Soggy conditions delayed the opening of the Fair Grounds Friday.

photo of Willie Nelson

Thursday's rain on top of last weekend's rain on top of this week's rain left the Fair Grounds such a mess that opening Friday was delayed an hour to give Jazz Fest workers a chance to bring in more dirt, more straw, and try to stabilize the muddy mess. Unfortunately, there was only so much that could be done, and the efforts were largely invisible, or noticeable only to those who knew what the Fair Grounds were like around 8 that morning. There was still standing water in front of the Acura Stage when Royal Teeth took the stage at noon for a buoyant set of new wave dance pop, and people stayed on the walkway leading from Economy Hall to the paved infield walkway because shoe-sucking mud moats bordered it on either side. A frothy, soupy mud in front of the food vendors made you think about how badly you wanted your cochon de lait. Despite the unseasonably cool weather, people lined up outside the paddock to hose down their feet and sandals.

Still, the crowds looked Jazz Fest-like. Not necessarily at the smaller, soggier stages such as Fais Do-Do, but even at 80, Willie Nelson attracted an audience that filled the track in addition to the inhabitable portions of the Gentilly Stage. People waved signs that wished him a happy birthday (last month), and Nelson played as if he's not a day older than 70. His set, like many in the last decade, treated songs like thoughts, and moved from one to the next effortlessly. As a singer, he's come to treat melodies like freeway speed limits - suggestions to be adhered to only when necessary. That added to the offhanded, thoughtful nature of his songs. The words came out in short bursts and phrases as if they were occurring to him in real time. His guitar playing at times seemed affected by age or a serrated sense of melody as his fills came in ragged bursts, expressions of rhythm more than melody, but after a medley that included "Crazy" and "Night Time is the Right Time," that settled down. 

Elsewhere at Jazz Fest:

- "I'm just a man who will make another mistake," Raul Malo sang in The Mavericks' "Hurt Me All Over Again " and he's got more than his share of done-me-wrong songs. He doesn't sound like a guy with a problem or a one-track mind, though. Friday on the Gentilly Stage, his robust vocals and the band's confident, exuberant Tex-Mex bounce suggest he's living the life, and heartaches come with the good times. It's rare to find bands whose music suggests a whole story, true or not, and rarer to find one who makes you want to be a part of it.

- Saw Laura Bell Bundy on a monitor in the press office. As she danced in high-waisted blue shorts and a girlie undershirt accompanied by two similarly dressed dancers, I wondered A) who she's on tour with to get such pop country on a Jazz Fest stage (easily as unlikely as A Tribe Called Red last weekend), or B) If not that, then what manager of what Bayou Country Superfest artist also handles her, and leveraged Bundy on to the festival lineup?

- Dobro master Jerry Douglas is best known for his work with country and bluegrass artists. So why did his set at the Fais Do-Do Stage sound so prog? In his interview before the show, he revealed that he's in New Orleans recording at Piety Street these days.