When the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival announced a 90-minute delayed opening due to rain this morning, it seemed like the Blues Tent might be a good place to hide from the elements, but the tent provided plenty of shade as skies cleared and The War and Treaty, Elvin Bishop's Big Fun Trio and Robert Randolph delivered great sets.
Tank and the Bangas just released "Green Balloon" on Verve Forecast, and the set was rolling in green. Women in shiny green leotards danced before Tarronia "Tank" Ball came to the center of the Acura Stage in a tulle cape in forest green and bright yellow-green. Green sticks stuck in her hair and she wore green eye-liner behind green shaded glasses. There also were plenty of green balloons on the stage, which were released with the final song. The band opened with "SpaceShip" and played songs off the new album, including "Nice Things," "Smoke.Netflix.Chill" and "Hot Air Balloons." Tank can hold an audience's attention, whether she's nimbly racing through raps, playfully squealing in a high pitched baby talk voice or occasionally belting out songs in a lower register. And the band mixes it up, throwing in swanky slow-jamming baselines, flute solos, congas, funk or whatever else they decide to add. Tank mentioned that the band recently performed on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," and said, "It's no big deal. It's no big deal," but the band was clearly strutting on the Acura Stage, and it's becoming a big deal.
Jupiter and Okwess performed a few sets on different stages last year. Hailing from the Democratic Republic of Congo, it played the Congo Square Stage — a few magnitudes in size larger than the Jazz & Heritage Stage, where I caught the band last year, but its spacey rock jams were just as good filling the field today. It's guitar-driven rock at times delves in King Sunny Ade-style picking and Afro-pop, and at times the band launches into danceable, psychedelic-tinged grooves and funky vibes. The band performs twice Sunday: at 12:30 p.m. at the Congo Square Stage and at 3:03 in the Cultural Exchange Pavilion.
Husband and wife duo Michael and Tanya Trotter lead The War and Treaty, and they delivered an amazing set last year at the Lagniappe Stage, where their voices shook the paddock area on retro-styled rock and soul. The band recently performed at Hogs for the Cause, and it seemed like much more of a rock band. In the Blues Tent today, the band reverted to its Jazz Fest style. The Trotters seemed to bare their souls in amazing vocal showcases, and their impassioned rendition of "Til the Morning" seemed to leave Tonya in tears. They sang "Hi Ho" and "Down to the River." During "Set My Soul on Fire," Michael inserted a short interlude of a few lines of "When the Saints Go Marching In," to which he added some scatting in a Louis Armstrong-esque gravelly voice. The couple previewed "Five More Minutes" and another song from their forthcoming album. Trotter spent most of the set playing keyboards at the front of the stage, and the band includes an organ player, trumpet and saxophone, guitar and bass, and the musicianship is solid, but The War and Treaty is all about the Trotters' incredibly deep, strong voices and their chemistry when they perform together.
The War and Treaty was followed by a late addition to the festival lineup. John Prine canceled his appearance due to illness, and Elvin Bishop's Big Fun Trio took the slot. Bishop was born in California and settled in Chicago, where he became the guitarist for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Over the years he's settled into traditional blues, and the trio has an entertaining lineup, with Bishop flanked by Bob Welsh alternating between guitar and keyboards and Willy Jordan, who sings and does percussion on a cajon (a box that the musician sits on while slapping the front). Bishop mentioned that the band did not win the Best Traditional Blues Album Grammy Award in 2017 for its self-titled album. The award went to The Rolling Stones for "Blue & Lonesome." Jordan then sang on the Trio's cover of "It's All Over Now," a hit for The Rolling Stones, but a blues tune written by Bobby and Shirley Womack. Jordan also sang covers of Tina Turner's "I Can't Stand the Rain" and Jackie Wilson's "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher." The band did Bishop's 1975 song "Fooled Around and Fell in Love," as well as material from the Trio's recent albums, including "Keep on Rollin'." One of the most fun songs was Bishop's "Something Smells Funky 'Round Here," ("...funky like a bad pot of chicken / like some old rotten politician"). They closed the set with a rousing cover of Bishop's early 1970s song "Rock My Soul."
Closing the Blues Tent was Robert Randolph & the Family Band. Although the group established itself as a rock and soul group (during the jam band craze) with Randolph leading on pedal steel guitar, the set sounded like a Jimi Hendrix-esque dive into guitar-jamming heavy electric blues. The band opened with ZZ Top's "I Thank You" with a soulful vibe. Randolph let others do much of the singing and he took the spotlight with sizzling guitar work, including a distortion-heavy interlude from Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" and later a jangly "God Bless America." But the band members all showed off their talents in one song when, first, Randolph got behind the drum kit and the drummer started playing pedal steel guitar. Then the bass player and guitarist swapped instruments, before the bassist traded with the organist. Then vocalist Lenesha Randolph got behind the drum kit. The group barely missed a beat as they traded places, and though Randolph is brilliant on pedal steel, he's surrounded by a very capable band.