On Saturday at the Fair Grounds, nothing came quickly.
Saturday at Jazz Fest was a study in waiting. Ivory Coast reggae artist Alpha Blondy was at the Fair Grounds in time for a 12:15 p.m. interview in the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage, but that didn’t guarantee that he’d be on time for his set on the Congo Square Stage at 2:10. Evidently he took the long way from the Grandstand to Congo Square because he came onstage 35 minutes late. Because he was late to the stage, he was also slow to leave, and after an extra five minutes, the soundman pulled the plug on him while Blondy listed all the places for which he prayed for peace.
Pearl Jam involved a different kind of waiting. They began on time with Steve Gleason on stage to introduce them. “This is my hometown,” he said through a voice synthesizer, “but this is my hometown band.” The former Saint grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and he has become tight with Pearl Jam. In 2013, guitarist Mike McCready helped Gleason participate in a half-marathon, and when the band played Voodoo in 2013, Gleason wrote the set list. McCready, Eddie Vedder and Jeff Ament wore Team Gleason T-shirts, and Vedder recommended the documentary Gleason while dedicating “Inside Job” to him.
But musically, the set required some patience. It started hot with “State of Love and Trust” and a cover of Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros’ “Arms Aloft” with the song adapted to the situation. The line “Arms aloft in Aberdeen” became “Arms aloft in New Orleans.”
“Even Flow” stood as the band’s Prince tribute because, as Vedder explained, Prince and 3rdEyedGirl covered it and “played the shit out of it. We’re going to try to play the shit out if it,” and they did, complete with visits to the front row from McCready and Vedder and an extended guitar solo that ended with McCready managing his feedback as much as he was playing notes.
After that though, Pearl Jam settled into an hour of mid-tempo churn that emphasized some of the band’s default settings. Even the lengthy encore began in that mode, though it eventually found lift off and the exuberance that the show started with when it got to “Do the Evolution,” “Alive” and The Who’s “The Real Me,” aided by a horn section made up of Big Sam Williams, Andrew Baham, Carly Meyers and Skerik. Then they brought out Chad Smith and Josh Klinghoffer from The Red Hot Chili Peppers, as well as Nathan Followill of Kings of Leon to help make a big rock noise on Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” It was the glorious, cathartic payoff the show needed.
Another kind of waiting took place by the new Acura bleachers. People have discovered that the bleachers create shade and are gravitating toward them. On Saturday, some broke out their chairs. At 3:10, a member of FESS Security told one group that chairs on the track are now forbidden, and the group pushed back. The security guy left, spoke to another security person standing by the entrance to one of the bleachers, then left, I assumed to get a cop. Ten minutes later, nothing had happened and I moved on. During Pearl Jam, I saw numerous small chair enclaves.
The situation was a reminder that at Jazz Fest, we’re really only as secure as we collectively choose to be. There is not enough security on the grounds to genuinely police the situation, and that’s not a new development. Still, that approach to security has worked, and it’s right for the festival’s vibe. We don’t want the kind of influx of police that would be needed to genuinely make sure rules are followed.
In the case of the chairs, the specific and heralded new rule of none on the track has already proven to be one on the books more than one actively enforced, but the big picture goal was achieved. They weren’t in the walkway on the track, so they didn’t obstruct foot traffic. And the bleachers were full for Pearl Jam. Critics wondered on Friday if people would use them, the question implying that they wouldn’t. Those same critics likely aren’t people who set up base camps and can’t imagine that either. I’m personally grumpier about the Congo Square bleachers, erected right were I tend to watch Congo Square shows. Still, I’ve sat there each day in the early afternoon now, enjoying the breeze at the top and conserving energy while I can.
Elsewhere at Jazz Fest:
- During Alpha Blondy’s interview, he talked about his radio station, Alpha Blondy FM, and his decision to read The Koran and The Bible after the Paris bombings. Blondy feared that young people were drifting away from reading, so he wanted to model it and help them see what kinds of information and pleasures reading offered. Beyond that, he wanted listeners to understand the relationship between terrorists and their spiritual beliefs. Not surprisingly, he found them inconsistent. “I discovered that a good Muslim is a good Christian,” he said. “A good Muslim is a good Jew.”
- Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats sounded really strong and a lot of fun, but playing 24 hours after Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings made it clear that they’re a rock band into Sam and Dave and not an R&B band that likes to rough it up. Their instincts are rock instincts, which on some songs led them down worn paths that are less urgent than the more Stax-y ones. It will be interesting to see how the pieces come together over the next two or three albums.
- I saw better shows than the hip-hop showcase at Congo Square, but not one that felt more like a slice of New Orleans. Too many songs name checked New Orleans landmarks and the way of life, and it was weird to see Partners-N-Crime verging on a nostalgia act. At the same time, the spirit of the set was that of a neighborhood party, more concerned with entertaining the people in the audience than advancing any careers. DJ Jubilee was with them and when he announced that he had a new line dance, they backed him. There were too many steps for me to follow, but the crowd in front was right with him. The most musical moment of the set came from Dinishia, who sang the vocals to the bounce remix of Adele’s “Hello.” Was she distinctive? No, but she could sing.