The rain and soupy grounds signaled the real start to Jazz Fest Sunday.

photo of Calexico at Jazz Fest
Calexico, by David Fary

[Updated] Sunday, it was officially Jazz Fest. The rain and soggy grounds brought back that once a year challenge of picking your way through an open field trying to find the least muddy route, and the horsey smell that accompanies it. The rain also kept the crowds manageable for much of the day, and it contributed to the joy in the crowd at Congo Square, where seeing a band as established as Earth, Wind & Fire became momentarily defiant. Between rain bands, the overcast skies kept the afternoon pleasantly cool, and it was one of the most comfortable days of Jazz Fest in recent memory when we weren't enduring downpours.

Calexico fit its set on the Gentilly Stage in the relatively dry window, doing what it could to celebrate New Orleans after the experience of writing much of its Algiers album at The Living Room on the West Bank. Sunday they added a horn line of Jeff Albert, Charlie Halloran, Derek Huston and Jason Mingledorff - who appeared on the album - to their trumpet duo, which gave "Splitter" from Algiers a lot of drive. "Para" and "Sinner in the Sea" were the show's dramatic centerpieces, but it was great to see them show a looser side as well, performing Bobby Charles' "See You Later, Alligator." Later, guitarist Jairo Zavala took a one-note guitar solo, something I can't remember anybody else doing at Jazz Fest with the exception of Bob Dylan. When Bob did it though, it was less obvious that he was doing it for fun.

 Elsewhere at Jazz Fest:

- Magary Lord of Bahia, Brazil didn't just start the party at Congo Square; they modeled it. With a pair of female backing vocalists and two male dancers,  there was a good time happening onstage before we joined in. And it worked. 

Since the singer spoke little English, it's hard to know what they were about. I got a bit of a Kid Creole vibe from his LMFAO glasses, Sgt. Pepper tux and regular rebuffs from the women onstage. Then again, as he engaged the audience like any rock star, I doubted that read. I left with the suspicion that his wardrobe was simply stage flash, which like the music itself needs a little context to be fully appreciated. 

- Saturday, Lil' Buck Sinegal played the National Anthem. Yesterday, Tex-Mex band Little Joe Y La Familia went patriotic as well, opening with "America the Beautiful." Performed while Little Joe wore a T-shirt that read, "I just look illegal," it was one of the more subtle - and only - political statements of the weekend.

Updated April 30, 5:45 a.m.

The publicity photo of Martha Redbone was replaced with a live shot of Calexico with the New Orleans horn line.

- Martha Redbone Roots Project's Garden of Love is relatively free from the preciousness that often takes place when music meets poetry, in this case written by William Blake, and her performance at the Fais Do-Do Stage underscored why. First, the band - upright bass, fiddle, organ, drums - played string band music that could have come from any time about any subject. On top of that, Redbone's vocals were as much holler as singing, making the pieces all about the voice and the humanity that accompanies it.