The 45th annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival opened Friday with its traditional array of sights, sounds and tastes.
Music on the festival’s 11 performance stages began shortly after 11 a.m. The first parade of the day, featuring the Black Mohawks and Black Foot Hunters Mardi Gras Indians in full and, no doubt, hot regalia, began winding its way through the grounds shortly after noon.
Temperatures in the mid-80s for Jazz Fest’s first day of a two-weekend stand at the Fair Grounds Race Course had fest-goers missing southeastern Louisiana’s long, usually cool spring. Shorts, light tops, sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and plenty of hydration were the order of the day.
Marquee names Santana, the virtuoso electric guitarist whose festival appearances include 1969’s Woodstock, and the Avett Brothers, a folk-rock band from North Carolina, headlined at the festival’s largest stages Friday in the early evening, but a feast of music performed mostly by New Orleans and Louisiana acts filled the day.
Performing at the Blues Tent, New Orleans blues man via Mississippi Little Freddie King looked the blues man part in his purple pants and a matching vest that exposed his orange shirtsleeves. King and his boogieing band played hypnotic blues with haunted harmonica and plenty of rhythm.
A smiling King waved and bowed after his songs. He also gave a shout-out to Jazz Fest’s longtime producer-director, Quint Davis.
“First of all, I want to thank Mr. Davis for letting me be out here for 45 years today,” King said.
At the Fais Do Do Stage, one of the festival’s smaller venues and home to the Cajun and zydeco music that’s indigenous to southwest Louisiana, Geno Delafose, leader of French Rockin’ Boogie, greeted his already large, saying, “Thanks so much for stopping by. Happy Jazz Fest.”
The word happy certainly applies to Delafose’s music. A second-generation zydeco musician and genuine Creole cowboy, he sang in French and played the traditional button-style accordion. His drummer, rubboard player and guitarist produced multiple layers of rhythm.
Delafose and French Rockin’ Boogie aren’t as aggressive as many of their hard-charging, blues-heavy zydeco peers. Even at faster tempos, there’s a gentleness about the band. So a song such as “Lafayette Waltz” fist the band perfectly.
While Delafose and French Rockin’ Boogie wore cowboy hats and boots, the Real Untouchable Brass Band caught festival-goers’ eyes with electric lime T-shirts. The band caught fest-goers’ ears with seven horns and three percussionists. Another of the day’s early afternoon acts, the group played its rocking, swinging, funky brass music on the Jazz and Heritage Stage.
Jazz Fest continues Saturday with jam-band Phish, former Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant with his Sensational Space Shifters and R&B star Robin Thicke. Sunday will see Eric Clapton, Vampire Weekend and Charlie Wilson headlining at the festival’s largest stages.