By William McCray Sutherlin
Walking into the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is like nothing else. Upon entering, you are engulfed in a sea of humans; all congregating for one of the world’s most culturally rich festivals.
Jazzfest’s lineup is as unique as it is diverse, featuring acts from all over the world yet still maintaining approximately 80 percent local talent.
Where else you can see a Brazilian psychedelic dub group at noon, and then Public Enemy on the same stage around 5 p.m.?
On Day 1, Santana took the spotlight. As expected, he brought his famous blues guitar riffs and intertwined them with timbales, congas, and everything in between. The stage was alive.
Fast forward to approximately 2 p.m. on Saturday April 26; Day 2 is in full swing. New Orleans’ own Anders Osborne, along with the blistering sun, melted the hearts of all in attendance with his passionately honest, soulful Rock’n’Roll.
Upon Osborne’s set closing, the masses pushed forward to the Acura stage to see one of today’s premier and sought after jam acts, Phish.
The group took the stage for three hours, performing the longest set in Jazz Fest history.
Right next door, thousands of Led Zeppelin fans were in heaven. Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters provided a smooth and subtle performance, playing some originals and some Zeppelin tunes as well.
Jump ahead to Sunday around 2 p.m.; Bonerama takes the Samsung Galaxy Stage followed by Galactic at 3:30. The New Orleans based groups supplied vivacious, brass-infused jams song after song, staying true to their beloved hometown.
If you could manage to escape from the infectious groove provided by Galactic, then you may have witnessed the Preservation Hall Jazz Band celebrating more than 50 years of performing.
Sunday evening around 5 p.m. was the most crowded I have ever seen the fairgrounds for Jazz Fest. Isles were packed to the brim, with attendees gathering outside the fences to witness the great Eric Clapton. The guitar legend did not disappoint; playing everything from Layla to Cocaine for the massive and diverse audience.
Thursday and Friday of the second weekend showcased a wide range of artistic talent, from pop star Christina Aguilera, to New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen.
Sunday, the final day of this joyous festival, was host to a plethora of amazing talents including Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk w/ Art Neville, the Prince of Soul aka Bobby Womack, The Terrence Blanchard Group, Maze, John Fogerty, and many more.
Surely not to be forgotten, Arcade Fire absolutely captivated the masses on Sunday evening. Making your way through the crowd it was evident that this eclectic, unique group has fans of all ages. When Jazzfest decided that it was time for them to leave the stage that is exactly what they did, dancing straight into the crowd with a brass band along their side. Win Butler showed his deep appreciation for New Orleans culture by saying, “It’s an honor to be here. There’s so much talent here, there’s more talent in that Gospel tent than on this entire stage!”
For the second time in nearly two decades, The Neville Brothers did not close out Jazzfest. Thankfully, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue were booked to fill the gap and did not disappoint. This was an appropriate, and respectable move by the Jazzfest committee, keeping that closing slot close to home.