Musicians and music lovers around the world rejoice: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival starts in just a few days. While the Fairgrounds are always a blast for seeing top tier acts as well as unknown locals that are just as talented, for a lot of people the late night gigs are where the real magic happens. So with that in mind, we’ve put together a list of LIVE’s top recommendations for those of you making the trek. Whether this is your first or twentieth time headed down to the Crescent City for the fest, you’re always guaranteed to hear something entirely new and witness one-off collaborations that will leave your jaw on the floor. Here are our day by day late-night recommendations that should deliver in spades.
Friday 4/24: The Greyboy Allstars @ Tipitina’s
What better way to start off this 10 day bacchanal than making the mandatory pilgrimage Uptown to the legendary Tipitina’s? JazzFest heavyweights Karl Denson, Robert Walter and crew will be getting the crowd moving early and often with their west coast boogaloo. In an interesting move, the band will be covering Jimi Hendrix’s beloved album Axis: Bold As Love, which will be sure to give guitarist Elgin Park quite the workout. And if that weren’t enough, Austin’s 9-piece funk outfit Grupo Fantasma will open the show, so be sure to get there early! [TICKETS]
Saturday, 4/25: The Metermen w/ Page McConnell and Warren Haynes @ The Joy Theater
It goes without saying that The Meters are on the short list of New Orleans royalty, so three parts The Meters + one part Phish = one helluva Saturday night, pure and simple. One of the deadliest rhythm sections of all time in George Porter Jr and Zigaboo Modeliste would be worth the price of admission alone, but the quartet has upgraded to The Joy Theater and added guitar titan Warren Haynes into the mix for the second of two nights. Here’s hoping for at least 3 extended Nocentelli-Haynes shredoffs and some deep Meters cuts after the obligatory “Cissy Strut”. [TICKETS]
Sunday 4/26: The Word @ The Joy Theater
2015 is shaping up to be the year of The Word as this supergroup is back in a big way. After only playing intermittent shows every couple of years due to their busy schedules with their main gigs (Medeski Martin & Wood, Robert Randolph & the Family Band, and the North Mississippi Allstars, respectively), this sacred steel outfit is riding high and finally releasing a follow up to their 2001 debut album. That being said, an opportunity to see these 5 rock out together is still an all-too rare appearance, so be sure to catch this show or their set at The Fairgrounds on April 30th. The band will likely preview almost all of the new record, entitled Soul Food, which drops on May 5th, just after the Jazzfest hangover starts to really take hold. [TICKETS]
This is one heavyweight trio that might even be greater than the sum of its considerable parts: drummer Adam Deitch, keyboard wizard John Medeski, and saxophonics maestro Skerik. They unleashed their futuristic debut album The Purge upon the public in February after much studio tinkering and quickly embarked on a short winter tour that featured regular improvisational excursions into the dark unknown. To put it mildly, this isn’t your Uncle Bobby’s jamband — these cats play in the sandbox of sinister brooding tones, immediately jumping off the deep end and reveling in the ambient textural abyss to create music unlike anything you’ve heard before. This is truly one of those shows where pretty much anything could happen, and is not intended for the faint of heart.[TICKETS]
Tuesday 4/28: The Fantastic Four and The Polyrhythmics @ Blue Nile
This is probably the quietest night of Jazzfest and yet there are still plenty of top notch options for those who laugh at the idea of a night off. Dr. Lonnie Smith is at Snug Harbor, members of Snark Puppy and Lettuce are doing a night of Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder tunes at Howlin’ Wolf, and the Dickinson brothers are teaming up with the Johns (Medeski and Vidacovich) at The Maple Leaf. However it’s the killer double bill at the Blue Nile which ultimately won us over: The Fantastic Four and The Polyrhythmics will be packing the house. [TICKETS]
Wednesday 4/29: The Creators Ensemble @ Blue Nile
After the dueling daytime festivals of the Oak St Block Party and Chazz Fest, the place to be is the Blue Nile for a one off collaboration dubbed The Creators Ensemble. This is part of the Backbeat Jazzfest series, which has billed the evening as “a celestial exploration celebrating the music of Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, Nina Simone, Gary Bartz, Yusef Lateef, Archie Shepp, John Coltrane, Jim Pepper and Alice Coltrane”. So yeah, we’re sold. I’m not even going to mention the personnel involved — just do yourself a favor and click the link below.[TICKETS]
Thursday 4/30: Worship My Organ @ One Eyed Jacks
If you can’t procure tickets to the sold out Down on the Bayou benefit at Republic (with the insane lineup of Dr. John, Widespread Panic, Papa Mali, The New Orleans Suspects, Col. Bruce, Ivan Neville and many MANY more) you’d be hard pressed to do better than hit up Worship My Organ, which features Skerik alongside the double pronged keyboard attack of Marco Benevento and Robert Walter. This configuration has become so popular that this is actually the second of two editions that the Boom Boom Room is putting on this year, but in a mouthwatering twist, Sir Joe Russo himself will be behind the drum kit for the encore performance instead of Adam Deitch. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Russo in any non Grateful Dead related improv setting, so watching him pummel the skins with reckless abandon will be a serious treat for sure. [TICKETS]
Friday 5/1: FiyaFest @ Mardi Gras World
In addition to putting on a couple of late-night riverboat superjams each year which are also worth checking out, the fine folks over at FiyaWerx Productions will continue their amazing FiyaFest tradition. Sadly, it looks like the crawfish boil is no longer included in the price of admission this year, but with a lineup like this it’s really hard to argue (and reason enough to make an exception and include a daytime show on this list). The main stage boasts names like Lee Fields, Karl Denson, Stanton Moore, Big Sam, Ivan Neville, Nikki Glaspie, Doug Wimbish, Oteil Burbridge, Johnny Vidacovich, and George Porter Jr, and believe it or not, that’s barely scratching the surface. As always, it’s for two good causes: The Roots of Music and the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic! [TICKETS]
Saturday 5/2: Nevilles Forever @ The Saenger Theater
Here’s one show definitely worth the constant checking of Ticketmaster for a rerelease: the celebration of New Orleans’ first family, the Nevilles, at the historic Saenger. The list of musicians lining up to pay tribute to these legends is quite impressive and with good reason. Widespread Panic, Galactic, Anders Osborne, Irma Thomas, Trombone Shorty and the incomparable Allen Toussaint will all be making appearances during what is being billed as a farewell celebration of the Neville Brothers’ music and their indelible stamp on the funk landscape and the city of New Orleans. I’m sure there will be plenty of surprise special guests and a few tearful goodbyes in store throughout this star-studded evening. [TICKETS]
Sunday 5/3: Stanton Moore Trio & Frequinox @ d.b.a.
The final day of Jazzfest is always a bittersweet affair, but lately there’s been a solid Jazzfest tradition to make the end a bit of an easier pill to swallow. One of my favorite spots on Frenchman Street, d.b.a, has been playing host to the Stanton Moore Trio and Frequinox as back-to-back headliners on the last Sunday night of the Fest. You’d be hard pressed to come up with a more cohesive trio than Moore, Robert Walter and Will Bernard — their sets never disappoint. Add saxophonist Donald Harrison and bassist Rob Mercurio to the mix and you’ve got the quintet known as Frequinox. The party has to come to an end sooner or later, but Frequinox (along with d.b.a.’s top-notch whiskey selection) will be sure to close it out in swingin’ style. [TICKETS]
See you in NOLA and remember it’s a marathon not a race…Unless you’re chasing John Medeski around town.