New Orleans Jazz Fest: review and photo essay

Big Chief Monk Boudreaux.

by Paul Piazza

The 45th annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, also known as Jazz Fest, more than lived up to its reputation as one of the nation’s top music festivals. While huge names like Santana, Clapton and Springsteen dominated the big stages, the smaller stages provided some of the festival’s best moments. 

With a variety of well-known national and local acts playing, venues like the Blues Tent, the Jazz Tent, the Gospel Tent and the People’s Health Economy Hall Tent provided some of the best musical moments. All told, there were 12 stages with musical performances happening simultaneously, so festival goers could either stay put or move around. 

As a photographer (and a Jazz Fest first-timer) seeking the festival’s best images, choosing the latter strategy made more sense. At one point, I experienced one amazing 120-minute interval that started out with the exceptional John Hiatt at the Fais Do-Do Stage, went over to see a little of former Gap Band leader Charlie Wilson’s set,  jumped over to see blues legend Eric Clapton for a bit, popped into the Blues Tent for a moment to check out Rodriguez (Searching for Sugar Man), then headed over to the Jazz Tent to marvel at Delfeao Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra. I finally wound up with another stop back at the Fais Do-Do Stage to party with CJ Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band. All of these sets were ear-ticklingly phenomenal; and that was merely the tip of the musical iceberg at this huge event. 

It must also be said that a set by a revitalized Public Enemy was militant and fun, while at the other end of the spectrum, the Mardi Gras Indians provided a rousing and deeply soulful representation of local ancestry. One of the biggest surprises was an exceptional R&B set by pop sensation Robin Thicke and his big band.

Two more things that can’t go without mention from this memorable trip: the hospitality of the residents of New Orleans and the amazing food at the festival. Everywhere I went, the locals went out of their way to be gracious and friendly, doing everything in their power to make a visitor feel welcome. As for the festival food, there was a wide assortment of tasty regional cuisine. My favorite festival plate featured oyster patties, crawfish beignets and a crawfish sack (a neatly tied pastry sack stuffed with a heavenly crawdad stew). Also of note was the crawfish bread and the astounding assortment of po’ boys and muffaletta sandwiches, which were stuffed with everything from gator to shrimp to blue crab. 

After all of the great music, the phenomenal food and the graciousness of the citizens of New Orleans, it’s a cinch that I’ll make a serious go at a return trip next year.

Here’s a look at some great moments from the festival:

Little Boudreaux with the Mardi Gras Indians.

Chuck D and Flava Flav of Public Enemy.

Interpreters helping Chuck D with “Don’t Believe the Hype.”

Robin Thicke.

Local favorite Meschiya Lake.

Buckwheat Zydeco.

CJ Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band.

Festivalgoers dance to Zydeco.

Delfeayo Marsalis.

Festivalgoers sample some Louisiana grub.

Future Jazz Fest-ers playing outside the festival.

Getting amped at the Gospel Tent.

Keb Mo.

John Hiatt and Nathan Gehri.

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