December 20, 2022
What a difference a year makes, right? Some 12 months ago I wrote I don’t know jack and I still stand by that. Would stadium concerts rule (they did)? Would the world flock to music festivals in huge numbers (they did)? Would I get COVID at my first music festival in three years (I did, but very mild)? Would Ticketcluster exploit the masses in newer and insidious ways while LiveNation delivered “the biggest summer in concert history” (shocking, I know)? Would I still be able to find refuge in intimate jazz and roots performances (yes, but with some casualties)? Suffice it to say all of the above and then some. After wobbling into the new year, 2022 was perhaps my most satisfying as a music photographer, especially after one helluva lost weekend. It even included a British Invasion of sorts. And, judging from the output and creativity of many pals in the pit, it’s been pretty damn good all the way around.
But let’s go back, shall we? Winter surge. Omicron this, Omicron that. We weren’t even saddling up again until February. Still masked, but headfirst. The Just Jazz series resumed in full swing with six February performances, vocalist AmiTafRa’s rapturous debut with a nifty ensemble that included husband Kamasi Washington on sax, his father Rickey Washington on flute, Ben Williams on bass, Jamael Dean on piano, Jonathan Pinson on drums and trombonist Ryan Porter was especially notable. Then, I’ve never been happier to bathe in Galactic’s funk than at the Fonda Theatre Valentine’s week, no matter how many times I’ve seen these guys. Jason Isbell and Shawn Colvin at the gorgeous Theatre at the Ace Hotel a few days later was affirmation I needed. It was beginning to feel like the year might be alright.
The corner turned in a big way in early April, beginning with my first Skull & Roses Festival at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, site of some memorable Grateful Dead shows (my first straight as an arrow show was there in ’82). Four days of Dead infused bands with headliners including Phil & Friends, Oteil & Friends, Dark Star Orchestra, as well as JGB with John Kadlicek, and many others. Skull & Roses is full immersion Deadness, while way relaxed in spirit. That place may be a dust bowl, but it still feels pretty small. Jerry’s Alligator Strat was passed around making for some memorable channeling of his spirit. The crowd was a dense quotient of dreads and twirlers and parking lot campers. Both Liz and I were triple vaxxed at that point, but not yet boosted, so I wasn’t all that surprised given our deep dive that her huskier voice and scratchy throat a few days later wasn’t just fest enthusiasm landing. A positive COVID test confirmed as much. We isolated at home, did what we were supposed to do, and I still got bit by the end of the week. While both fortunate our cases barely registered as colds, we were up against the clock heading into the return of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival less than three weeks out, and finally tested negative just a few days before departure. Such was the 2022 measuring stick. Upside, felt pretty bullet proof rolling into the New Orleans Fair Grounds for the first time since 2019.
While early crowds felt lighter than years past, Jazz Fest 2022 was one of the highest attended ever. Now, I wasn’t sure how it would all feel, but being back after so long was pretty much nectar for the soul. I say it every year. Greatest. Musical. Event. On. The. Planet. Period. I’ve been covering Jazz Fest since 2005, but this was unlike any other, and still like all the others. Every seat in the Blues Tent riding the waves of raw emotion with The War & Treaty. Trumpet Mafia’s stageful of trumpets in the WWOZ Jazz Tent. Mr. Sipp’s 15-minute stroll through the Blues Tent, pausing for selfies with half the room and never dropping a scorching note. The emotional jazz funerals and parades for Charles Neville, Art Neville and Jazz Fest founder George Wein, all gone since the last Fair Grounds gathering. The Revivalists seizing the Festival Stage and never taking their foot off the pedal, embodying the urgency we all felt being back. Did I mention it was brutally hot? Or that a few in our orbit (as well as several scheduled performers) were COVID scratches by the time Shorty closed it down on Sunday? All of these only at Jazz Fest moments inked themselves just a bit deeper this time around.
Mere days after returning from Jazz Fest, Paul McCartney kicked off the first stadium show of his “Got Back” tour at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. As with his 2019 Dodger Stadium show, it was a very quick shoot. First two songs from FOH, maybe 7-8 minutes, tops. But, damn, if it wasn’t just a joy to take in the nearly three-hour magical history tour a few days before Sir Paul hit 80. That our media seats were about 25 rows back was a kicker. The Kennedy-Marshall produced feature length doc, “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” hit screens (the big kind) across the country, and if you blinked, you may have missed a flash montage of my images included in the film, and a bunch of back capwards pit sightings in footage throughout.
Yes, ’22 seemed to be hitting its stride. June brought another peak Just Jazz performance with Logan Richardson’s presentation of Blues People at the Paramount Ballroom in Boyle Heights. Dave Alvin with Jimmie Dale Gilmore returned to The Troubadour with glee and fire on July 4th weekend (appropriately), on the mend from months of successful cancer treatment.
Looking back, it all seemed a windup to a Summer that just kept rolling into the Fall. I need to stop a beat here, for the impossible magic Jay Sweet and all those connected to Newport Folk conjured up this year. Newport is discovery, collaboration and surprises, steeped in a foundation of social activism and a legacy as the oldest running music festival on the continent. But what went down at the Fort this year no one saw coming. Except those who kept it under wraps for seven months. And Brandi Carlile. By now, Joni Mitchell’s closing set is the stuff of legend. How even she didn’t know how much she would be up to. Her extended guitar take on “Just Like This Train”. “Both Sides Now”, enveloping the crowd in a puddle of tears as a thick fog enveloped the Fort. “Summertime”. Whoah. As if Paul Simon joining his Nathaniel Rateliff led American Tune Revue tribute the day before wasn’t the highest bar of the weekend, but it was still pretty darn high. Newport Jazz the following weekend was stacked. The royalty of Ron Carter. The blistering funk of Mononeon. The discovery of Giveton Gelin. Honoring the legacy of George Wein. Jason Moran’s set of the weekend with his trio. This west coast interloper has managed to cover some part of Newport Folk or Newport Jazz since 2014, while picking up a few lifelong friends in the process. I feel like an extended family member amongst the friendliest of tribes after these years.
August into September brought a run of roots and jam shows including Bruce Hornsby and Steve Earle at the Troubadour, JRAD back at the Hollywood Palladium, followed by Umphrey’s later in the month, and TTB (the best dang touring band around) and Goose (haven’t been this high on a “new” band since my youth) at the Greek. Three days of the inaugural BeachLife Ranch Festival brought outlaw country to the water’s edge in Redondo Beach, capped by Brandi Carlile just crushing what continues to be a very big moment for her. Summer gave way to Fall in a big way with Roger Waters’ This Is Not a Drill tour at the Crypto.com Arena, and wherever you fall on the man’s politics, this was undeniably one of the most complete concert presentations in recent memory. TAB at the Palladium (no Taboose out west) and Shovels and Rope back at the Troubadour were October highlights, but it was Bob Weir and the expanded Wolfpack that sealed the month. Three horns, two strings, Matthew Kelly on harp, Jeff Chimenti on keys and Barry Sless on pedal steel on top of the original Weir-Was-Lane Bros were a whole new kind of adventure, not to mention Johnny sitting in for the entire second set.
The Who hit back at the Hollywood Bowl to crack November. A show best summed up by the dude walking out behind me exclaiming “I never miss a tour and this is the best I’ve heard them since 1996”. WIth full orchestra and generous helpings of Tommy and Quadrophenia. Uh, yeah. Then there was the luminescence of Allison Russell at the Troubadour along with songwriter Chris Pierce before Thanksgiving. Chris and I bonded as fellow Angelinos after the show and his latest record “American Silence” is a knockout. I waltzed into December with the Last Waltz Tour closer at the Orpheum Theatre in DTLA and the Warren Haynes led not so rag tag band of NOLA all-stars including Anders Osborne, Dave Malone, Cyril Neville, Terrence Higgins and Mark Mullins had me asking myself the proverbial question “how many days until Jazz Fest”?
So, here we are at year end, taking stock and looking forward (again). Given the world as it was in January, that I got to these shows, let alone documented them, seems a feat in itself. Are we further along the continuum? Yes. Are we in a better place than 12 months ago? I sure as fuck hope so. As it is, I’m just gonna stick with some early Steve Winwood wisdom, “who knows what tomorrow may bring?” Be real, be kind, stay safe. Catch y’all on the flip side.