French Quarter Fest is mega-sized
7th April 2014 · 0 Comments
By Geraldine Wyckoff
Now boasting some 22 stages, the French Quarter Festival, Thursday, April 10, through Sunday, April 13, has come a long way since its days when the musical presentations were at Jackson Square and several small stages located on corners of Bourbon Street. Those venues still remain, primarily, as they long have, presenting classic New Orleans jazz.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the vast schedule is somewhat daunting especially considering the distance between stages. Whereas at Jazz Fest, it’s almost possible to catch a few numbers from several favorite groups, the mileage from the newly installed Big River Stage, in front of the Aquarium of the Americas, and the new location of the Popeye’s Brass Band Stage by the Old U.S. Mint are more than a mile apart.
Unless one’s a “camper,” meaning that you bring a chair and stay in one spot all day, it might be best to view the schedule in “clusters.” On any given day, fest-goers could opt for the uptown side of Jackson Square – the riverfront, Bourbon, Decatur, St. Peter and Royal Street stages – or the downtown side – the venues by the Mint and French Market. Centrally located Jackson Square, that opens the festivities on Thursday with the Grammy-nominated Preservation Hall Jazz Band and gets a hot start on Sunday with the always-effervescent trumpeter/vocalist James Andrews, could act as a “do not pass go” spot for those eager to preserve their energy for dancing.
Thursday is definitely the easiest day as all the activities are on the “uptown” side of Jackson Square. Deemed “local day” when Thursday was added to the schedule, it offers some excellent artists and big name musicians. On the Big Lawn Stage a musical triple threat starts off with the Joe Krown Trio. This group, with Krown on organ, guitarist/vocalist Walter “Wolfman” Washington and drummer Russell Batiste – all leaders in their own right – kill in this combination. The band is followed by New Orleans Soul Queen Irma Thomas, the hugely talented, Grammy-nominated pianist/vocalist PJ Morton and blows it out with the trombone heavy Bonerama. All for free!
The big news on Friday, when the fest expands down river, is the arrival of Dr. John, making his first appearance at the French Quarter Festival since 1997. Remarkably, the good and funky doctor is not performing at Jazz Fest this year, so y’all gotta go. The riverfront funks it up further with pianist/vocalist Nigel Hall, a fairly newcomer to New Orleans who’s got what it takes, playing at the Hibernia Pavilion, just a short walk away. Oh no, here’s a conflict, pianist/vocalist Davell Crawford is up at the same time at the Big River Stage. It’s not that far though to hear both – or all three!
Saturday might be a good day to hang by the Mint for some jazz and brass. The Magnetic Ear, led by saxophonist Martin Krucshe, offers an inventive take on brass band music utilizing the traditional instrumentation in a very nontraditional way. Corey Henry, one of this city’s finest and most soulful trombonists, leads his Treme Funktet, a talent-packed ensemble also playing the brass band stage. This group ain’t no joke – the real deal.
Okay, Sunday it might be time to do a little traveling. Starting at Jackson Square with Andrews, moving to the riverfront for vocalist Lillian Boutte – after all the musical ambassador only performs in her hometown once or twice a year – and, since it’s Sunday a bit of gospel from the wonderfully harmonizing The Friendly Travelers is on order. The veteran gospel group is only steps away from Boutte. For really good blowin’, head back to Jackson Square for trumpeter Leroy Jones. He calls his band the New Orleans Finest and it always lives up to its name.
Last year, zydeco and Cajun music moved onto Decatur Street, which is gratefully now closed to traffic, with much success. Who doesn’t like dancin’ in the streets plus its in easy walking distance from the Mississippi River. Crowd pleaser Rockin’ Dopsie and the Zydeco Twisters close out.
If down river is your pleasure, one of the few modern jazz groups performing at the French Quarter Festival (don’t understand why), Astral Project, now 36 years blazing innovative trails, takes it out at the Esplanade in the Shade Stage. Can hardly ask for better musicians to represent New Orleans than saxophonist Tony Dagradi, bassist James Singleton, drummer Johnny Vidacovich and guitarist Steve Masakowski. Of course if you’ve still got your dancin’ shoes on, just around the corner you can first catch the Treme Brass Band and later the Grammy-nominated Hot 8 Brass Band.
For the complete French Quarter Festival schedule including dates and times of the musical performances, a map, location of the many, many food booths plus all of the other extra-curricular activities go to fqfi.org/frenchquarterfestival.
Injuns Here Dey Come… Again
On March 30, and after several weather-related postponements, the Mardi Gras Indian Council presented its uptown Indian Super Sunday parade. Among the many magnificently feathered and beaded gangs, the Mohawk Hunters were one of the most spirited tribes in the procession – it always boasts a strong rhythm section of singers and percussionists. On Sunday, April 13, Big Chief Tyrone Casby and the Mohawk Hunters present the West Fest Mardi Gras Indian Parade in Algiers. Activities at L.B. Landry High School, including rides, games and food, continue all day. The parade begins at 1 pm and starts and ends at the school located on Whitney Avenue.
This article originally published in the April 7, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.