The New Orleans Jazz Fest’s highest-billed headliners — this year, those include Stevie Wonder, Pearl Jam, Paul Simon and Neil Young — drive the conversation about the festival when the lineup is released early in the year. But there are a lot of stages on the Fair Grounds and a lot of slots to fill. That undercard is packed with talent; in recent years, it’s delivered steadily rising acts and recently minted stars like Jason Isbell, the Alabama Shakes and Chris Stapleton, just to name a few.
Here are 10 such acts at the fest — officially the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell — including some first-time Grammy nominees, re-emerging legends and even a few locals.
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats: The mellow folk guitarist’s career took off in earnest last year when he and the Night Sweats ensemble released their self-titled debut — on Memphis’ Stax Records, yet — a whomping platter of vintage-styled, gospel-inflected soul shout drenched in organ and horns.
Leyla M c Calla: Now a New Orleans resident, McCalla was Giddens’ bandmate in the Carolina Chocolate Drops (the two women both play Jazz Fest’s first Sunday, so an onstage collaboration seems not out of the question.) The cellist’s latest is the gorgeous, understated “Vari-Colored Songs” from 2014, an elegant and delicate tribute to poet Langston Hughes.
Elle King: King’s arsenal includes a nasty rasp that’s been compared to rockabilly firecracker Wanda Jackson’s and a sharp pen that injects her greasy, gritty roots-rock with sardonic bite.
The Lost Bayou Ramblers with Spider Stacy: The Pogues’ Spider Stacy, who now lives in New Orleans, heard the Lost Bayou Ramblers’ wild, high-octane Cajun music and connected it to his own band’s punk interpretation of the traditional Irish sound. The Fair Grounds show will be their third live collaboration, taking on selections from the Pogues catalog together.
Rhiannon Giddens: Giddens has played Jazz Fest before, as the lead singer for the Grammy-winning old-time string ensemble the Carolina Chocolate Drops. The violinist and banjo player returns, riding the wave of her acclaimed (and Grammy-nominated) 2015 solo album “Tomorrow Is My Turn,” which lets her primal, powerful voice loose on a collection of faithfully interpreted country-blues and folk covers and traditional tunes.
Brandi Carlile: Singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile makes warm, melodic folk-rock awash in sweet harmonies and diverse in references, from old-school rock ’n’ roll to Laurel Canyon hippie country. Her fifth album, 2015’s “The Firewatcher’s Daughter,” is up for a Grammy award in the best Americana album category.
Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Native Canadian singer was a folk firebrand in the ’60s, maybe best known for her intense antiwar ballad “Universal Soldier.” At 74, with a brand-new album (2015’s Polaris Prize-winning “Power In The Blood,” she remains a fierce and compelling performer with lots of new musical tricks up her sleeve.
Sweet Pain with Supa G: Belize is the showcased country at the 2016 Jazz Fest’s Cultural Exchange Pavilion, and both Sweet Pain and Supa G are popular purveyors of that country’s punta-rock sound — an updated, infectiously danceable mix of traditional punta supercharged with electric guitar, synth and drum machine as well as congas, maracas and shell percussion.
The Lone Bellow: A Brooklyn-based folk-pop and country soul ensemble whose live shows, with plenty of brass and strings, are whomping and joyous.
The 79rs Gang: “Fire on the Bayou,” the 79rs Gang’s early-2015 debut, was a spare recording: the voices of two Mardi Gras Indian chiefs, tambourine and drums on new compositions and classic Indian songs. Electrified with fresh, street-level energy and rooted deeply in tradition, it was easily one of the year’s best releases.