And the Blues Tent loves him for it.

Well, I haven’t mused and reflected here for some years, having my coverage for other sources do that for me. And while grateful to share my coverage again with No Depression, who continues to be incredibly supportive of music focused photojournalism, I wanted to go deeper with my coverage than their space allows, and so here we are. But there is a common thread that hit me my first day in New Orleans. Sitting on my pal Rick’s back porch near the Fair Grounds, the day before Fest started, we were talking about the joys and rigors of Jazz Fest. How to dig in, let alone document, what this year was over 600 performances and interviews, over eight festival days. FOMO is a real thing come Jazz Fest and it’ll make your head explode and your body wobble. But sitting on Rick’s porch, we flipped the script. Jazz Fest is not about FOMO, it’s about JOMO – the joy of missing out. Because, as in life, wherever you are on the Fair Grounds is exactly where you should be, no matter how carefully you curated your schedule and what you miss to experience it.

Now that I’ve JOMOed myself, the reality of coverage sets in. As a music lover especially steeped in blues, jazz and roots, I am on task to cover and document the vastness of the event held on the Fair Grounds Race Course north of Mid-City in New Orleans. Those who Fest know that there are 14 different stages, tents and pavilions stretching a half-mile from end to end and that conditions can go from gorgeous to brutal in minutes. While my ears want to linger, I am running from stage to stage, with 20+ pounds of gear, often racking up six to seven mile days. It’s high impact stuff, and the tug between observer and participant is constant. Entire sets are out of the question, and I am fortunate to stay 10 minutes and absorb enough to take anything in at all. Upside, I get to the pit deep into a set (for non-headliners) when the band’s worked up a good lather and the real magic happens. And, every so often, I land on a moment that hits the lens just right.

So, with this 53rd edition of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (aka, “Stones Fest”, with Quint Davis finally landing his white whale act for the second Thursday), may these visuals and musings offer a taste of a remarkable eight days.

 

THURSDAY April 25, 2024

First Thursday returned this year to make Jazz Fest an eight-day experience, and was a locals Thursday, where Louisiana residents get in on a $50 ticket. Weather always sets the tone and with cloud cover and temps barely breaking 80, it was a good start. No matter how many times I attend or cover Jazz Fest (this was my 20th). I’m immediately struck by bursting musical flavors at every turn. Blues, gospel, jazz, brass, zydeco, world, jam bands, soul and funk, Americana can all be happening at once, and one lap around is a joyously impossible soundtrack where one seamlessly gives way to another. Frequent Thursday closers Widespread Panic were given a 2.5 hour Festival Stage slot and a day that didn’t stand out to me on paper was full of smaller gems and moments, as well as a strong finish in the Jazz Tent with Lakecia Benjamin and Phoenix, followed by the Kenny Barron Trio. It’s always a good bet to jump into shooting the Jazz & Heritage Stage and my first of the day encounter was with the reds and pinks of the Black Foot Hunters Mardi Gras Indians. This year’s cultural focus was Colombia and I stumbled upon so many colorfully vibrant performances throughout the Fest, including Agrapacion Chango who filled the Festival Stage with whites and purple and a chorus of voices, dance and percussion. John Boutte is a New Orleans treasure that brought the Jazz Tent from a pin-drop hush to a rousing street party. And I just made the end of Billy Iuso’s set at the Lagniappe Stage. Billy’s been killing it these days with his Dead infused originals and covers with Suspect and Radiator Reggie Scanlon on bass and Eddie Christmas on drums. I’m not a huge Widespread fan but shot some of the drop the needle jams of John Bell, Jimmy Herring and Dave Schools’ outfit at the beginning of their wide berth set.

 

The New Orleans Suspects waste no time getting Jazz Fest 53 started.

 

And the Black Foot Hunter Mardi Gras Indians were the first on the Jazz & Heritage Stage.

 

Agrapacion Chango was one of the many Columbian acts scheduled throughout the Fest and filled the Festival Stage with swirls of song, dance and percussion.

 

From a hush to a street party with John Boutte in the Jazz Tent.

 

I see you Billy Iuso.

 

Lakecia Benjamin’s bassist looks to the band leader during her WWOZ Jazz Tent set.

 

John Bell has every reason to Panic early in Widespread’s lengthy closing set on Thursday.

 

Pianist Kenny Barron leading his trio in the WWOZ Jazz Tent.

 

The Marley family legacy at Jazz Fest continued with Stephen Marley on Thursday.

 

FRIDAY April 26, 2024

First Friday, what would’ve usually been the first day of Fest, was about end-to-end smiles. I’ll elaborate. When the wakeup call is the TBC Brass Band and the day finishes with Jon Batiste, what choice is there?  Leyla McCalla is a wonder, and as a photographer, her joy and emotion goes straight to the lens. Some years ago, I came upon Mr. Sipp, the “Mississippi Blues Child”, in the Blues Tent. Born Castro Coleman, he is one of the most photogenic-high energy-bring it to the people-earth scorching acts to come through the place. This year, he and his band were all black suits, white shirts and skinny ties going full tilt revival when I got there, then slowly lapping every corner of the Blues Tent while soloing the entire time and constantly stopping to hang with the crowd. Yes, strolling through a room firing off classic licks is a go to in most bluesmen’s bag, but few I’ve encountered come close to Mr. Sipp in the Blues Tent. It’s been a thrill to see the ascension of The Revivalists as they continue to roll, and the freshly shorn David Shaw plays to the photographers and the throng like family. He spotted me and got right in my face for the shot, and I walked away happy. I could care less about The Killers, who closed the Festival Stage and never allow photographers, so I could get to Jon Batiste at Gentilly. The pit was partially blocked by his ramp and photographers were told we might have to cycle through and not get the entire first three if it got too crowded. Now, I have mad respect for Jon Batiste, but have found his crowd pleasing approach a little corny at times. This was not that. On the heels of his excellent Grammy winning “World Music Radio” record, Batiste came out Telecaster in hand for “Tell the Truth”, like a full-on guitar hero, who happened to have Brandon “Taz” Niederauer, a full-on guitar hero, by his side. It was a celebration from the get-go for the overflowing Gentilly grounds, and the pit position next to the ramp with the crowd and grandstand in the background was a stunning perspective.

 

Leyla McCalla at the Fais Do-Do Stage, one of Jazz Fest’s rare gems.

 

Mr. Sipp gets personal, and fires off some his best solos.

 

And the Blues Tent loves him for it.

 

The Revivalists’ David Shaw wants to lend a helping hand, as the band continues to own the Festival Stage.

 

Amy Helm’s last Jazz Fest appearance was alongside father Levon in 2010, but Saturday the Fais Do-Do Stage was all her and her band’s

 

Jon Batiste is a super power for good, with the help of guitar hero Brandon “Taz” Niederauer.

 

Err, Yale student and high flyer, Taz Niederauer.

 

SATURDAY April 27, 2024

By Day 3, I’m finding my groove, but at 64, shooting an event the scale of Jazz Fest feels even higher impact than previous years. Most of Saturday was at the Festival Stage side of the Fair Grounds, with fewer steps between the Blues and Jazz Tents, and many classic only at Jazz Fest moments that ensued. Spoiler alert – only at Jazz Fest can Molly Tuttle & Golden Highways’ bluegrass spin on “Ramblin’ Man” (honoring the recent passing of Allman Brothers guitarist Dickie Betts) be steps away from the sublime sounds of saxophonist/flautist/multi-instrumentalist Charles Lloyd and his brilliant quartet (with Gerald Clayton, Marcus Gilmore and Larry Grenadier). It was a Fest day punctuated by Jonathan “Boogie” Long and Robert Cray in the Blues Tent. Nicholas Payton met the muscle of the Nth Power, and Cuban pianist Victor Campbell who calls New Orleans home opened my head, both in the Jazz Tent. The jazz funeral for drummer Russell Batiste that threaded its way around the Fair Grounds was a rolling threauxdown that would’ve had him grinning. And Wayne Toups still burns like some kind of Allman Brothers zydeco. No surprise that Quint lined up the honky tonk of Gal Holiday with the stringing of Molly Tuttle and the bro-country guitar hugging Americana of Chris Stapleton on the Festival Stage. Suffice to say it was a musically fulfilling day for the lens and the ears.

 

The Creole Wild West Mardi Gras Indians.

 

Jonathan “Boogie” Long, how sweet the sound.

 

Members of the Single Men Social Aid & Pleasure Club honoring Russell Batiste with style.

 

Wayne Toups and Zydecajun deservedly up in arms.

 

From the Fais Do-Do Stage last year to the Festival Stage this year, Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway are on the rise.

 

Charles Lloyd absorbs Gerald Clayton’s solo during Lloyd’s WWOZ Jazz Tent set.

 

Guitar emotion from Robert Cray in the Blues Tent.

 

Nicholas Payton blowing a star at the Nth Power’s Nick Cassarino.

 

SUNDAY April 28, 2024

Jacob Velez y Mambanegra from Cali, were just a powerhouse of energy. An early Jazz Tent set from pianist Oscar Rossignoli was a revelation, and I look forward to hearing more from him. A 30th anniversary tribute to the Louis Armstrong Camp band was buoyant with New Orleans classics that had 92-year vocalist Germaine Bazzle dancing on stage with Davell Crawford, a beautiful moment to experience, even if the lens never quite got there. Nothing spells Jazz Fest for me quite like T-R-U-M-P-E-T-M-A-F-I-A with their 16 trumpets, five saxes, four trombones, two keys and an all-star percussion section of Jason Marsalis, Weedie Braimah and Bill Summers. Do take that in for a minute. I wasn’t going to miss Bela Fleck and My Bluegrass Heart. Only in those hands could a banjo driven arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue sound so right. Michael Franti is a sun beam of positive vibrations wherever he goes, and he spent as much time in the crowd and sharing the stage with kids, as he did his thing. An unexpected Sunday highlight was deep in the Allman Betts Band Blues Tent set. My devotion to the elder band never extended much to their progeny, but they laid down a soul stirring bone chilling “Dreams” that felt like Dickie was watching over us all.

 

Pianist Oscar Rossignoli in the WWOZ Jazz Tent.

 

A close call with Fi Yi Yi and the Mandingo Warriors at the Jazz & Heritage Stage.

 

Trumpet Mafia in the WWOZ Jazz Tent, count ’em if you can.

 

Michael Franti is a man of the people.

 

Joseph “Monk” Boudreaux is the oldest living Mardi Gras Indian Chief and performed with the Golden Eagles at the Jazz & Heritage Stage.

 

Rhapsodic with Bela Fleck at the Fais Do-Do Stage.

 

Full of joy, New Orleans songwriter and guitarist Joy Clark at the Lagniappe Stage.

 

Anderson .Paak’s closing Festival Stage set may have been more lightly attended than most closers, but it did not dim the exhilaration of his set.

 

More than just carrying the torch, Devon Allman and Duane Betts in the Blues Tent, and Dickie had to be watching over this one.

 

THURSDAY May 2, 2024

The day had arrived. A Jazz Fest day like no other. Sales capped at 40,000. All other stages going dark after 3:30. I knew I wouldn’t make the very short cut to shoot the Stones and arrived around 2:15 with low expectations how it would all unfold. A lot of long time Festers were grumbling about this seemingly un-Fest like arrangement (no tarps or chairs, no other stages running), even sitting it out altogether. That was not I, but I was still skeptical as to how it would go down and it could have been a total cluster. Many were at the gate before it opened to get a good spot, and I was surprised how active the rest of the Fair Grounds were an hour before other stages shut down. Somehow, I managed to find some slightly elevated ground (an imperative when shooting from the crowd) halfway between the sound board and the end of the ramp, that quickly filled after I got there. It was perfect. Everyone knew Mick would be working the ramp throughout their set, and I was probably 100 feet away. After two cancellations (one for Mick’s heart surgery, the other due to the Fest being scrapped for COVID), the third time was clearly charmed as the most recognizable band on the planet met the moment and the moment met them. The rain largely stayed away and the elation on the ground was everywhere from Keith’s opening “Start Me Up” riffs to the last drop of “Satisfaction”, with guests Irma Thomas (to sing “Time Is On My Side”, an historic moment at so many levels) and Dwayne “Rocking” Dopsie on “Let It Bleed”. It was a matinee set in the raw, anchored by every hit and how they still make us feel. I did observe more medical calls in the crowd than usual, and I spent most of Dumpstaphunk’s set beforehand staying low to the turf gathering my reserves. But it was a mic drop of a Fest day for a set that will be talked about for years to come.

 

Mick Jagger and the Stones, a day that will be etched in Jazz Fest lore for years to come.

 

Guitarist Ron Wood during the Stones Jazz Fest set.

 

Dwayne “Rockin'” Dopsie joined the Stones for “Let It Bleed”.

 

Ron Wood bearing down during the Stones jazz Fest set.

 

A truly historic moment when Irma Thomas joined the Stones to sing “Time Is On My Side”, the first time in 18 years they played it live.

 

Mick Jagger during the Stones Jazz Fest set.

 

Guitarist Ron Wood during the Stones Jazz Fest set.

 

Mick Jagger and vocalist Chanel Haynes during “Sympathy for the Devil”.

 

FRIDAY May 3, 2024

Any Fest day that has Galactic following Anders Osborne is a full stop right there. I hung around for a chunk of AO’s set, just when he was digging into “Lafayette”, “On the Road to Charlie Parker” and “Burning” (which he took to some very Jerry spaces). I could fanboy my affection for the man and his music to no end but will save that for another time. Alas, too much Anders had me come up short for Germaine Bazzle in the Jazz Tent and the chance to experience her sui generis of a voice one more time. So, I pivoted and beelined it to Economy Hall for Preservation Hall’s chess wizard and saxophonist Charlie Gabriel, another thriving nonagenerian, then back to the Festival Stage for Galactic. Galactic’s Fest sets are always strong and Stanton Moore reached some new heights with this one, even for him. And the day just kept getting better. I mean, c’mon. Terence Blanchard & the E-Collective in the Jazz Tent next to Allison Russell in the Blues Tent? Personally, as much as I respect Dave Grohl and his love for New Orleans, I’ve never thought much of the Foo Fighters and wasn’t on the list to shoot them anyway. Instead, my last lap took me from Hozier at the Gentilly Stage to Cristone “Kingfish” Ingram in the Blues Tent to vibist Stefon Harris and his stellar ensemble including pianist Christian Sands and drummer Terreon Gully in the Jazz Tent. I unfortunately missed Jordan Thidodeaux’s set at Fais Do-Do, as it was one of the most highly buzzed sets of the day. Damn JOMO.

 

Burning on the inside and the outside, Anders Osborne knows how to dress for the Jazz Fest occasion.

 

Music is youth in the hands of 91-year old Charlie Gabriel in the Economy Hall Tent.

 

Uptown Ruler, Cyril Neville at the Congo Square Stage

 

Galactic’s set at the Festival Stage…

 

…even had Stanton Moore reaching new heights.

 

Terence Blanchard prowling the stage during his WWOZ Jazz Tent set.

 

Only at Jazz Fest is Allison Russell steps away from Terence Blanchard.

 

A young member of Big Chief Juan & Jockimo’s Groove.

 

Cristone “Kingfish” Ingram in the Blues Tent.

 

Vibist Stefon Harris performing with his stellar Blackout ensemble in the WWOZ Jazz Tent.

 

SATURDAY May 4, 2024

If I had another set pinned to my head for the second weekend, it was the return of Neil Young and Crazy Horse. His 2009 and 2016 appearances are legendary in my 20 years of Festing and he is in the early days of his first tour with the Horse in many years.  Neil’s camp was coy about shooting and most photographers didn’t find out until about 90 minutes before, whether they made the list (I was not). But my day began keeping up with the jazz funeral for Jimmy Buffett, his absence also celebrated by a large exhibit in the grandstand and a Sunday tribute set. Preservation Hall Brass is a guarantee for the Economy Hall Tent to be second lining. And, woo-wee, Jon Cleary and those Absolutely Monster Gentlemen got seriously funked up earlier on the Festival Stage, with some very Monster horns. And the Jazz-Blues two-step of Rhiannon Giddens and Samara Joy, was breathtaking – both shaping the moment cultivating roots and tradition with musical voices spanning generations past, present and future. Nickel Creek drew a throng  of their own to Fais Do-Do, before an end of the day lap anchored by the grab your throat rock of Greta Van Fleet at one end and Neil’s thunder at the other. By the time I joined the pit for Queen Latifah and spent too little time honoring the legacy of Wayne Shorter with his last quartet of Brian Blade, John Patitucci and Danilo Perez, with guest saxophonist Chris Potter in the Jazz Tent, Neil was more than halfway through his set and I was able to plant myself near the sound board. He’s opened this tour with “Cortez the Killer”, perhaps my favorite extended Neil excursion (which I sadly missed) and the shorter Jazz Fest set forewent the brief acoustic break he’s had on the road. “Powderfinger” and “Love and Only Love” were soul crunching. He went solo for “Ohio” (playing the Gretsch of the original recording) and the song never felt like more of a gut punch then it did standing there in the middle of the Fair Grounds. He finished with “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) before the allotted 7 PM hour, and I thought I was too, except slide master Sonny Landreth was still raising hell in the Blues Tent and I had to join him. Now that’s a good Jazz Fest day.

 

Remembering and celebrating Jimmy Buffett.

 

One of the social aid and pleasure clubs remembering Jimmy Buffett.

 

One of the social aid and pleasure clubs remembering Jimmy Buffett.

 

Joe Lastie leads the rhythm behind the Preservation Hall Brass in the Economy Hall Tent.

 

Jon Cleary got Monstrously funky at the Festival Stage.

 

Glen David Andrews in the Blues Tent.

 

Mandolin maestro Chris Thile of Nickel Creek.

 

Rhiannon Giddens draws power from deep roots in the Blues Tent.

 

And Samara Joy freshly honors the tradition of great jazz vocalists in the WWOZ Jazz Tent.

 

Rock and roll will never die with Greta Van Fleet in the world and their Gentilly set had the crowd howling, too.

 

The Queen will see us now, Queen Latifah closing the Congo Square Stage.

 

Chris Potter honoring Wayne Shorter legacy with Shorter’s last quartet, here with bassist John Patitucci.

 

Neil Young is back on that Horse, to tell us “love, and only love, will endure”.

 

And renowned photographer Danny Clinch is on top of it all.

 

But slide master Sonny Landreth was still raising hell in the Blues Tent.

 

SUNDAY May 5, 2024

And on the eighth day, no one rested. The weather had stayed consistently temperate, and the rain largely stayed away over both weekends. While the last day of this 53rd Jazz Fest would close with the recent tradition of Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue on the Festival Stage, the final lap of Fest was a doozy. But I digress. My day began with Dragon Smoke.  What used to be a one-off constellation of Ivan Neville, Eric Lindell and Galactic’s rhythm section of Robert Mercurio and Stanton Moore that would do a brief West Coast end of year tour and a few club dates between Fest weekends, made their second consecutive appearance on the Fair Grounds. And I hit their set when guest Donald Harrison, Jr. squared off with Lindell, a pairing I never saw on stage together. Queen Irma and The Rads were at each of the big stages, and I caught just a tune of dear friend Arsene DeLay with Funk Monkey, founded by Bonerama’s Greg Hicks and Bert Cotton. Vocalist Quiana Lynell flirted mightily with the photographers in the Jazz Tent and Terrance Simien was mighty generous with the Mardi Gras beads as part of his high energy Zydeco experience. Joe Bonamassa made his Fest debut in mirrored shades and a vibrant blue suit at the Gentilly Stage, with smoldering runs on his tricked out ’63 SG from the first note. The much anticipated Jimmy Buffett tribute at the other end of the Fair Grounds had Mac McAnally leading the Coral Reefer Band and guests including Irma Thomas, Trombone Shorty and the Pres Hall horns through a beloved set of all the Buffett tunes that made any Jazz Fest appearance of his a two hour vacation for the masses. Frequent collaborators Sonny Landreth and Jake Shimabukuro sat in throughout, and Jake sure can shred that ukulele. Aah, but that final last lap. What’s a photographer to do when Trombone Shorty, Bonnie Raitt, Earth, Wind and Fire, The Wallflowers, Tower of Power and George Thorogood all hit at the same time? Run a lot, embrace what you can and eventually just take it in. In other words, JOMO the heck out of it. Four out of five ain’t bad (the crowd for Earth, Wind and Fire was impenetrable), but I had to end my Fest listening to Bonnie Raitt, who is so at home at Jazz Fest through the years. Kind of appropriate she finished with Ivan Neville sitting in on a cover of Rufus’ “You Got the Love”, because we all felt it.

 

Donald Harrison, Jr. and Eric Lindell square off during Dragon Smoke’s Gentilly set.

 

The soul queen of New Orleans herself, Irma Thomas, at the Festival Stage.

 

Vocalist Quiana Lynell got the photographer’s attention in the WWOZ Jazz Tent.

 

Arsene DeLay gets her funky monkey on.

 

Joe Bonamassa’s scorching playing did all the sweating at the Gentilly Stage.

 

Fins and Parrotheads gathered once again at the Festival Stage to celebrate the life and songs of Jimmy Buffett.

 

Ukelele shredder Jake Shimabukuro with the Jimmy Buffett tribute.

 

Trombone Shorty and guitarist Pete Murano get close during the traditional final set of Jazz Fest at the Festival Stage.

 

George Thorogood is in the right place for a bourbon, a scotch and a beer.

 

This photographer was in a nick of time to finish his Jazz Fest with Bonnie Raitt at the Gentilly Stage.

 

And with that, Jazz Fest 53 was in the books, JOMO and all.

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