The skies have opened up and gifted us with a robust blessing this year: the return of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, set to commence April 29, and last through Sunday, May 8.
Now, when you think of the major festivals thrown throughout the nation in a given summer, a couple are almost certain to come to mind. These would be, generally, Bonnaroo, Pitchfork Music Festival, Lollapalooza, Coachella, Austin City Limits and perhaps the new East Coast wave of Boston Calling and Governors Ball.
The jazz fest in New Orleans is rarely if ever embraced as one of our country’s primary musical events and truth be told, it’s almost like they like it this way. There’s this defiant coolness that almost borders on glibness in the way certain icons of the event do their business, from the sly, offhand account of the fest as “easy peasy for measy” by J&H veteran Rickie Lee Jones , to the casual tone a local hotel takes in mentioning “alligator pie” as one of the dishes available at the concession stand there. This element of cool swagger resembles the kind of cultural energy and uniqueness serving to make the Jazz & Heritage fest one of the last truly authentic large-scale operations to be witnessed in America.
But the Heritage Fest is not just jazz, in a way making it both a misnomer and also a singular type of layered phenomenon. As is par for the course, this year, a handful of notable mainstream musical acts which shirk the primary category of “jazz” are making an appearance. Among these are The Black Crowes, Willie Nelson, Erykah Badu, the Foo Fighters, Jimmy Buffett and The Who, as well as late add-on Red Hot Chili Peppers, infusing the event with some significant star power and some major-chord gusto. Roger Daltrey didn’t die before he got old but at least he can enact a certain rebellion like a mischievous juvenile might, doing a gig where a lot of people would have thought he wouldn’t have been welcome. Single-day tickets are moving for $80 each ahead of the show, with full rides setting spectators back $225, which I think is barely more than I paid to go to three days of Lollapalooza back in ’09.
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