There were multiple themes in 2016 that included scheduled and unscheduled tributes. Namely the untimely death of Prince brought a very emotional variety of acknowledgements and tributes. Prince never played at Jazz Fest, but he did appear at the Essence Festival in 2014. The first weekend started on April 22, and ended Sunday April 24, 2016.
Friday started out as a wet day on the fairgrounds, but as the day moved on, the rain stopped. Grace Potter delivered a heartfelt “When Doves Cry” during her set with her band. Gov’t Mule later broke out their cover of “When Doves Cry” in honor of Prince. Prince was also on the mind of Sharon Jones who along with The Dap-Kings dedicated their performance of their song “When I Come Home” to Prince. Janelle Monáe dedicated her entire set to Prince and performed “Givin’ Em What They Love” which she wrote with Prince for her last album.
Friday also included performances by Steely Dan, Michael McDonald, Cowboy Mouth, Kermit Ruffins, Walter Trout, Buckwheat Zydeco to name just a few. Bluesman, Walter Trout was deathly ill a year a go and now has a new lease on life and his performance was evidence of that. Trout has always delivered stellar performances, but his performance at Jazz Fest was special! It turned out to be a great day!
Saturday the sun was in full “bloom!” Headliners Pearl Jam, Maxwell, and Van Morrison drew a mob scene. Van Morrison’s set had a particularly mob feel to it. I the past Morrison had only played the larger Acura Stage. Maybe that should be revisited again in the future. Van’s crowd helped the Pearl Jam crowd be more manageable.
Boz Scaggs did not disappoint fans in the blues tent. His set was a tour of his whole career and he was in his best voice. The crowd, at first, sat respectfully for the first few songs, but when Ms. Mone’t came onstage to sing “Until You Come Back to Me,” those who were sitting, gave her a standing ovation at the end of an extended version of the song. After that, there was no sitting down!
There were many tributes throughout Saturday. The most dramatic one came during the Pearl Jam set when a sky writer above the crowd wrote in big white letters “Prince” followed by the symbol for the entertainer. It was there for the whole city of New Orleans to see.
Sunday reigned with legendary performers like Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, Taj Mahal, Little Freddie King as well as rockers Red Chili Peppers, Nick Jonas, and rapper JJ Cole. Mid day featured Rhiannon Giddens and Elle King to add girl power to the mix.
Nick Spitzer conducted an interview with singer/musician Rhiannon Giddens. Giddens is the lead singer of the Caroline Chocolate Drops. This has been a big year for the singer having been a part of the New Basement Tapes project produced by T-Bone Burnett. Ths is a compilation of partial songs written by Bob Dylan that were never released. She released her first solo album, Tomorrow Is My Turn, and Mr. Burnett also produced this album. The informative interview was 45-minutes long and will be covered separately. Ms. Giddens’ set was the performance of the weekend. Her set was much like a history lesson of music throughout the last three centuries. The exuberant standing ovations were numerous! Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings were a close second.
The blues tent was filled with blues music greats. Preston Shannon, dubbed the King of Beale Street, presented the most arresting rendition of Prince’s “Purple Rain.” He told the story of how Prince heard Shannon’s version of the song and selected him to be on Prince’s tribute album.
Later in the day, blues legend, John Mayall, closed the blues tent. This was a superb set by an 84 year old who can still keep up with the younger performers!
At the five o’clock hour, it was impossible to get the Red Chili Pepper stage. The place was packed so I meandered over to the Nick Jonas stage. It was totally the opposite. The crowd was thin. The Grand Marshall area was practically empty. The audience was largely pre-teens, ‘tweens,’ and teenaged girls. There were moms accompanying the young girls. The set was energetic and again he did another Prince shout out by singing ‘Purple Rain” and “I Would Die 4 U.”
J Cole had a big crowd at the Congo stage in fact packed all the way to the rear. Most of the set evolved around his platinum album, Forest Hill Drive. His fans were happy as the day and the weekend ended.
This weekend was a weekend celebrating Prince. Next Jazz Fest weekend will be celebrating Allen Toussaint and B.B.King. The second weekend will be even better.