The soggy last day of Jazz Fest had only a fraction of its usual audience but all the volume Neil Young could create.

neil young photo
Neil Young

My last days of Jazz Fest were as odd as the days themselves. I missed most of the rainy Saturday hanging out in the Grandstand so that I wouldn’t be drenched when I interviewed Alexis Marceau and Sam Craft of Sweet Crude and Alexis and the Samurai at 4:30. Unfortunately, I missed Big Freedia’s set including a guest spot by Tank and the Bangas, but I also missed the hell rain that caused the drainage canal at the Acura Stage to flood and swell into a creek that was thigh deep in places.

By Saturday, the Acura Stage remained soggy with standing water making parts of the infield almost inaccessible for those not prepared to ford that makeshift creek Fortunately, the crowd didn’t test the grounds on Sunday. It’s hard to imagine when the last time was that Neil Young played to an audience that small.

Young’s set with Promise of the Real was an impressive demonstration of excess—not something I automatically value, but Young and his ability to speak through distorted, feedback-rich guitar solos works for me. I didn’t love the set the way I did his show with Crazy Horse at Voodoo in 2012, but I don’t know if that’s because one show was better (maybe), because Crazy Horse is a more rhythmically agile band than Promise of the Real (definitely), because the 2012 show was more comfortable (easily) or if the 2012 show was simply the one I saw first. I wondered if Young the maximalist is a one (very long) trick pony whose endless solos and walls of sound say pretty much the same thing each time, just with different notes and different lengths. Is the excess the point and its own reward? It’s so rare to see a major musician pursue such a personal musical vision at such length, as both a phase of his career and portion of the night. “He began wrapping up “Love and Only Love” after 20 minutes, but spent another 10 ending it--just as he did when he played "Walk Like a Giant" at Voodoo.

For more on Neil Young’s show with Promise of the Real, see my review at USA Today.

Watching Trombone Shorty grow as a performer has been one of the best stories in New Orleans music in recent years. Sunday, you could see the stagecraft that he picked up from Lenny Kravitz as he walked to stand next to the guy taking the solo, subtly drawing the audience’s attention to that soloist and, in effect saying, This is my guy. Shorty makes the moment about him, even when he’s sharing it with someone else. The rock sensibility that he displayed when he and Orleans Avenue opened for Foo Fighters at Voodoo in 2014 was evident Sunday as well, particularly with the number of solos given to guitarist Pete Murano. He took his opportunities as the others did during the set and took breaks that emphasized excitement and immediacy. 

As Shorty went long stretches without playing his trombone or trumpet, I wondered if that was an unspoken response to last year’s appearance at the Essence Music Festival, where it was clear that he’d made improvements as a lead singer, but not enough to carry a show. He seemingly challenged himself to make his music more than simply his horns the star of the show, and acquitted himself just fine. Here as in most other things Shorty has put his mind to, he showed clear improvement.

For more on Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue’s show, see my review at Nola.com.

Elsewhere at Jazz Fest:

- Aaron Neville performed a secular set Sunday, singing a number of R&B classics. As well-performed and likable as his covers are, they can be frustratingly obvious. As a fan of his voice, I want to hear Neville uncover and breathe life into rare gems and give me a fresh perspective on well-worn songs. That’s not who Neville is, though. He’s not a cratedigger, and he sings songs he loves because he loves them and what they say. Because of that, his versions are often moments of shared fandom between him and the audience for the song he singing and the artist he loves.

- “Thank you for coming to our house,” Reginald Toussaint said to introduce Sunday’s tribute to his late father Allen at Jazz Fest’s Gentilly Stage. “Because that’s what (Jazz Fest) was to him.” In this case, “our” referred to not only Toussaint’s blood family but his band, who backed Aaron Neville, Bonnie Raitt, Jon Batiste, Cyril Neville and Davell Crawford as they played songs Toussaint wrote. The charts sounded like those that the band has been playing for years, so the set at times seemed like one that Toussaint would have performed were he alive to play Jazz Fest. 

For more on the Toussaint tribute and other Toussaint tributes, see my review for the USA Today.

For more on Jazz Fest 2016:

The Impact of Playing Jazz Fest
The Realities of Playing New Orleans Clubs During Jazz Fest
Pearl Jam and Brandi Carlile Protest HB2 in North Carolina
Janelle Monae’s Inscrutability
Jazz Fest on Friday, April 22: Janelle Monae, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Grace Potter and more
A Review of Cha Wa’s Funk ’n’ Feathers
Terence Blanchard’s Breathless Started at Home
Jazz Fest on Saturday, April 23: Pearl Jam, the bleachers, Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats, and more
Jazz Fest on Sunday, April 24: J. Cole, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla, and more
How New Orleans is Jazz Fest, Part 5
Jazz Fest on Thursday, April 28: Elvis Costello remembers Allen Toussaint, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Lost Bayou Ramblers with Rickie Lee Jones and Spider Stacy
Jazz Fest on Friday, April 29: Ms. Lauryn Hill, Paul Simon, Creole String Beans and more

Here's my writing for other outlets:

Six bands that should be on your radar, weekend one, for Nola.com
J. Cole review for Nola.com
Review of Weekend One's Friday and Saturday for USA Today
Review of Weekend One's Sunday for USA Tdday
Six bands that should be on your radar, weekend two, for Nola.com
Lost Bayou Ramblers with Rickie Lee Jones and Spider Stacy review for Nola.com
Review of Weekend Two's Thursday, Friday and Saturday for USA Today
Review of Trombone Shorty for Nola.com
Review of Weekend Two's Sunday for USA Today