The closing slot on the final day of Jazz Fest has always been a sacred moment. Days of music, food, and crafts culminate in one high profile set from a quintessential New Orleans artist.

In the early years of the festival, that closing spot belonged to Professor Longhair. Through 1979, Fess brought the festival to a close in intimate fashion. Jazz Fest was smaller and looser in those days. The audience could sit on the corner of the stage. Other stages of the festival closed down so everyone could come see the patron saint of New Orleans piano play.

After his death in early 1980, the stage was graced with his image, and became the “Fess Stage.”

Soon after, the closing slot honor was passed to another New Orleans powerhouse act — the Neville Brothers. The Nevilles took over and stayed there, nearly every year, until 2012.

The "first family of funk" embodied the spirit of the festival with their powerful sets, and often closed things out with the song "One Love."

After the Neville Brothers disbanded, festival producer Quint Davis selected hometown favorite Trombone Shorty to take over on what is now called the Acura Stage.

NO.jazzfest50.lastacts.tromboneshorty2017.jpg

Trombone Shorty at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell, May 7, 2017. Photo by Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee.

And since 2013, Trombone Shorty has carried the torch of the powerful last set at Jazz Fest, performing a high energy set in front of tens of thousands at the big stage every year, at the end of the day, on that first Sunday in May.

Even though he was young, Trombone Shorty had a long history at Jazz Fest. He first hit the stage there in 1990, at just 4 years old, with his older brother, James Andrews. He’s performed at the festival almost every year since, and continues to close out the Acura Stage to this day. He has said being chosen one of the biggest moments of his life.

*******

The Jazz Fest at 50 series, celebrating the half-century anniversary of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell, is a partnership between The New Orleans Advocate and WWOZ 90.7 FM.