Essence Festival Bets on Itself for 25th Anniversary

This past weekend, Essence Festival celebrated its 25th anniversary, and thinking about how differently it handled the occasion from the way Jazz Fest celebrated its 50th is instructive. Like Jazz Fest, Essence Festival played to its base—African-American women. Two of the three headliners—Mary J. Blige and Frankie Beverly and Maze—are Essence Festival regulars, and Friday’s headliner—Missy Elliott—performed a confused set in 2015 that ended with the power cut on her before she had finished. 

Saying Goodbye to Spencer Bohren

This year at Jazz Fest, Spencer Bohren finished his set in the AARP Rhythmpourium (seriously!) with his cover of The Impressions’ “People Get Ready.” Bohren was living with prostate cancer, and it was clear that the cancer was winning. In that context, the song’s “train to Jordan” lyric rang with extra significance, but that’s not where he was going with the song. Instead, he introduced it by pointing out the lines that gave the song resonance during the Civil Rights Movement.

Dr. John and the Importance of Making Groceries

Dr. John’s most enduring mode was translator of New Orleans. He covered a few careers’ worth of musical ground and was never simply anything, but after 1972’s Gumbo, that was his gig—to help the rest of the country understand his hometown. Its history, its reality, and its romance. That role resonated in a way that psychedelic explorer of the alternative spiritual planes didn’t, and it was a role that left him room to grow.

Shorty, Nevilles Belatedly Pass the Torch at Jazz Fest

Jazz Fest producer Quint Davis introduced the festival-closing set by saying that three acts had closed the fest on what is now the Acura Stage—Professor Longhair, the Neville Brothers, and Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue—and that two of the three were coming up. There were a few other acts between Longhair’s death in 1980 and 1986 when the Neville Brothers took up residency in that spot, but the time slot has been associated with the Neville Brothers and Shorty for more than 30 years.

Bob Weir throwback for the Jazz Fest Deadheads

Jazz Fest season sees the annual return of followers of all things Grateful Dead to New Orleans as the festival and its accompanying nightlife still steers into the jam aesthetic that the band made its signature. In March, photographer Erika Goldring shot Dead guitarist Bob Weir last March when he came to New Orleans to play The Fillmore with The Wolf Brothers--Don Was on bass and Ratdog's Jay Lane on drums.

Lost Bayou Ramblers Explore Cajun's Outer Limits at Jazz Fest

A lot was good on Friday at Jazz Fest, but nothing was as mind-blowing as the Lost Bayou Ramblers’ set. The Cajun band has shown a healthy sense of adventure since 2012’s Mammoth Waltz, but you could almost always trace musical ideas back to Cajun musical traditions. Friday, they went further out, and it sounded better for the moments of musical exploration.

Jones, Staples Top a Thursday at Jazz Fest That Has Gone Through Changes

The most compelling music during Jazz Fest’s first weekend came in the Cultural Exchange Pavilion, where Moonlight Benjamin created all the rock ’n’ roll excitement you could ask for from a Haitian singer, a psychedelic European art rock take on the blues, and some rhythms that split the difference between cultures of origin. In the center of it was Moonlight Benjamin, who was a rock star.

J Balvin Introduces Jazz Fest to Reggaeton

I was thinking a lot this weekend about things you never see at Jazz Fest, and I got two more on Sunday. A fan somehow snuck a portable speaker in—portable speakers are not on the Kermit Ruffins-voiced list of prohibited items we hear when entering Jazz Fest!—and played reggaeton in the audience before J Balvin’s set began at the Gentilly Stage. It was great to see people start their own party with their own entertainment, just as it was great to see four girls rush the stage to hug Jack Antonoff during Bleachers’ set before Balvin.

Pages