Jazz Fest 2013: Notes from the Field and Photos

Kate Russell
Photos: Annie Pennell

New Orleans' greatest festival turned into a music-filled swamp during the two weekends of Jazz Fest 2013. It was dirty, smelly and sonically delicious -- exactly the way Jazz Fest should be.

Jazz Fest 2013

City: New Orleans, LA
Venue: The New Orleans Fairgrounds
Date: 2013-05-05

What will Jazz Fest 2013 be remembered for? The reunion of Fleetwood Mac? The all-encompassing mud? Trombone Shorty’s victorious closing set at the Acura mainstage? Aaron Neville’s solo closing performance?

Jazz Fest is a unique experience any year, a time of year when musicians return home and gig day and night. 2013 was no exception. From street performers slapping buckets to the Funky Meters on a corporate-sponsored stage, sound vibrated throughout pocked streets and shotgun houses. Whether you spent the day at the Fairgrounds, where the festival is located, or chose to attend the many after-parties and late night jams on Frenchmen Street and music clubs, you couldn’t lose. You were surrounded by music.

There’s no way to cover all of Jazz Fest. PopMatters knows that. We’re not going to attempt that. Instead, we’re including an interviews with the legendary Aaron Neville and frequent Jazz Fest performer Domingo "Sonny" from Widespread Panic. Additionally, there’s an amazing, vibrant photo gallery from PopMatters’ photographer Annie Pennell. And finally, there’s my humble little blurb about the stars of Jazz Fest 2013: the mud and Trombone Shorty. Stay tuned for additional features the rest of the week.


* * *

I’m at Phoenix’s live show while practically huffing the ripe scent of feces.

“The carb is his asshole,” I overhear one Jazz Fest attendee explain to another. The owner of the bowl -- a piece of glass carefully blown into an elephant shape -- is knee deep in the thick, slurpy mud. The mud isn’t just dirt. It’s also horseshit. Welcome to Jazz Fest at the Fairgrounds.

Jazz Fest 2013 is a messy, dirty affair. That’s a refreshing thing when we consider how much more commercialized Jazz Fest is today than it was 20 years ago. In this Jazz Fest world of $7 beers and $65 tickets, it’s refreshing to see people slip around in what has transformed from a well-kept racetrack into a 145-acre swamp that stinks like a stable. No matter how much money you paid for your tickets, you are going to get dirty.

I eat gumbo from Lil Dizzy’s and sit back for the show. No, not the one onstage -- the much more humorous escapades at the VIP entrance of the Acura stage. VIP-goers confront a severe ditch -- the VIP entrance on one side, their optimum stage-front viewing area on the other. Alarmed and unprepared women in maxi dresses and wedges teeter on the precipice. One inspired fashionista wraps her legs in garbage bags, fashionably tied just above the knee. I dub the creation Jazz Fest Thigh Highs.

Other loyal fans not only stood in the muck, they rolled in it. Dave Matthews’ fans showed the most pluck. The downpour that really doomed Jazz Fest to turn into Mudfest 2013 occurred during his set. Widespread Panic’s fans also did incredibly “well,” slipping in the mud and even losing their pants.

“I never think about not goin’ to Jazz Fest,” one wise Jazz Fester says, a tall man with gray hair from Alabama. The closest he ever came to missing a Jazz Fest was a few years ago, when he felt sick during the drive from Alabama to New Orleans. He pulled over in Pearl River, figuring he’d pass out, but then he put on WWOZ (a New Orleans’ radio station). “I knew I had to go. So I got a drink from the wet bar in the trunk, and kept on riding.”

Besides the mud, the biggest Jazz Fest story of 2013 is Trombone Shorty’s performance. In the festival’s 44 years, local bands historically finish the festival. For the past two decades, one of those bands has been the Neville Brothers (except in Katrina’s aftermath). But this year, Trombone Shorty plays the closing set for the first time. It’s a radiant show that cements the rise of New Orleans’ next great musician and bids goodbye to the Neville Brothers.

On Sunday afternoon, 27-year-old Trombone Shorty (real name Troy Andrews) takes the stage with his superb band, Orleans Avenue. They launch into a funky set that’s a joyous blend of Andrews’ multi-instrumental solos and lively tracks from his last albums. Shorty later describes the set as “emotional” in an NPR interview, and the crowd, which stretches from the stage to the back-fences, feel it in his horn. AP quotes his close friend Aaron Neville (formerly of the Neville Brothers): “I remember when it was Professor Longhair out there and then we did it for a long time. It’s time. Slim is a big musician and I’m proud of the way he’s handled himself.”

During his last song, “Do to Me”, Andrews parades into the audience. He raises his horn above his head. Victory.



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Dave Matthews Band

Earth Wind and Fire

Gary Clark Jr.

Irma Thomas

John Mayer

Maroon 5

The Black Keys

The Neville Brothers

The Soul Rebels

Trombone Shorty

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