New Orleans Jazz Fest 2016

The 2016 New Orleans Jazz Festival First Weekend Awards

At the New Orleans’s Jazz Fest you can buy tickets at the gate. We never had to wait more than a few minutes. The price per day was $75 and we paid no service fee. One day, my cousin Ben had one to give away. Thanks Ben! This simple information was not easy to find. I would rather give a few more bucks to the festival than Ticketron. Just saying.

Paul, Guy from Argentina and Steve. Three outsiders making the trek to one of the Holy Lands of music.
Paul, Guy from Argentina and Steve. Three outsiders making the trek to one of the Holy Lands of music.

First, I need to give a disclaimer that this essay is absolutely ridiculous. There is no way to give awards out at this festival. Every day at the New Orleans Jazz Fest there are at least 60 bands on all kinds of stages. To possibly cast judgement and give out an award, besides being absurd, you would have to literally be six places at once. Instead, in the interest of confessional writing so prevalent today, I will simply highlight the journey and give out a few awards , the most accurate being the one at the end – MOST OUTSTANDING MUSICIAN IN NEW ORLEANS.

Below are the groups that I heard. Many were planned. Others just sort of happened based on the bathroom lines and meal breaks. By the end of the day the portapotties look like they were ready to tumble over but never did. In the concessions, the trout with crab on top was excellent. All the food was really good.

Friday, April 22

Alexis Spight
New Orleans Classic Recording Divas featuring The Dixie Cups, Wanda Rouzan and Jean Knight
Kermit Ruffins
Real Untouchable Brass Band
Michael McDonnald
Steely Dan

Saturday, April 23

Big Sams Funky Nation
Tad Benoit
Keith Frank and the Soliel Zydeco Band
DeJonnette, Coltrane and Garrison
Boz Scaggs

Night at a Club
George Clinton and Parlament

Sunday, April 24

The New Orleans Suspects
Henry Butler and Jambalaya
Leroy Jones and the New Orleans Finest
The Zion Harmonizers
Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter
John Mayall

Other Shows of Note
Treme Brass Band at DBA
Harmonica Marathon at Frenchman Theater


Every time I go to New Orleans I cry. In fact, I remember the exact moment that I cried every day of the festival. It often happens unexpectedly. It is similar to what happened to me the first and only time I got acupuncture. I am not sure modern medicine has researched it but crying, especially for joy is a good thing and the therapy is all that sometimes works to get you through the ups and downs of life. It is cathartic and surely the great balancer of the soul.

Alexa Spight in the Gospel Temt
Alexa Spight in the Gospel Temt

The first day we had a very rough plan and were a little disoriented as we entered the gates. To get our bearings we walked into the Gospel Tent and heard Alexis Spight. We sat in the front row, as it was an early show and there I was overcome with emotion. Her voice was strong and clear and you could hear decades of gospel tradition in her voice. The band seemed a bit under rehearsed but the spirit was there and it seemed like the entire group just went with it. And as it does often with the first show, the tears came streaming down my cheeks. Probably not the first person to wail in the Gospel Tent.

Keith Frank and the Soliel Zydeco Band
Keith Frank and the Soliel Zydeco Band

The second day it was listening to Keith Frank and the Soliel Zydeco Band. Many times I heard people in New Orleans area say that Zydeco songs “sound all the same.” To me this makes no sense. Sure the accordion can be irritating, in the same way as say the banjo, but the songs do not sound all the same. One of the grooves from Keith Frank sounded like James Brown or perhaps something James Brown appropriated. The next like we were on the Bayou in a cowboy hat. Somewhere, during that James Brown groove it hit me again. Keith Frank with his two kids under ten, one on accordion and the other on cowbell by his side, it just got me again. Tears of joy.

Which brings me to an award.


The Real Untouchables Brass Band… the guy on the far right – stage left.  I was unable to figure out his name and apologies about that, but if you show up and San Francisco I will buy you dinner. His solos combined the street sound, the grit and dirt with great pitch and rhythm. I can never get enough of second line brass bands. The reason why I liked this guy’s playing so much is his sound. Full of dirt and smears and all in a very organic, lyric way.

Real Untouchable Brass Band
Real Untouchable Brass Band

Later that day I heard Steely Dan with the very fine trombonist Jim Pugh who’s long career even includes writing the theme that still runs for NPR’s Morning Edition. But Pugh’s playing, when he finds himself in a bit of improvisational jam, relies on his squeaky high chops and lots of notes. In New Orleans, trombones usually just go with growls and smears. The Untouchables trombone player had that and much more.

But I have become distracted. On the third day I broke down listening to Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. The crowd was building up for this one. Big names in jazz. Not a seat in the Jazz Tent. Standing room only. I thought – do people really know what they are getting into here? Herbie and Wayne are some of the most expert improvisers on the planet and the show was just that. Herbie played both acoustic and electric and his synth work brought to mind some of Wayne’s work with Joe Zawinul and Weather Report. Too much music for many folks ears which for the rest of us meant a good seat as people left. The last tune they played was something I would have never expected. A modern, sort of loosely constructed version of “Now’s the Time” in a boogaloo groove. This was not a 12 bar blues but more of a free-flowing thing and was a great vehicle for Wayne’s sparse but thematic solos. He played all soprano throughout the entire set.


Ravi Cotrane. What an excellent player. Period. Not sure how you follow in the footsteps of his father John but Ravi does it well.


Some notable experiences while in New Orleans were crashing a Crawfish Boil party in the Garden District and finally learning how to propery eat these bugs. We left that party a bit too early only to be packed like sardines into Frenchman Street clubs and hear some of the locals sweat it out with the tourist crowds.

After the second day, eating another crawfish boil in the garage of a house next to the festival and then heading off to catch George Clinton and Parliament at a club in the Wearhouse District. Now that was about as funky as it gets. 15 member band. George sitting on a stool in the middle of it all directing traffic. I have a feeling there is not a conductor on the planet that could pull that off with such effortlessness. Everyone got a moment to shine and band was dynamic. George is still going strong.


Special awards go to Ben my nephew and Natalie who put me up and Steve my buddy from high school who was an amazing partner on this adventure in New Orleans. Steve still has the ability to scope out a situation, make friends, avoid getting mugged and still brush his teeth when he gets back to the crib at 2 am.


Steve caught a plane back home on Monday. I stuck around New Oreans until Thursday riding around on Ben’s bike and exploring New Orleans and taking photos. One day Ben took me to the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and the Barataria Preserve. We hung out in the swamps with the snakes and alligators for a few hours. Tuesday night I caught The Treme Brass Band at DBA with Ben. It was a great to hear them on their home turf. Shamarr Allen on trumpet sounded to me of tradition and essence of New Orleans. Cities get their signature sounds and in New Orleans that sound is the sound of the trumpet. Shamarr was playing what looked like a cornet looking pocket trumpet – tarnished brass, with a sound and skill that would make Louis Armstrong smile. Shamarr’s playing reaches back a hundred years but makes a clear statement about the present. His sound and chops will just blow your mind. Beyond that his singing and rapport with the audience was simply awesome. Everyone was having a great time.


Shamarr Allen… need to say more.


For a few days I probably did not cry. That will happen after you experience about 30 bands over three days. You are all cried out. But, leaving New Orleans, heading to a wedding in Austin and seeing that Megabus in the distance, with Houston on the front, it happened again and I got all choked up. New Orleans. I wouldn’t want to live there but a great place to visit and hear some great American music.

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