As local superstar Trombone Shorty closed out the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell for the third year in a row Sunday evening, fans expressed nothing short of adoration for the artist who hails from New Orleans but has become an international sensation at age 29.
“It’s so great,” local contractor John Brooks, 46, said about Shorty having the closing spot for the third year in a row. “I’ve known Shorty since he was a little boy. He’s an incredible representative for the city of New Orleans — and for NOCCA.”
Shorty, whose real name is Troy Michael Andrews, was born in the Treme neighborhood and was playing the trombone by age 4. He was one of six performers to play on Jazz Fest’s main stages Sunday who graduated from the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, the local arts high school, and one of dozens who call New Orleans home.
Although Jazz Fest has been infiltrated by more alternative groups, such as the punk ska rock band No Doubt, and on Saturday attracted massive crowds for famous acts such as Elton John and Jerry Lee Lewis, some festivalgoers said the last day was all about local love — and perhaps more manageable crowds.
On Sunday, local artists dominated the later time slots. In addition to Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue on the Acura Stage, Dr. John closed out the Gentilly Stage, and Kermit Ruffins paid tribute to Louis Armstrong at the People’s Health Economy Hall Tent shortly after 4 p.m.
“I love the local music,” said nurse Betty Rosegaard, 61, who was visiting from Long Island. Rosegaard said she came to New Orleans to see Shorty as well as The Radiators and John Boutte.
Also on the day’s bill were The Meters, George Porter, Walter “Wolfman” Washington and others.
Yet another well-known New Orleanian, Drew Brees, came up to the stage during a Trombone Shorty encore and shouted “Who Dat!” with the crowd.
And, as with “locals day” on Thursday, some New Orleanians on Sunday said they hoped the large number of close-to-home names would mean fewer visitors from elsewhere shoving through narrow spaces, trampling blankets laid out on the ground and competing for a chance to use the restroom or grab a strawberry lemonade.
In particular, three big acts that closed out Saturday drew huge crowds: Elton John on the Acura Stage, rapper T.I. on the Congo Square Stage and British singer Ed Sheeran on the Gentilly Stage.
“It was crazy. It was some of the biggest crowds I’ve ever seen, and I’m from here,” said Cricket Taylor, 52, whose husband owns a bar in New Orleans.
As she sat and watched the NOCCA Allstar Alumni Jazz Jam, featuring Donald Harrison Jr., retired Orleans Parish schoolteacher Simonette Dolliole reminisced about a time when she said Jazz Fest was more about local music.
“This is one of the things I was just expressing to my daughter: The flavor of the Jazz Fest has changed since we have the big bands as opposed to more local ones,” Dolliole said. “It’s just not the same as it was. I don’t know if it’s to bring in more tickets and bigger crowds, but the flavor of the whole festival has changed.”
Shortly before Trombone Shorty took the stage to face a sea of dancing, shouting, fist-pumping revelers, Jazz Fest producer Quint Davis — who has heard similar criticisms for many years — told the crowd that of 500 acts at the festival this year, 423 hail from New Orleans or south Louisiana.
“At the end of the festival, on the last day, the last note of music comes from New Orleans,” Davis said. “But it ain’t soft. It’s our own Trombone Shorty.”
Shorty was just one of Sunday’s many performers who graduated from NOCCA — a fact that festival officials touted.
Other artists with NOCCA ties included Courtney Bryan, Khari Allen Lee and Gregory Agid, who played the music of Alvin Batiste and Harold Batiste at the Zatarain’s/WWOZ Jazz Tent.
Jason Marsalis also played in the Jazz Tent, as did the NOCCA Allstar Alumni Jazz Jam.
Kid Chocolate’s Onward Brass Band, another group including the school’s alumni, played to a second-lining crowd midday at the People’s Health Economy Hall Tent.
NOCCA is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Jazz Fest paid tribute to the milestone with a tent featuring student showcases, artist interviews and a photo gallery of school alumni who played at the festival in previous years.
“It’s a really great opportunity for current students to perform here, as it’s such a non-structured environment,” said Julia Hill, a 2001 NOCCA graduate who creates large-scale puppetry and was presenting her work inside the tent.
Street artist and NOCCA alumnus Brandon “BMike” Odums had an exhibition space just outside the 40th anniversary tent. As he stood spraypainting one of his famous murals during a live exhibition, Odums took a moment to express his admiration for the school and for alumni who include big names like Wynton Marsalis, Harry Connick Jr. and Ben Jaffe, of Preservation Hall.
“To me, NOCCA was one of the great beneficial experiences of my upbringing,” Odums said as he painted Public Enemy and Nina Simone in blue spray paint on a piece that he referred to as his “dream Jazz Fest lineup.”
“It prepared me for everything I’m doing now,” he said.
Odums added that he still collaborates with many of the artists he met there. He went to school with Trombone Shorty, for example, and now he does the trumpeter and trombonist’s music videos. He’s also created album covers for saxophonist Chris Royal, and he had local musician Christian Scott perform at a recent large-scale installation called “Project Be.”
“Being around that crowd was the best thing,” Odums said. “We are equally moved, equally motivated, and we always challenged each other.”
New Orleans is such a tight-knit community, he added, that his best piece of advice to future artists would be to make the kinds of lifelong friends he has.
“I would tell them: Your network is your network, and you should create it while you’re there,” Odums said. “You’re literally surrounded by the best and the brightest.”