By Jenny Peters and Andy J. Gordon
It’s New Orleans’ 300th birthday this year and the town is rockin’ out in style all year long. Right now, the crowds have formed for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival too, which is in its 49th year in 2018. Jazz Fest, the daytime marathon that spans seven days over two weekends, from April 27 to 29 and May 3 to 6, brings thousands of visitors to the Big Easy; and locals love it too.
During the two-week stretch of days around the festival, the city is teeming with live music at the clubs, in the parks and at special events set up to coincide with the actual fest. We’d advise stretching out your NOLA trip as far as possible, by getting into town before the first weekend and leaving a few days after the second weekend ends. That way, there’s even more music to explore, at countless shows happening in clubs and other venues all around the city.
Taking our own advice during the first few days of Jazz Fest 2018, we hit some great concerts. On April 25 we headed over to Lafayette Square for Wednesday at the Square – a concert series put on by the Young Leadership Council. The series runs throughout the spring and summer and books some of the best artists in the region. The Deslondes, a folk, rock ‘n’ roll, bluegrass and R&B band opened the show. Big Sam’s Funky Nation followed as the headliners. Sam Williams is one of the best live performers around and his Funky Nation put on a tight, high-energy show emphasizing funk, hip hop, rock and soul in a perfect night in the park.
On Thursday, April 26, we went to the renowned New Orleans House of Blues to catch a very special show. For the first time in 40 years, the original lineup of The Dixie Dregs has reunited and hit the road with their “Dawn of the Dregs” U.S. tour. The Dregs were impossible to categorize during their heyday in the ’70s and ’80s and they are still an enigma today. They blend southern rock, bluegrass, country, classical and baroque into a fusion of instrumental creativity that was ahead of its time then and still mesmerizes today.
The appreciative, music-industry-heavy audience roared with approval as they recognized the opening notes of each song. The two-set show featured many of their familiar tracks like “Free Fall,” “Night of the Living Dregs,” “What If” and “Odyssey.” During the second set, the band broke out amazing versions of “Go for Baroque” and a knee smacking “Funky Chicken.” The encore left the audience breathless with a hard-hitting “Bloodsucking Leeches.” We are still not sure how it is possible that they could put on such a tight show after being on a break for 40 years.
Club show bookings in New Orleans during Jazz Fest run the gamut from local bands to one-off super groups to out-of-town big-name acts. The jamband scene is always well represented and we caught a great show Friday night (April 27) at the Civic Theatre. The Trey Anastasio Band, a popular side project for the Phish lead singer and guitarist, scheduled their tour to include three New Orleans shows during Jazz Fest. This was the middle show and it really cooked.
The band is normally a seven-piece group with keys and three horn players. However, keyboardist Ray Paczkowski recently had surgery to remove a brain tumor. Trey decided to play the entire run of shows as a trio without horns – for the first time since 1999. The Civic show included a creative mix of Phish, Trey solo and TAB tunes. Anastasio, bassist Tony Markellis and drummer Russ Lawton ran through excellent versions of “Alaska,” “Burlap Sack & Pumps,” “Twist Around” and “Alive Again.” Near the end of the show things slowed down a bit for “Farmhouse” but the crowd got cranked up again for the closer “Julius.”
There was a buzz in the audience as a stagehand added a microphone next to Trey’s setup for the encore. It did not take long for Trey to come back out to thunderous applause as he was joined by the band’s regular singer and trumpeter Jennifer Hartswick. Trey played acoustic guitar as the duo sang “Waste.” Markellis and Lawton joined the encore for the instrumental “Mozambique” that included a great Hartswick trumpet solo. The band ended the night with their frequent Gorillaz cover, “Clint Eastwood.”
For Saturday night, April 29, we went to see one of New Orleans’ greatest talents, Anders Osborne, who hosted a guest-filled show at Howlin’ Wolf. Osborne was joined by Ron Johnson on bass, Chad Cromwell on drums and Dumpstaphunk founder, vocalist and B3 wizard Ivan Neville on keys. Throughout the night, Osborne brought out blues guitarist/vocalist Samantha Fish and The New Mastersounds guitarist Eddie Roberts.
Osborne is a brilliant songwriter, extraordinary blues/rock guitarist and vocalist. He led the band through a set of his original tunes and a few tasty covers. Osborne sang and played fiery solos on “Lafayette,” “Peace” and “Smoke and Mirrors.” He brought out Eddie Roberts for “Got Your Heart” and “Ya, Ya.” Ivan Neville and Osborne took turns singing verses of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Ohio.”
Samantha Fish came out to play lead guitar with the band on “Echoes of My Sins” and “Back to Mississippi.” Both Eddie Roberts and Samantha Fish helped Osborne and the band finish the show with “Back On Dumaine” and a rousing version of the Grateful Dead’s “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad.” The late night/early morning crowd gave the band a big ovation and filed out of the club off to more adventures in the city that goes 24/7.
Our recap of the first weekend of Jazz Fest is here. Our recap of the NOLA Crawfish Festival during the days in between Jazz Fest weekends is here. Our recap of the second weekend of the festival is available here. Our recap of Shorty Fest is here. Our recap of shows that took place during weekend 2 is here.