By Jenny Peters and Andy J. Gordon
While the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is strictly a daytime affair – each day’s concerts on twelve stages run from about 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. – the action around town at night in the Big Easy is booming. All the clubs in the city have multiple bands booked every night and many of the thousands of music-loving tourists that flock to town for Jazz Fest attend the nighttime shows. It is impossible to hit all the great gigs happening around town, but we did our best to take advantage of the bounty available at night during the first weekend of Jazz Fest 2017.
The festivities kicked off with a posh party at W Hotel New Orleans – French Quarter on Thursday, April 27, 2017, that combined music, fashion and a fantastic setting. The hotel, located on Chartres Street in the heart of the Quarter, boasts a gorgeous interior courtyard, a perfect spot for a private concert and a pop-up shop. While singer Kristin Diable entertained the well-heeled crowd, Yestadt Millinery, the NYC-based hat shop created by Molly Yestadt, showed off her creative hat designs for women and men (and offered them for sale, too). Most of her hats are perfect for a Jazz Fest afternoon!
Later that night, Naughty Professor, a New Orleans funk band, opened for St. Paul & the Broken Bones at the Orpheum Theatre, the venerable venue a few steps from the Quarter in the Central Business District. Naughty Professor features some of the city’s hottest young horn players. They put on a sizzling show that closed with a guest vocal performance by David Shaw, the lead singer for the breakout local rock group The Revivalists.
St. Paul & the Broken Bones have been touring extensively the past few years, including some major festival shows. The band showcases the dynamic vocals of Paul Janeway and super-tight arrangements from the band members. Janeway showed off his impressive range right from the beginning of the nearly two-hour set. The band’s horn section includes New Orleans’ own Jason Mingledorff, formerly from Papa Grows Funk.
The set featured songs from their two albums, highlighted with “Everything is Everything,” “Call Me” and “Sanctify.” Near the end of the set, Janeway and the band delivered a special cover of The Beatles’ “I Want You.”
On Friday night, April 28, 2017, Republic NOLA, the nightclub in the Warehouse District, hosted two bands that would be at home in old-school juke joints. The Record Company, a trio from Los Angeles, play a blend of rock, blues and soul with extremely high energy. Their too-short set had explosive guitar and harmonica solos from lead singer Chris Vos. He also displayed impeccable skills on the lap steel-slide guitar. The crowd couldn’t keep from dancing and bouncing to the infectious tunes.
The headliners were a mashup made up of longtime New Orleans star Anders Osborne along with the Dickinson brothers, who make up the North Mississippi Allstars. Together, they were billed as “North Mississippi Osborne.” Bassist Carl Dufrene as well as drummer Brady Blades from Osborne’s band joined the party. With Cody Dickinson also on drums most of the night, the two drum masters kept a thumping rhythm going into the early morning.
The thing that made the mashup special was the interplay between Anders Osborne and Luther Dickinson. Each musician showed off his scorching guitar technique and together they formed a cohesive duo that never stepped on each other’s mojo. The band played material from Osborne’s catalog, the North Mississippi Allstars’ albums and added a few tasty Grateful Dead and Neil Young covers as well.
Saturday, April 29, 2017, offered many special shows around town, but a double bill of bands hailing from New York presented exciting possibilities. Taking over the Civic Theatre (in the CBD) was Turkuaz, the Brooklyn-based nine-piece group, who demonstrated their mastery of modern danceable funk. With four vocalists, a stellar horn section, blazing guitars and incredibly tight arrangements, the band had a spirited crowd dancing feverishly. Their set ended with the go-to crowd pleaser “Monkey Fingers.”
Headliners moe., the band from Buffalo, New York, have toured extensively for over 25 years. Their incredible musicianship and unique approach to progressive rock make it approachable for a broad audience. While Turkuaz may not have seemed like a natural fit on a bill with moe., they not only made it work, they embraced the combination. moe. opened their set with all three Turkuaz horns who stayed for a significant portion of the first set. The set closed with all nine members of Turkuaz joining moe. for a raucous cover of Kool & the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie.”
The second set featured a guest sit-in by extraordinary percussionist Mike Dillon, who traded vibraphone licks with moe. percussionist Jim Loughlin during an extended version of “Recreational Chemistry.” The exceptional “only during Jazz Fest” vibe continued during the encore as members of Turkuaz joined for a cover of Paul Simon’s “Late in the Evening.” The entire Turkuaz crew came out for the show’s closing cover of Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House.”
Sunday nights on Jazz Fest weekends have become a near tradition and family affair at the legendary Rock’n’Bowl, located Uptown on Carrollton Avenue. For several years two brilliant guitarists, Tab Benoit and Sonny Landreth, have had the Sunday gigs at the club, with a rotating list of third acts. On Sunday April 30, 2017, young blues artists Josh Garrett and Jeff McCarty opened for Sonny and Tab. The night of sweltering blues featured a variety of styles.
Landreth demonstrated his impeccable slide technique while incorporating elements of zydeco and swamp blues. He played both amplified acoustic and wailing electric sets. Benoit followed with his great vocals and blazing fast, yet melodic, fret acrobatics. The crowd of diehards that stayed until the end of the show were treated to guest appearances by Benoit’s teenage son Tab Jr. on guitar and vocals, his mother on tambourine and other guests sitting in while Tab Benoit Sr. took a turn on the drum kit for a couple of songs, culminated by a wild cover of Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4,” finally shutting down the rollicking show at 2 a.m.
The nightlife scene during Jazz Fest continues during the “In-Beween,” the weekdays between the two fest weekends, and roll right along throughout weekend two of the festival, sometimes with shows that don’t even start until 3 a.m. in this, the real city that never sleeps. Look for our reports on the In-Between activities and our recap of the second weekend of Jazz Fest, coming here soon.