Mother Nature made amends to Bruce Daigrepont on opening day of the 2019 French Quarter Festival.
Last year, the Cajun bandleader’s performance at the festival was one of dozens canceled by stormy weather.
But on Thursday afternoon, Daigrepont, wielding a button-key accordion decorated with a crawfish, led his band at the Chevron Stage on Decatur Street under a blazing sun. The only meteorological challenge was an occasionally stiff breeze, hazardous to hats and unsecured sheet music.
Need a refresher on the breadth and depth of musical talent in New Orleans and south Louisiana?
“It’s fantastic,” Daigrepont said of the weather, just before he went onstage. “We’re lucky.”
The 36th edition of the French Quarter Festival, billed as the world’s largest free showcase of South Louisiana music, eased into its long weekend with a soft, but not quiet, opening. Only six stages were up and running on Thursday. That number will double on Friday, then double again for the remainder of the weekend.
Even with only six stages, there was more than enough music and food to entertain the thousands of tourists and locals who took the day off. Lines formed for iced tea and cold beer; the Key West Hat Co. in the 400 block of Decatur did a brisk business in straw hats.
Hours after he led the festival’s opening parade through the French Quarter, Darryl “Dancing Man 504” Young, still sporting a red sash and red-and-white shoes, worked his way between the rows of chair-sitters in Woldenberg Riverfront Park, greeting well-wishers.
“I tell them, ‘Just ’cause you’re sittin’ down doesn’t mean you can’t throw down,’ ” he said.
“It’s the first day of the French Quarter Festival, the first real festival. I love the smaller festivals, and I appreciate them. But when you got the French Quarter Festival, you got a festival. It's 1,700 musicians, spreading it out, full of love.”
New Orleans now seems firmly established as a destination for arena tours, not just a second-tier stop between Houston and Atlanta. As such, l…
On the Abita Beer Stage, trumpeter Kermit Ruffins acknowledged the weather with Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now" and its refrain of “It’s gonna be a bright, sun-shiny day,” as well as “On the Sunny Side of the Street.”
In Louis Armstrong’s version of the latter, Armstrong sings, “If I never have another cent, I’d be as rich as Rockefeller.” Onstage, Ruffins cheekily updated the reference to a fellow New Orleans musician: “If I never get another cent, I’ll be as rich as Trombone Shorty.”
How successive generations of New Orleans musicians influence one another was evident throughout the day.
As the festival's first act at the GE Stage behind the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, Darcy Malone & the Tangle concluded with a cover of “My Darling New Orleans,” the signature song of the fondly remembered local rock-funk band Lil Queenie & the Percolators. Leigh “Lil Queenie” Harris is under hospice care in North Carolina as she battles cancer.
“I’ve been doing that song as a tribute to her,” Malone said after the show. “She’s my muse.”
As the Natchez paddlewheeler and a Coast Guard patrol boat passed behind the riverfront Tropical Isle Hand Grenade Stage, Juju Child & the Hypnotic Roots Band grooved on “Droppin’ It.” It’s an original composition, but it could easily pass for a lost track from one of the legendary New Orleans funk band the Meters’ late-career albums .
Back at the Abita Beer Stage minutes later, Cha Wa deployed horns, organ, electric guitar and two vocalists in full Mardi Gras Indian regalia for a version of “Fire on the Bayou” very much inspired by the Neville Brothers.
Big Chief Irving "Honey" Banister of the Creole Wild West and J'Wan Boudreaux, spy boy of the Golden Eagles and grandson of Big Chief Monk Bou…
Lead vocalist J’Wan Boudreaux, in defiance of temperatures that crept into the lower 80s, wore a headdress of pink and orange feathers and matching gloves.
As a member of Evan Christopher’s Clarinet Road at the Hilton Stage inside Jackson Square, Don Vappie deployed a 1921 Vega banjo that Christopher said once belonged to Danny Barker, the famed New Orleans jazz man and storyteller.
“We’re being authentic today,” Christopher said before they launched into “Salee Dame,” a Creole jazz standard that translates to “Salty Woman.”
“Any salty women out there?” Christopher asked.
There were, if for no other reason than the sweat.