New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival: 29 April - 1 May 2011 - New Orleans

Photo Credit: Megan Slowikowski

With one of the greatest convocations New Orleans has to offer, the first weekend of the 2011 Jazz & Heritage Fest provided everything from zydeco to Cajun to Americana – with a side of crawfish.

The Avett Brothers

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

City: New Orleans, LA
Date: 2011-04-29

“Who dat?” It’s a simple refrain that says it all for the city of New Orleans. Two years ago, it was used as the rallying cry for the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. The banners from that time still hang from Superdome corners to Bourbon Street windows, serving as a constant reminder of victory amidst hardship. In two words you receive all the city has to offer: swagger, defiance, flash, and convocation. One of the great convocations the Crescent City provides is the Jazz & Heritage Fest. Just another reason to get together and enjoy the three things New Orleans does best: food, booze and music. Not necessarily in that order.

As always, the fest runs the gamut musically from mainstream to eclectic, and the 2011 version didn’t disappoint in the search for intermingling styles and moods. What follows is a highlight reel of sorts from the famous Fair Grounds Race Course turned concert venue.

Fais do-do

It’s a French saying that originally meant “go to sleep” in pre-World War II Louisiana. Oddly enough, it also became the representative phrase for a Cajun dance party. If a baby would cry, the mother would gently tell her newborn, “fais do-do” so as to quickly return to the dance floor before her husband’s eye could wander. Leave it to New Orleans to conjure up images of new life and sordid ways in one breath.

In Jazz Fest terms, the phrase means something else entirely: it is the namesake for the single best stage at the fest. Offering a variety of “down home” music, nothing gets closer to being born on the bayou than the vibe created from the Fais Do-Do Stage.

Perhaps the best representation of this energy was provided by the Cajun sextet, Red Stick Ramblers. A microcosm for the entire fest in one act, the group effortlessly mixed styles ranging from zydeco to swing to bluegrass. Accordion solos never sounded so good set amidst several tracks sung in Louisiana Creole, an apt delivery system considering the language itself is a gumbo of French, Native American, Spanish and West African dialects.

For sheer amount of showmanship, the winners of the weekend were another Fais do-do act, Keith Frank and the Soileau Zydeco Band. Keith Frank is a man that does the Chuck Berry “duck walk” with an accordion, which in a way is all you need to know about the guy. A frontman just as comfortable talking to the audience as he is playing bandleader, Frank displayed a natural affinity for getting the crowd to dance to covers of War (“Low Rider”) and the show-stopping extended jam of Wilson Pickett’s, “Do You Like Good Music”. Instead of pulling out all the trite demands to “make some noise”, the band simply led by example. At one point, the entire group (save fantastic drummer Brad Paul Frank) laid down on their backs and continued to play their instruments while bicycle kicking their legs in the air. Add it to the list of things only seen in New Orleans.

More Than Just Happy Talk

From the fest’s best venue we move to easily its worst setting: the Lagniappe Stage. Festivalgoers had to search pretty hard to find this venue, hidden away in the middle of the grandstand and surrounded by horse stalls. Any band would have to work for the audience’s attention there and, luckily for Happy Talk Band, the songs did the work for them. Sporting a Son Volt vibe with more swing, the New Orleans sextet was at its best singing brokenhearted pleas over barroom piano and twanging guitars. Throughout the set, pianist Casey McAllister did his best Floyd Cramer impression, as the country piano pierced the clutter of distortion. But it wasn’t all heartbreak and lost chances. Happy Talk was at their best on “May Day 1945”, a loping ode to handclap music that was recently featured on HBO’s Treme. One could see where that show’s creator, David Simon, would be interested in no B.S. rock n’ roll that offers up cynical musings on what should have been.

Mumford & Sons

Battle of the Bands

Never before have this many people yearned for the mandolin. England’s Mumford & Sons, a band whose appeal lies in distilling the best of old school Americana (think The Band on tea and downers) drew perhaps the largest crowd of the weekend to the Gentilly Stage.

A direct comparison couldn’t help but be drawn with that of the band immediately following them on the same stage, the Avett Brothers – North Carolina’s version of Americana with a big, messy heart and a punk approach. Add in the fact that both bands played at last year’s Grammy’s with Bob Dylan, and it’s clear that these two up-and-coming groups require a comparison. Who won the award for “Best Emotional Music with a Touch of Banjo”?

Mumford & Sons took a little while to get the key in the ignition by opening with the harmony glacier of “Sigh No More” before kicking things into gear with “Roll Away Your Stone”. In large festival settings such as this, it’s best to lean heavily on your up-tempo numbers, which always keep a sweaty crowd alert and ready for more. Unfortunately, Mumford & Sons specialize in tunes that take time to develop, if they develop at all. Songs like “Winter Winds” work well at a backyard party with the folks, but not as an impetus for crowd participation.

The songs that did work, as usual, were the hits. “The Cave” and “Little Lion Man” inspired mass sing-a-longs, a natural reaction to plaintive ballads touched by American beauty with the ever-present Mumford kickdrum. But at the end of the day, Mumford & Sons failed to really lift the crowd because they’re so slovenly tied to a formula for success, a sub-genre that could be called Grey’s Anatomy banjo music.

A Deering banjo happens to be the stock and trade of one Scott Avett, co-singer/brother in the very next act, The Avett Brothers. How he employs that banjo tells you all you need to know about the differences between the two bands. Where Mumford & Sons derive lessons from Fairport Convention, The Avett’s learn a thing or two from the Clash, mostly about when to march and when to retreat. When they march, it manifests itself in the “London Calling”-like stomp of “Colorshow”, a song that generates controlled screams from each brother throughout. In retreat, a ballad like “When I Drink” benefits from the stripped down appeal of only harmony and strings. Where they’ve really taken their act to a new level however, is with the push and pull of both aspects on the anthemic “Head Full of Doubt”, a missive of trepidation and release. It was enough to move a nearby female fest-goer to notice the ring on Seth Avett’s ring finger and intone, “Dammit, he’s married too”.

And therein lies the main difference between the two bands. Mumford & Sons are suitable enough to bring home to mom and dad. But it’s the Avett Brothers that beg for hopes of impromptu marriage proposals. In the end, the Avett’s signify something much like New Orleans at its best: swagger, defiance, flash and convocation.

The Avett Brothers


The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)

In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.