As exhausting and extensive as it was, the first weekend of the 2016 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell was only an appetizer for the longer Weekend 2. From Thursday through Sunday, the Fair Grounds will teem with fans of the vast variety of music and food the festival serves up.
The question at the start of the first weekend was, “Who will pay tribute to Prince?” By the end, that question became, “Who WON’T pay tribute to Prince?”
Answer: Steely Dan, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and, presumably, the Jambalaya Cajun Band featuring D.L. Menard.
Otherwise, shoutouts to Prince abounded at the Fair Grounds, from rapper J. Cole’s purple Minnesota Vikings jersey with the Prince glyph to Nick Jonas’ slow, sincere “I Would Die 4 U” to Better Than Ezra’s set-closing cover of “Raspberry Beret” to Janelle Moná e dedicating her entire show to her friend and mentor, who died the day before her April 22 set at the Congo Square Stage.
A skywriter spelled out “Prince,” “1999” and the glyph high above the Acura Stage as Pearl Jam “covered” their own “Even Flow,” which Prince had previously covered with 3rdEyeGirl.
Even the Gospel Tent got in on the act, as the Electrifying Crownseekers’ guitarist slipped in a few bars of “Purple Rain” as he was literally being pulled offstage.
Expect the Prince tributes to continue this weekend. Stevie Wonder, the Saturday evening Acura Stage closer, was close to Prince. He almost certainly won’t let his much-respected friend’s passing go unacknowledged.
But the Purple One’s legacy won’t be the only one celebrated at the Fair Grounds this weekend.
Thursday’s Gentilly Stage closer, Elvis Costello, was a friend and collaborator of Allen Toussaint’s. Costello likely will offer some sort of remembrance for Toussaint.
On the festival’s closing Sunday, the Gentilly Stage hosts set-length tributes to Toussaint — who was enshrined in the festival’s “ancestors” memorial garden at the back of the Congo Square field last weekend — and B.B. King. Their respective bands will back a parade of special guests. Bonnie Raitt, whose own show is slotted in between the two tributes, likely will participate in both.
Sunday also will see the continuation of two Jazz Fest traditions of recent vintage: a mass sing-along during Frankie Beverly & Maze at Congo Square and Trombone Shorty’s throw-down to conclude the festival at the Acura Stage.
But first, Jazz Fest eases into its second weekend with “Locals Thursday,” a low-key afternoon that is usually the least populated of the entire festival.
Daily tickets at the gate are $75 per day, or $5 for children ages 2 to 10. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, the nonprofit that owns the festival, uses proceeds to fund a wide range of educational and cultural initiatives, as well several free festivals staged throughout the year.
Jazz Fest’s big new bleachers at the Acura and Congo Square stages, dubbed the “pyramids of Jazz Fest” by festival producer- director Quint Davis, got their first test during the first weekend. If room was still available on the Acura Stage field, the three bleachers sections at the back of the field, each of which can seat more than 1,000 people on 26 rows of benches, were sparsely populated. But when the field filled up for Pearl Jam and, especially, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, so did the bleachers.
If the weather is as sunny as it was the first weekend, Friday’s closer, Paul Simon, likely will draw a large crowd, as will Stevie Wonder on Saturday.
This weekend also will feature Neil Young, Snoop Dogg, Beck, My Morning Jacket, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Flo Rida, Arturo Sandoval, Buddy Guy, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, the Isley Brothers and scores of indigenous south Louisiana acts that make up the foundation of the festival and its unique pedigree.
And, in spirit at least, Prince.