Weekend two at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival had everything: aboriginal bluesman Gurrumul; a second line funeral for 40-year Jazz Fest plumber John (JT the Flowmaster) Tamberella who was made one of The Ancestors; and Elton John headlining one of the most crowded festival days in the last decade.
When Aaron Neville sang "Stand by Me" on Saturday, most festgoers were standing by if not almost upon one another. Elton John, resplendent in a blue spangled suit proclaiming Captain Fantastic, filled the fairgrounds to overflowing. But something about the dust, heat, second weekend food daze and singalongs to Tiny Dancer helped a capacity crowd enjoy the show elbow to elbow. Festival organizers estimate 460,000 fans gathered over a total of 7 days for the 46th annual Jazz Fest.
The heat, the food, the fact that there are alligators fascinated blind singer-songwriter Gurrumul who on Friday sang spiritual songs about his native land in his native Aboriginal tongue. He told his collaborator and bass player Michael Hohnen that it "feels like home here." "Music and the environment is his life and this place embodies both," Hohnen explained. "We got off the plane and he said: 'Ahh, like home.'"
Jazz Fest was a homecoming for Dr. John who returned this year to close out the weekend with performances featured on his Louis Armstrong inspired album "Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch" with co-producer and trombonist Sarah Morrow conducting a brass section including Randy Brecker, James "12" Andrews, Wendell Brunious and many more. The Blind Boys of Alabama, The McCrary Sisters and New Orleans singing sensation Erica Falls kept the roster of guest stars rolling. For this set, I had a bird's eye view as I'm on Team Dr. John but have been a friend and fan for longer. It felt right to have him home.
Sunday's set wrapped with the band and every guest star joining Dr. John on "Lay My Burden Down" and after seven full days, stormy weather and clear, the burden was long gone.
Photos by Jeff Beninato