Food, drinks, and nonstop dancing. Here’s the best of what I saw last weekend for Round 1 of Jazz Fest 2013.
NOLA’s own John Michael Rouchell opened the Acura Stage around noon on Saturday with a high energy set that certainly deserved to be on the big stage. Playing with a new band, John Michael showcased songs off his new EP that ranged from power pop to funk rock and kept kept the bodies moving out in the audience. The four-piece band was extremely tight and showed no indication of only playing together a few times. With great songs, a smooth voice, and a groove-oriented sound to tie it all together, John Michael continues to show why he is one of the best singer-songwriters in town.
Lost Bayou Ramblers @ Jazz Fest
The Lost Bayou Ramblers play a fusion of Cajun, rock, and punk that fit comfortably amongst the eclectic sounds of Jazz Fest. The unusual mix of electric guitar, accordion, pedal steel, and drums blended together well and in no time everyone was clapping and dancing along with the band. A label like “Cajun punk” could seem like a terrible idea on paper, but these guys pull it off remarkably well and appeal to people who may have never heard Cajun or punk in their lives. The Louisiana natives are hitting the road after this weekend, giving more people the chance to hear this truly unique band.
Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires @ Jazz Fest
64 year old Charles Bradley has had some hard times. After years of performing as a James Brown impersonator, the Jacksonville native spent time without a home and worked odd jobs for about twenty years. He finally got his first record deal at the ripe age of 62 and has been burning down stages across the country for the past couple years.
While Billy Joel packed the field in front of the Acura Stage and churned out a seemingly endless supply of modern pop hits (and yes, he’s still got it), a much smaller crowd gathered in the cool of the Blues Tent. After an instrumental opening that teased “Summer in the City,” the dapper Bradley appeared onstage in a red suit and proceeded to howl, dance, and leap his way through a knockout set. Bradley has the raw energy of Otis Redding, the moves of James Brown, and the songs you come to expect from the Daptone Record label, plus a backing band that truly lives up their name. Halfway through the set, Bradley disappeared backstage and got the crowd worried he was ending the short early. Any fears were quickly alleviated as soon as he returned in a different suit and proceeded to dance with his mic stand and even bust out a perfect split onstage. Young soul singers take note: this is how you put on a show.
Marco Benevento Band @ Maple Leaf Bar
Hands down the best set of the day was the “Funk N Stay Up” superjam/dance party at The Maple Leaf that ended just before the sun came up. Marco Benevento, a pianist who frequents the jam band circuit, is playing all over town this week (15 shows to be exact) and his virtuosic playing is not to be missed. For this jam, he was accompanied by Dave Dreiwitz, touring bassist for jam/indie oddballs Ween, and Andy Borger, who has played drums for everyone from Norah Jones to Tom Waits. This motley crew brought a wildly eclectic sound to The Leaf, led by Benevento’s hypnotic and intriguing piano.
Benevento played a lot of his own instrumental rock, along with a healthy dose of covers such as an early set “Bennie and The Jets” that included an a cappella chorus sung entirely by the energized crowd. Other covers were more subtle, such as instrumental versions of LCD Soundsystem’s “Someone Great,” The Beatles “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” and Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” The band unsuccessfully attempted to leave the stage no less than three times, only to be encouraged to keep playing from the tireless crowd. After a delightfully weirded-out cover of “Such a Night,” the trio kicked out one more jam before convincingly saying, “All right that’s it! No more!” Benevento needed some much deserved sleep before another day of incredible, memorable jams.
Soul Rebels @ Le Bon Temps Roule
The Soul Rebels are no strangers to Le Bon Temps, and their Thursday night dance parties are widely recognized as a guaranteed great time. This special Sunday edition featured all the ear-deafening brass, hip hop influenced grooves, and intimacy that you only get in a dingy back room of one of NOLA’s best watering holes. The band launched into the signature horn intro of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up,” which quickly morphed into Kanye West’s “Touch the Sky,” complete with some quality rapping. These guys sure know how to work a crowd.
A few hours after helping Dave Matthews push through a defiant, rain-soaked set to close out Day 3 of Jazz Fest, sax man Jeff Coffin led a late night super jam at the Maple Leaf. Coffin was joined by legendary drummer Johnny Vidacovich, who added some jazzy textures, and bassist Felix Pastorius whose endless supply of quality riffs almost upstaged the better known musicians on stage. In typical Jazz Fest fashion, the one and only Futureman (Bela Fleck and the Flecktones) sat in for the duration of the set on an electric djembe that added some unexpected rhythm and melody to the songs.
Los Poboycitos @ Louisiana Music Factory
Louisiana Music Factory, the premier record store for New Orleans music, hosts free in store performances from some of the best local bands every day during Jazz Fest. Los Poboycitos brought in a sizable crowd from the stormy afternoon with their tight, upbeat Latin-infused funk that affirmed their status as one of the most unique and undeniably fun bands in town. The band was clearly having a blast, encouraging the crowd to clap and dance along as they busted out surfer dance moves and traded scorching hot solos.
Looking ahead to next weekend, here are my picks for Round 2:
Lee Fields and the Expressions @ One Eyed Jacks (Saturday, 8:00 PM)
Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears @ One Eyed Jacks (Friday, 2:00 AM and Saturday 2:00 AM)
There’s a reason this Austin-based “garage-soul” band are playing One Eyed Jacks two nights in a row: they bring the house down every time they play. Last time I saw these guys was in a basement in Boston two years ago and they absolutely killed it.
Marco Benevento, Mike Dillon, Stanton Moore and Johnny Vidacovich (Saturday/Sunday, 3:00 AM)
Papa Grows Funk (Monday)
This is it, the band’s final show before they break up. No doubt the members will continue to play around town, but this is the end of one of the most reliably funky bands around. The end of Jazz Fest and one of NOLA’s greatest bands, this will surely be a memorable (and tearful) show.
*All AM times are posted with the date of the previous day (Ex: A 2:00 AM show on Saturday night is technically Sunday, but posted with Saturday’s date)