Tuesday, 24 May 2011 09:34
Every year, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival brings two weekends of great music to the Fairgrounds Racetrack in the Big Easy. We’ve decided to take a look at the iconic event through the eyes of our own John Davisson: a writer, photographer, and all around music lover.
Story and photos by John Davisson
I enjoy going because the festival is such a mix of musical styles, food and people. I can usually count on some rock, country, bluegrass, jazz, blues, soul, hip hop, brass and everything else out there.
The first weekend featured a variety of headliners on the main stages. Jeff Beck was the guitar virtuoso on the first weekend, wringing otherworldly sounds from his guitar, followed by Robert Plant & the Band of Joy with their modern take on roots music.
Bon Jovi had the field full of fans for his set of hits on Saturday evening, and John Mellencamp closed the festival on Sunday night.
Amos Lee represented the newer singer/songwriters, as well as Jason Mraz, who was power-pop-happy. Ricky Scaggs brought a band and played a good-time bluegrass set, and Justin Townes Earle played in a folky, bluegrassy trio.
With a gospel tent, jazz tent and blues tent, New Orleans styles were kept alive. Other treats this weekend included a set by the Decemberists and one by John Legend and the Roots. Brass bands, such as Louis Ford & His New Orleans Flairs and the Storyville Stompers Brass Band, also showed their presence.
The second weekend featured even more bands, with four days of music at the fairgrounds. Headliners included Cyndi Lauper (playing a bluesy set), Arcade Fire (including a cover of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” with Cyndi Lauper sitting in), Jimmy Buffett (a long-time fan of New Orleans music), Wilco, The Strokes, Kid Rock and a farewell show by the Radiators.
Also on the main stages, Lucinda Williams represented Americana music and Jamey Johnson brought some country sounds, but the sounds of New Orleans were still prevalent with sets by Buckwheat Zydeco and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue.
Mardi Gras Indians performed on some stages and marched through the Fairgrounds throughout the weekend. Gift shops featured crafts from diverse cultures, with Haitian, African and Indian knick-knacks.
The food at the festival is one of its defining features. I had some jambalaya, a plate of pork ribs with white beans and ham, and some red beans and rice with sausage. The strawberry lemonade was wonderful, too. In addition to traditional festival fare like hamburgers, dogs and fried chicken, there was plenty of Cajun food, gelato, candy, and pies and cakes. I also tried Crawfish for the first time.
New Orleans music is a legendary gumbo of styles and influences, and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is a reflection of that. After the festival was over, music shows and activities in the French Quarter continued. The party never stops in New Orleans.