The annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival came to a close Sunday May 5, boasting a record number of guests.
Spanning two weekends, the festival took place over seven stages with hundreds of musical acts, as well as delectable food and an eclectic array of artisans and craftspeople. This year was even more special as it marked the 50th year of the city’s greatest collection of music, food, and art.
The final day of the festival was not about to let down the hundreds of visitors to The Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots that has hosted the festival for 47 years, the first three years being held at Congo Square in Louis Armstrong Park. And they have come a long way since that first year, which had four stages and cost $3 to get in.
While 70s rockers Little Feat had the crowd dancing to their hit “Dixie Chicken” at the Gentilly Stage, Delfayo Marsalis of the Marsalis Jazz dynasty entertained with the Uptown Jazz Orchestra to a stuffed WW0Z Jazz Tent. The three tents focused on three different genres, Blues, Jazz, and Gospel, and provided not only a respite from the oppressive New Orleans sun but a chance to get up close to some of the greatest artists of their style of music.
The three main stages enjoyed a wide variety of talent. Besides Little Feat, the Gentilly Stage also hosted George Porter Jr.. formerly of the Meters, and the Runnin’ Pardners, New Orleans’ own The Radiators, and former Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty. The Congo Square Stage boasted the talents of everyone’s favorite “every woman” Chaka Khan, DJ Captain Charles, and American soul band Maze. Special guests Aaron and Cyril Neville, Dr. John, Bonnie Raitt, Jon Batiste, Jimmy Buffett, and Davell Crawford joined the Allen Toussaint Orchestra in paying tribute to the late legendary pianist on the Acura Stage. Jimmy Buffett, who was escorted to the stage by two members of the New Orleans Saints dance team, The Saintsations, dressed as a blind NFL referee, treated the crowd to his brand of tropical jams that kept the Parrotheads dancing.
The tents also provided a great variety of music throughout the day. Legendary bluesman Buddy Guy closed out the Blues Tent, while virtuoso pianist Herbie Hancock ended the Jazz Tent’s festival run, and The Bester Gospel Singers with the Smooth Family closed the Gospel Tent. But the real treat was the traditional closing of the festival on the Acura Stage. Trombone Shorty and Orleans Revue closed the festival as they have every year since 2013. After announcing to the crowd that he had “some very special guests for y’all,” Ivan Neville came out to join Shorty and his band for The Meters’ “Fire on the Bayou.” Then Cyrill Neville came out to participate in another Meters’ song “No More Okey Doke”. After the song, Cyrill tried leaving the stage, but Shorty wasn’t having it. He called him back to the stage, telling the crowd, “We can’t let him leave!” Cyrill came back to sing “Brother Jake.” Aaron Neville also joined his family and Shorty onstage, singing an a capella “Amazing Grace,” which was a beautifully serene moment in an otherwise frenzied performance. Shorty closed the festival with “Hurricane Season” and “Do to Me,” making sure that everyone left the 2019 Jazz and Heritage Festival satisfied and ready for next year.