Apr 28 2019

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Saturday, April 27, 2019

By: Gustavo Escanelle

No matter how old you are, there's no shame in taking shelter in the AARP tent. The group (which, at age 50, Jazz Fest itself is now old enough to join) offers gently blowing fans and even a mimosa bar, all centrally located at the Fairgrounds.

But it would have been a mistake to spend too much time basking in the generosity of my elders. Starting with Louisiana native Maggie Koerner's blues-inflected rock and a mesmerizing performance by the Semolian Warriors Mardi Gras Indians, whose elaborate costumes must be as sweltering as they are beautiful, the real joy of Jazz Fest was unsurprisingly on its 13 stages.

Local band Sweet Crude, whose nameplate paired well with the logo of fest sponsor Shell, followed with their high energy tunes in a mix of English and French. Across the way, R&B singer Justin Garner moved the crowd to dance beneath the sun.

Taking advantage of the surprisingly great acoustics of the Blues Tent, a group of pianists played tribute to New Orleans masters of the instrument, including Allen Toussaint, Professor Longhair, and Jelly Roll Morton. One audience member was so stirred by the music that he rhythmically slapped other men with his floppy hat, yelling at them to get out of his line of sight to the stage.

1990s rockers and LSU alums Better Than Ezra took the Acura Stage for an energetic set sprinkled with New Orleans references (including a brass section and a guest appearance on keyboard by John "Papa" Gros, fresh from playing a Blues Tent tribute to Dr. John) and even a brief cover of Lil Nas X's country-rap hit "Old Town Road." Meanwhile, planes alternated overhead trailing ads for wine and a mobile hangover treatment van, the latter perhaps useful for those who overindulged on the assortment of wine, beer, daiquiris, and generously veggie-garnished Bloody Mary's on sale throughout the festival.

Speaking of hangover cures, yaka mein - the local Asian-influenced dish prized for its healing doses of water and electrolytes - was on hand to restore those dehydrated by the sun or by their own questionable decisions. Huge loaves of cheesy crawfish bread were also a delicious way to get a sampling of local cuisine.

Following Better Than Ezra's performance on the Congo Square stage, local rapper (and the new owner of the former City Park Bud's Broiler location) Curren$y roused the audience with a passionate set backed by drums and a horn section.

His set gave way to a dueling pair of brass-heavy bands on two stages: the Rebirth Brass Band on one and the Preservation Hall Brass Band - who have been playing Jazz Fest since its start in 1970 - on another.

R&B great Leon Bridges played to a packed audience at the close of the day, even despite being scheduled opposite pop star Katy Perry and rapper Logic. The AARP tent, on the other hand, remained blissfully uncrowded throughout the day. -Steven Melendez

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