Five things to know about the New Orleans Jazz Fest

I originally posted this in 2015 but have updated it so the links are still good and the information is relatively ageless.

It’s never too late to make plans for Jazz Fest.  If you accept this mission, you will join the millions of satisfied music lovers worldwide who have made this pilgrimage during the 50+ year history of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

The 1975 New Orleans Jazz Festival Poster

To help you move from idle curiosity into action, here are a handful of things you should know about the New Orleans Jazz Fest. (Also, here’s a later post as to why you might consider visiting New Orleans when it is not JazzFest.)

1. It’s more than Jazz. The festival combines world-class and national acts with some of the best regional music of all types.  There are stages for blues, gospel, zydeco and cajun, world, kids stuff and, of course jazz. On the rest of the stages you’ll see funk, hip hop, Mardi Gras Indian, rock, folk, latin, pop, brass bands, oh heck,  . . look at the  lineup. Not to mention, you’ll have access to Second Line parade demonstrations, excellent food and local crafts.

2. Last weekend in April and first weekend in May. That’s always the formula. This means that the 2020 festival starts Thursday, April 23 and runs through Sunday May 3, with three-days to recuperate in the middle (no festival shows Monday – Wednesday). Go for the day or the whole fest.

New Orleans Fair Grounds is 145-acres. During Jazz Fest, 12 stages operate.

3. Tickets are easy to get at the gate. You can procrastinate and/or be spontaneous. They will have a ticket waiting for you (unless they book the Rolling Stones again). It’s highly unlikely the festival will sell out. It takes a lot of bodies to fill the Fair Grounds Race Course. Day passes are $75 and sold with efficiency at the entry points. You can buy in at advance if you want. But after Ticketmaster takes its pound of flesh, you save less than a price of beer per ticket.  Or you can buy a brass pass and go all seven days.

4. Hotels can be expensive but plentiful; cheaper further out.  It’s over $300 a night to stay downtown/French Quarter. Cheaper further out. If you have a car, Slidell, Metairie or some other suburb is an affordable option. But not as fun as being in close. Since I like embedding in a neighborhood, I use AirBnB. Yes, almost everyone charges more during Jazz Fest.

5. The best shows are not always the “big” shows.  The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage folks always assemble an intriguing top of ticket with big acts such as  Elton John, The Who, Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett, Paul Simon and other big touring acts you can see just about anywhere.  I understand if you have to see one of these. However, if you skew your viewing portfolio toward local legends and masters, particularly those who rarely perform together these days, you will reap even bigger dividends.

The founding members of The Meters performed at 2015 Jazz Fest, from left: George Porter, Jr., Art Neville, Leo Nocentelli, , and Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste. You can count on unique acts.

Each year, the festival attracts New Orleans centric acts that you might otherwise be able to catch. Try to catch acts that form just for this event (such as musical tributes) or come back together again (the Radiators, Meters)

LagniappeAt some point, you must get your ass in the Economy Hall Tent and shake it.  (Second Line Umbrella optional)Nuff said.

There are lots of other resources for the details, starting with Jazz Fest site.  To hear some of the music that you would hear at Jazz Fest, be sure to tune in on Thursdays.   Also, join me on my journey, learning about the New Orleans music scene by subscribing (upper right side of this page)

Jazzfest, New Music and Tubaluba

I’m stealing an idea from my son, Riley, who uses Fridays to write about various loose ends for his progressive political blog.

So below are three items: Jazzfest lineup, great new music at KAOS and a heads up on my Monday interview.

splash_header_2015New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival has announced its 2015 line up. As usual, the music is far from limited to jazz and offers some unique shows and musician pairings. I’ll provide more depth in a later post.  Right now, you need to know the festival is seven days stretched over 10, starting Friday April 24 and ending Sunday, May 3. Be sure to check the line up by day if you’re planning a trip.

While there’s some interesting headliners (e.g. Elton John and The Who), I recommend some of the harder to see local acts like: a reunion of the Radiators; Henry Butler recreating his 2014 album with Steve Bernstein and the Hot 9; a hip hop pairing of Juvenile and Mannie Fresh; Ivan Neville and Dumpstaphunk playing with his uncle, Art Neville; The Dirty Dozen Band; George Porter Jr. & the Runnin’ Pardners, and, best of all,  The Meters with all four founding members–worth the price of admission right there.

New Music in the KAOS Studio – I’m loving the music we’re getting in the studio from

There is lot to love about Lynn Drury’s new album, Come to My House.

New Orleans artists. Since writing about the 2014 releases (Part 1 and Part 2), we’ve received two CDs from Lynn Drury, including her latest one “Come To My House.”  I’m afraid I have a serious music crush on this earthy singer, guitarist, and songwriter. Check out “I Know You Want Me, Baby” and  you’ll know what I mean.

Paul Sanchez has been my hero since he achieved the herculean task of creating a musical out of Nine Lives — a non-fiction book by Dan Baum that unveils the diverse talents and strengths of New Orleans residents. His latest CD instills heart-warming, reflective feelings that are more entertaining and less expensive than therapy.  I’m looking forward to digging deeper into: The World Is Round – Everything that Ends Begins Again.

If you’re worried traditional New Orleans jazz is dying out, look no further than the Shotgun Jazz Band. It’s fourth album Yearning, carries you to Frenchmen Street with a solid mix of standards and less heard wonders.

Josh Wilson (green pants) will be on air with me on Monday talking about his Tubaluba's upcoming performance at Rhythm & Rye.
Josh Wilson (green pants) will be on air with me on Monday talking about his Tubaluba’s upcoming performance at Rhythm & Rye.

Tubaluba – Seattle’s answer to New Orleans brass bands – Josh Wilson, who plays the bass drum and keyboards for Seattle’s Tubaluba, will be on the phone with me during Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa this Monday (just after 11 a.m.). I caught Tubaluba at the 2013 Seattle Honkfest. The band members are clearly fans of New Orleans brass band music. Wilson even has a WWOZ sticker on his bass drum.  The interview will highlight the band’s upcoming performance in Olympia at Rhythm & Rye on January 24.

That’s your heads up and preview for my next show. Join me, won’t you?

Brass Bands Make You Move Your Body

Sorry if you missed my interview of Rebirth Brass Band founder and sousaphone player Phil Frazier on the November 3 Gumbo YaYa show. Rebirth comes out to the Northwest next week, playing in Seattle on November 13 and Portland on November 14. Also, WWOZ is doing its pledge drive this week.  Here’s why its important to support community radio.

Live music has the potential to freeze time for me–particularly cool new music. Keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be unique to anyone else. Just to me.

So when I stumbled into the Jazz Tent at my first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest in 2006, I was oblivious that brass bands had undergone a major makeover. I was a couple decades behind the times. Having grown up around Dixieland jazz and watching brass bands at Mardis Gras in the 60’s, I wasn’t expecting the addition of funk, rock and R&B that the New Orleans Nightcrawlers were throwing at me from the stage. The music was unexpected, danceable and down right entertaining.  I can pretty much trace my radio show and this blog to that moment in the jazz tent.

cropped-blog11.jpg
Many New Orleans brass bands blend tradition with newer styles to keep the music fresh and unique.

Returning home with their live album hot in my hand, I started learning more about this music which seems to have one toe in tradition and the rest of its toes in hip hop, bepop, funk, and rock.

When I got back to New Orleans later in the year, I made a point to catch Rebirth Brass Band at their home base, the Maple Leaf — which for this brass band band fan is the equivalent of a devout Catholic getting to meet the Pope in the Vatican.

I wish I could tell you first hand how this music has transformed over the years. But I wasn’t there. I can tell you that an important part of it was keeping the brass band tradition alive. Mentors like Danny Barker who formed the Fairview Baptist Marching Band were key. From that youth band, a new generation of musicians, schooled in the tradition, but open to other styles, rose up the ranks.

What do I like about this music? Just about everything.

Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf Bar in Uptown New Orleans every Tuesday night except when the band tours..
Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf Bar in Uptown New Orleans every Tuesday night except when the band tours..

But I’ll use Rebirth’s “What Goes Around Comes Around” from their grammy-winning CD as an example.  Vincent Broussard on tenor sax applies a simple but catchy melody. Then the drummers kick in, keeping a beat but also playing around the beat in a totally engaging way. Founding band member Phil Frazier enters with the bass line on sousaphone while the other horns add depth. Broussard then takes the melody to new territory on another solo before the harmonizing horns kick in with a full breath rendition of the original melody, and I feel it right in my chest, a total uplift. There’s a give and take between the sax and the horns with the trumpet and trombone doing their own solo turns before a sort of controlled chaos breaks loose. At around the 4:20 mark, with about minute left, the band members begin to sing or sort of chant: “What goes around comes around in its time. We’re going to dance around, smoke a bong and get on down.”

Okay, so its party music. Music that definitely works best performed live, with a favorite libation nearby and some room to boogie. In fact, brass bands are designed to move, to march in parades, lead second lines and get people dancing wherever they are.

A couple of years ago, while waiting in line to eat lunch at Casamento’s, I got into a discussion with the guy ahead of me about The Soul Rebels who had just put out “Unlock Your Mind” that year. He was quite insistent that the only way to hear a New Orleans brass band is at their home base, which for the Rebels is Les Bon Temps Roule on Thursday nights. Given that the guy talking was David Simon, creator of Treme who has filmed a number of brass bands including the Rebels in action, I took it as sound advice.  And its true. While I’ve always enjoyed catching Rebirth wherever I can (the band plays the Tractor in Ballard on November 13), I’ve had the best times with them at the Maple Leaf.

Baby Boyz at Jazz Fest. No longer the province of  old men, brass bands provide a path for young musicians to gain professional experience
Baby Boyz at Jazz Fest. No longer the province of old men, brass bands provide a path for young musicians to gain professional experience

Here’s some simple tips for catching a brass band in New Orleans. Do what Simon says, catch them on their home turf if possible. Or catch them leading a second line parade (schedule). If you catch them at a club, be ready to stay up late cause if you’re lucky, the show will start by 11 p.m. Be prepared for a crowd and know that many bars still allow indoor smoking. Finally, if you’re worried about your ears, bring some ear plugs. You’ll still be able to hear them well.

You can also hear them well on Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa, every Monday from 10 a.m. to noon on KAOS, 89.3 FM Olympia