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Calling shots at New Orleans Jazz Fest

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NEW ORLEANS--She was a bright attorney from D.C. We were at Port O' Call, a dark tiki bar and restaurant at 838 Esplanade Ave. where the house drink is the suspect Neptune's Monsoon.

I generally stop at the Port O'Call for a beer on my two- mile walk back to the French Quarter from the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

I was watching the Bulls blow a fourth quarter lead Friday night against Philadelphia. The D.C. attorney and I were talking about Saturday's jazz fest picks such as Steve Earle and New Orleans soul queen Irma Thomas. We were listing all the colorful glories of New Orleans that hang around your soul like Mardi Gras beads.

"You must have a dark side," she said. "If you come to New Orleans alone."

My friend Tom says this is the first line of a great novel.
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But is anyone alone in New Orleans who absorbs the joy and bonding of jazz fest?

How could you be alone when Mavis Staples, the unbending spirit of the promise of Chicago, held court before one of the largest crowds I have seen in the Gospel tent. [She scolded security twice who were trying to contain people from dancing in the aisles.].................

......Staples was full of fire. Guitarist Rick Holmstrom laid down an appointed CCR backbeat for a swampy version of "Wade in the Water" (Golden Gate Quartet, Odetta, etc.} which spilled into a scorching cover of Curtis Mayfield's soul-pop anthem "This Is My Country."

"I'm not too proud right now," Staples told the audience while vamping into "This Is My Country." "I'm not too happy right now. Too many families have lost their homes...And what's up with people going around disrespecting our president (loud cheers).? They're mixin' up the Kool-Aid, y'a ll, and passing it off as tea.

"They talk about taking our country back. Back to where? The '50s and '60s? No. No. No.

"I ain't ever going to the back of the bus. Ever!"

It was 88 degrees outside the gospel tent.
I'd say it was about 120 degrees and rising inside the gospel tent.

Alone?
I spun back to the promise I heard the weekend of the Obama inauguration in D.C. when "This Is My Country" played loud and clear at Marvin (as in Gaye) soul food restaurant. The D.C. attorney and I had talked about that too.
Our thoughts are not alone.

I'm always intrigued by Staples in the gospel tent as it was a different set than when she headlines next month's Chicago Blues Festival (And in July when she appears at a Curtis Mayfield Tribute in New York.)

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Staples, her band and three vocalists including sister Yvonne also delighted the audience with a cover of "The Weight" which was heard all weekend as a tribute to late Band drummer-vocalist Levon Helm. The Staple Singers sang "The Weight" on "The Last Waltz," and in recent years the space for her father Pops' vocals have been turned over to guest artists.

Staples had been slated to appear with Helm in a Saturday evening slot at Jazz Fest and she had been recording material with Helm in Woodstock, N.Y.. Guitarist Warren Haynes took Helm's slot and Dr. John and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band guested with Haynes on "The Weight."

During Friday's jazz fest set Staples brought on mellow Irish vocalist Glen Hansard, best known as part of the now-defunct folk duo The Swell Season and the Frames.

Alone?

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Big Chief Iron Horse & the Black Seminoes Mardi Gras Indians, May 3

I certainly wasn't alone trying to hear and see Irma Thomas and a big band on Saturday. An estimated 65,000 people (a Jazz Fest record that matched last weekend's Bruce Springsteen appearance} had already put dibs on real estate to see the Eagles in their never ending-money grabbing-farewell-reunion tour. I wasn't interested in that but I will always remember Thomas' cresting version of Bob Dylan's Forever Young."

BTW here's Springsteen from last weekend signing "Dancing in the Dark," which is currently the rage in the New Orelans music community. Not my favorite Springsteen song, but a great moment for sure.

Alone?

I spent most of Saturday night with a lot of European tourists at Preservation Hall where the "Midnight Preserves" series brings non-jazz acts into the small space that was built in 1817. A couple from Poland sat one one side of me, two German dudes who took pictures all night sat on my other side.

They were perplexed at the sound of the Tangiers Blues Band which opened for the swamp-pop group Little Band o' Gold, one of my favorite Louisiana acts.

The Tangiers Blues Band includes harmonica player-vocalist Danny Clinch [better known for his photography of Springsteen, Tupac Shakur and Preservation Hall) and is led by a guy named King who sounds like Jimmy Reed and sometimes sings through a megaphone.

Although they cover Muddy Waters "Champagne and Reefer" and Junior Wells' "Messin With the Kid" the Tangiers Blues Band is at their best by interpreting non-blues material like Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up" in an electric blues setting reminiscent of Jimmy Reed.

Most stunning on Saturday was an extended rework of the Beastie Boys "Fight For Your Right To Party" with a cresting Slim Harpo boogie backbeat.

King then removed his brown fedora and doo-rag to reveal hair as long as Joakim Noah's. He continued to sing the tribute to Beastie Boy Adam Yauch with his black hair covering his face.

Now this is the out of the box stuff I'd like to see at the Chicago Blues Festival.

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No trip to Jazz Fest is complete without visiting the junk spacecraft sculpture of Jimmy "The Rocket Man" Descant.

Lil' Band o' Gold features Cajun accordionist Steve Riley, swamp pop guitarist C.C. Adock and their centerpiece is 75-year-old black hair dyed drummer Warren Storm, now officially the world's oldest teenager.

Lil' Band of Gold rolled through chestnuts like Lil' Bob's " I Got Loaded,' " popularized by Los Lobos, and Band of Gold's songwriter-pianist David Egan's deeply stirring "Hallejulah I'm a Dreamer" redone with a Conjunto ballad for Cinco De Mayo? The tribute to Levon Helm did not come in the form of "The Weight" but in Egan's tender take of the Bobby Charles ballad "I Must Be In a Good Place Now." Charles and Dr. John were go-to sources for Helm's soulful spinoff the RCO All-Stars.

In the past artists like Robert Plant and Elvis Costello have sat in with Lil' Band o' Gold. Billy Squier--looking like a tired present day Bob Dylan---checked into Preservation Hall and the band promptly covered his scorching 1982 MTV hit "Everybody Wants You."

Back the mid-'80s I used to dance to that at the Dungeon, the tiny Goth-biker bar just a few blocks away from Preservation Hall .

I was not alone.

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1 Comment

So glad you're writing from down there, Dave. Was there for the first weekend (my 30th JazzFest!). One highlight was the Texas Tornados reunion at Fais Do Do, with Doug Sahm's son Shawn filling in ably for his dad.

Sorry to miss Lil' Band o' Gold, another favorite. Warrren and Levon were cut from the same cloth, wouldn't you say? Always wondered if they knew each other. Odd to think Warren's only 4 years older.

Safe travels!

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Dave Hoekstra

Dave Hoekstra has been a Chicago Sun-Times staff writer since 1985. His collection of Sun-Times travel columns, "Ticket To Everywhere," was published in 2000 by Lake Claremont Press. He was lead writer for "Farm Aid: Song for America" (Rodale Press, 2005) which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Willie Nelson inspired effort.
He won a 1987 Chicago Newspaper Guild Stick O-Type Award for Column Writing. Hoekstra wrote and co-proudced the WTTW-Channel 11 PBS special: "The Staple Singers and the Civil Rights Movement," nominated for a 2001-02 Chicago Emmy for a documentary program/cultural significance.
He lives in Chicago.

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This page contains a single entry by David Hoekstra published on May 6, 2012 4:24 PM.

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