Review: New Orleans Jazz Festival Final Day

Posted on: Saturday, May 8, 2010

So, we got this far without the rain…..but today…….!!!    However, the Blues tent is dry, and crowded, not just with refugees from the adverse weather, but with those tempted by the promise of great music!

First up, Ernie Vincent and the Top Notes, best known for their early 70’s hit “Dap Walk”, who got us off to a rousing start.

They were followed up onto the stage by Margie Perez, a local favourite who is well known on the Louisiana scene for singing blues, and New Orleans standards. She delivered a lively performance that was full of energy, and strong vocally with many of the numbers taken from “Singing for my Supper”, released last year.

I also managed a brief visit to the Acuna (main) Stage at this juncture, and caught some of Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s set, which included standards such as “Please Release Me” and  “..but I do”. Inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2007, Henry first found R’n’B fame in 1956 when he released “I ain’t got a home”, and in 1964 toured with The Beatles.

“Welcome to Chicago!” shouted Dave Specter as he introduced his band, and their guest, Jimmy Johnson. And they did indeed serve up some great Chicago-style blues which, it has to be said, came as something of a refreshing change after a plethora of its New Orleans/Louisiana cousin.

Luther Kent, backed by a huge band (well ,10 musicians or so) was next up, and not really my particular cup-of-tea. However, it has to be said that he really got the crowd on his side, and gave a thoroughly professional performance as befits a man with 40 years or so experince in the business (including a term with Blood, Sweat and Tears).

And so to the headliner, B.B.King!  A consumate professional, surrounded by a band of superb musicians, “Blues Boy” gave us a real show, including classics such as “The Thrill is Gone”, my particular favourite in his songbook. For all that though, I have to say that my enjoyment was tinged with some disappointment – B.B himself played very little ,apart from a (very) few classic single string parts, and the occasional staccato strum of a chord -much time was spent grimacing to the crowd, or “bringing in” band members for their solos. A great end to the festival nonetheless!

Other festival highlights:  aside from the performances already mentioned in the course of my reviews, a couple of others stand out –

Chris Thomas King first came to most people’s attention when he played Bluesman Tommy Johnson in the Coen Brothers film “O Brother where art thou? (2002).  I can recall going to see him at Alexanders in Chester shortly after, only to be disappointed when he gave us some form of experimental blues, playing against a hip-hop, “scratching” rhythm.

This performance however, saw him reverting to his roots – great acoustic versions of “Hard Times Killing Floor”  and “Man of Constant Sorrow” (from “OBWAT”), or wonderful piano playing on “You Don’t Know Me” ,for example.

Irma Thomas gave a magnificent performance on the main stage (and a couple of days later sang an a capella version of “The Star Spangled Banner” at the inauguration of the new Mayor of New Orleans). Ok – so she’s the SOUL Queen of New Orleans, but I defy anyone present to say that this wasn’t, at least in part, a BLUES show! Standout number for me “If you want it, come and get it!” but throughout this was a great show form a lady who is greatly vocally, and knows how to really work a crowd!!

And finally, a word about New Orleans. This city, and its people, have been through a nightmare of an ordeal in the five years since Katrina, but I have never been to a better organised event, or been welcomed by such friendly people, as here! There is a real sense of pride permeating through this event – a pride that is fully justified!   Thank you, New Orleans!

Ian Williams

PS watch out for Festival photos – coming shortly

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