest day. It might be worth wandering around during the day to discover new acts, but things don’t get interesting until late, with Alabama Shakes playing the Samsung Galaxy Stage and a short performance by legendary New Orleans record-spinner and radio personality DJ Soul Sister leading into a headlining appearance by multi-genre legend Chaka Khan on the Congo Square Stage.
Saturday, May 3, has The Revivalists playing on the Samsung Galaxy Stage, followed by Better than Ezra. It’d be best to leave Ezra’s set early though, as Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band begin their headlining performance about halfway through. Foster the People begins at 5:30 p.m. if that’s more your speed.
Sunday, May 4, sees Arcade Fire playing the Acura Stage midday, following a set by Dumpstaphunk. Aaron Neville plays in the Blues Tent, and latin jazz musical master Chick Corea plays with his new band the Vigil on the Zatarain’s/WWOZ Jazz Stage. Soul legend Bobby Womack celebrates his return to form on the Congo Square Stage.
The festival is closed out by New Orleans native Trombone Shorty & the Orleans Avenue on the Acura Stage and John Fogerty, former front man of Creedence Clearwater Revival on the Samsung Galaxy Stage.
Check next week’s edition for a more in-depth view of the festival, including tips on transportation, food, and what to do once the gates close at 7 p.m.