"The Gods of Rock wouldn't let it rain on The Who," shouted a voice in the crowd fleeing an afternoon storm at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. And They didn't -- the sun broke through by late afternoon, and The Who had the chance to sing "Talkin' Bout My Generation" to their generation.
"Hope I die before I get old," a tie-dye wearing fan sang along at the far edge of the festival field. He looked like a sprightly 70, age being a state of mind. Roger Daltrey's origin story, "Pictures of Lily," about a pinup who "apparently fucked the king..." kicked off the Rockers Working Blue part of the day, but the kids building muddy castles along the edge of the racetrack took no notice, and the band shredded through enough greatest hits in fine form to satisfy any purist.
Across the track, John Legend had words of inspiration for anyone in middle management with rock star aspirations. "It's so good to be in New Orleans, Louisiana -- my dream was to be exactly where I am right now," he told a rapt crowd. "But my detour was as a management consultant. Powerpoint. Excel Spreadsheets, very sexy... " Thankfully, Legend made it out of the board room to sing about the bedroom in a steamy set closing out Congo Square.
Alt rocker Ryan Adams closed out the Gentilly Stage with a set including prop amps almost big enough to block out the sun. From his time recording in New Orleans, a tradition hailing to Wings and further back, he played "This House is Not For Sale."
Jazz powerhouse Cassandra Wilson sang "Pennies from Heaven" as an homage to the rainy afternoon, but her set focused on "'Coming Forth by Day," an album Wilson describes as "an homage dedicated to the beauty, power and genius of Billie Holiday." More specifically, she says the album is: "A collection of musical spells, prescriptions for navigating the dubious myths surrounding her life and times. This record is a vehicle for the re-emergence of Billie's songbook in the 21st Century."
The Lagniappe Stage was a choice spot to ride out the turbulent weather morning. Pedal Steel phenomenon Richard Comeaux and his River Rats brought a smooth version of "Layla" to its knees. And Little Maker brought its own rollicking version of "Tusk" to the stage to make up for Fleetwood Mac not playing it the last time they came to the festival. So now, "Tusk" has been played at Jazz Fest.
New Orleans guitar hero John Rankin explained part of what lures fest-goers year after year.
When you come back next year, it's going to be the same. Not the rest of the world, just New Orleans. We have the same Mardi Gras music on the radio that was on when I was a kid. That's weird.
With that, he and Washboard Chaz launched into a mambo with the lines: "Nothin' seems to change. If you don't understand, I can't explain." Whether it was because classic rockers would be holding court later that day, or just synchronicity, Rankin played "Something in the Way She Moves" with Phil DeGruy on his guitharp and Todd Duke rounding out the trio. And then the rain came pouring down.
Photos by Jeff Beninato