Kacey Musgraves and Trombone Shorty may point the way forward for Jazz Fest, and The Meters reminded up how magical they could be.

kacey musgraves photo by erika goldring
Kacey Musgraves at Jazz Fest, by Erika Goldring

[Updated] Sunday afternoon, country singer Kacey Musgraves closed the Fais-Do-Do Stage with pink neon cacti on her stage. They were unassuming, slightly silly and of a piece with Musgraves and her band’s attire—self-consciously stereotypical country music wear with twinkling lights embedded in her blue boots and their Nudie suits. The presentation was novel on that stage, but it and the two video panels that flanked Ed Sheeran on the Gentilly Stage Saturday may signal a Jazz Fest change. The bare bones presentation the festival offers headliners is becoming more and more out of step with concert norms.

I suspect that limits who will perform at Jazz Fest. Beyoncé’s elaborate show has become her calling card as much as her music, which makes her appearance at the festival unlikely for the foreseeable future. Daylight makes most light shows redundant, but like the video screens beside the stages to improve the views in the back, it’s hard to think that more elaborate shows aren’t coming.

Between trailer park libertarian songs, Musgraves covered TLC’s “No Scrubs” and Weezer’s “Islands in the Sea,” both so weightlessly that the songs were in danger of blowing away. Were it not for the Weezer cover, I’d have wondered about the use of black pop from the 1990s to signify something after Ed Sheeran folded Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” into his own “Don’t.” More likely those are simply songs they grew up with and markers of the music that shaped them as much as anyone in their genres.

kacey musgraves photo by erika goldring Kacey Musgraves, by Erika Goldring

At the Acura Stage, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue followed the hard rock tone of Lenny Kravitz’s set before them, something very different from last year’s relaxed funk jam. The two sets together had the air of a blessing or a stamp of approval as Kravitz, who employed Shorty in his band in 2005, opened for him, and brought him out with his arm around Shorty’s shoulders for a hot solo to close “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” one that was low on technique and high on rock ’n’ roll excitement.

Kravitz’s own set was maddening in the way his almost always are. His hits are compelling live, where big rock guitars and pounding drums make his songs bigger than they are on record, but the energy and momentum that he generates he also fritters away on lengthy jams and digressions. “My Mama Said” didn’t give the band enough to work with to inspire interesting solos from the many band members who took a shot, and the only thing interesting about the endlessly repeated chorus for five, maybe 10 minutes was that Kravitz spent that time walking through the audience encouraging people to sing along. His presence and the songs themselves are strong enough that when he finally returned to the songs, the energy and excitement snapped back and perhaps grew—part of the point, I’m sure—but I wonder how powerful his shows could be without the slack spaces.

Unfortunately, one of the few bands I wanted to see jam didn’t. The Meters’ reunion in 2005 was everything I want a jam to do as the improvisational passages were communal with nobody obviously simply holding things down for others’ solos. The jams had drama and went somewhere; on occasions, you could here George Porter Jr. nudging the band into a new place, while in others he recognized an avenue had been explored and signaled the band to a close. Sunday’s Meters reunion was a vocal-oriented show, and those songs seemed to constrain them. Cyril Neville’s vocal on “Be My Lady” was warmly engaging, but other parts could have been played by many musicians and didn’t require the unique talents of Porter, Art Neville, Zigaboo Modeliste and Leo Nocentelli—much less guest keyboard player Ivan Neville and the players in the horn section. “The World is a Little Bit Under the Weather” flashed The Meters’ ability construct a groove so loose it’s on the verge of falling apart, but one so tight at the same time that they can live in that loose place hours if they had to. Cyril’s vocals contributed to the groove as much as any other instrument, and the song reasserted how magical The Meters can be. Unfortunately, they didn’t find that place often enough for me.

Updated May 5, 9:56 a.m.

The story has been updated to include photos by Erika Goldring.