Filed Under:  Entertainment

French Quarter Fest – A mind-boggling schedule of music

9th April 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

Unless someone is a “bring a chair, stay at one stage” type of festival-goer, planning for a day or days at the all-free French Quarter Festival, Thursday, April 12, through Sunday, April 15, can be mind-boggling. That’s especially true for those with diverse musical tastes. Navigating from favorite act to favorite act at an event that is more than a mile from one end to the other as well as blocks across, is nearly impossible.

Logistically, Thursday seems to be the easiest day as all of the music venues are on the “uptown” side of the Quarter. The activities kick off at 10 a.m. on Bourbon Street with a second line parade with Dejan’s Olympia Bras Band, a historic ensemble that produced a score of musicians and that is now led by trumpeter Mervin “Kid Merv” Campbell. He was one of those young cats who came up under the Olympia, joining the group in 1981 and was mentored by the band’s namesake, saxophonist Harold Dejan as well as trumpeter Milton Batiste. In fact it was those two who gave Campbell his nickname, Kid Merv, in reference to his relationship with Henry Rena, a noted traditional jazz trumpeter known as Kid Rena, who was Campbell’s uncle.

The presence of the “Soul Queen of New Orleans” Irma Thomas will undoubtedly swell the crowd considerably when at 3:45 p.m., she takes the big stage by the Mississippi River. The ever-smiling Thomas is sure to do her crowd-pleasing hits like “It’s Raining” and it would be great to hear her revisit “Even Now,” a tune that she most recently recorded with guitarist/vocalist Walter “Wolfman” Washington on his new album My Future Is My Past.

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band that is presently buckjumping into its 41st year comes on next at 5:20 p.m., complete with four of its veteran players, sousaphone Kirk Joseph, baritone saxophonist Roger Lewis, trumpeter Gregory Davis and tenor saxophonist Kevin Harris plus some newer upstart members that the vets all highly praise. Mixing modern jazz, funk, rhythm and blues with street beats, the Dozen caused a musical revolution in the brass band community that just keeps going.

Meanwhile, as Dumpstaphunk likes to sing, Cupid holds a dance party upriver near the Aquarium of the Americas. To the right, to the right, to the right, to the right…”

Wow, that’s only Thursday. For the rest of the three days of the fest it takes some further planning beginning with where to park. If your bag is brass bands then sliding your rig into a space below Esplanade or in the lower Tremé area is the way to go. On Friday, the hot tickets are the New Orleans Nightcrawlers, an all-star band that thus rarely performs and the Stooges Brass Band, which kills on the streets. Both play at the grassy area on the Barracks Street side of the Old U.S. Mint. If you’re in that vicinity, you might want to catch vocalist Thais Clark & her JAZZsters at the French Market Traditional Jazz Stage. Clark, who knocked ‘em out when she sat in with drummer Herlin Riley’s band at this year’s Nichol-A-Dance show, belts out the blues with old-school dramatics and humor and knows her way around classic jazz too.

The “downtown” Quarter stages close down earlier than the ones by the riverfront so there’s time and opportunity to catch Chocolate Milk, a funk and R&B group that locally once rivaled the Meters in popularity and remain a fan fav. Piano master and vocalist Jon Cleary, who keeps the flames of artists like Professor Longhair and Snooks Eaglin burnin’, is on a nearby stage so it’s possible to do a bit of both sets.

It wouldn’t be French Quarter Festival without a stroll down Bourbon Street, which in the fest’s early years, was at the heart of the event. On Saturday the Paulin Brothers Jazz Band are on stage on the notorious street’s 100 block and George and Gerald French, bassist/vocalist and his drummer son, respectively, strike up just two blocks away indoors at the Jazz Playhouse. These bands represent two of New Orleans most musical families. That’s saying a lot in this town.

Modern jazz is sprinkled through the festival’s schedule most notably with the Ellis Marsalis Quintet performing at 12:45 p.m. on Friday at the Jackson Square Stage. Because of his calm demeanor, pianist Marsalis is sometimes presumed to be a quiet player though he and his group, complete with a horn section of saxophonist Derek Douget and trumpeter Ashlin Parker, plus bassist Jason Stewart, ripped it up at last year’s festival. By the way, the Jazz Journalists Association named Marsalis as one of its 2018 “Heroes,” an honor that recognizes an artist’s contributions to their communities beyond their work as a performer and/or composer. In Marsalis’ case, the recognition naturally refers to his importance in education having greatly influenced students while teaching at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA) and the University of New Orleans.

Much of the modern jazz at the fest is presented at the Jazz Playhouse, housed in the Royal Sonesta, including this city’s premier jazz vocalist Germaine Bazzle, who takes the venue’s stage at 8 p.m. on Sunday.

The all-star ensemble, Astral Project, which is remarkably celebrating its 40th year, closes out Sunday and the festival at its regular spot at the Esplanade in the Shade Stage at the Old U.S. Mint. With saxophonist Tony Dagradi, bassist James Singleton, drummer Johnny Vidacovich and guitarist Steve Masakowski, the set represents some of the best music and best musicians this city has to offer. It’s a cool way to end the French Quarter Festival.

This article originally published in the April 9, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

Readers Comments (0)

You must be logged in to post a comment.