French Quarter Festival celebrates its 30th Anniversary
8th April 2013 · 0 Comments
By Geraldine Wyckoff
It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention. Since the first French Quarter Festival was held in 1984, it has been continually re-inventing itself because, well, it was absolutely necessary.
The free festival, which celebrates its 30th anniversary from Thursday, April 11, through Sunday, April 14, just kept growing. Since its beginnings when small stages were erected on select Bourbon Street corners and a larger proscenium stood at Jackson Square, the event has progressively expanded. First it spread out to the Mississippi and eventually down to the Old U.S. Mint and now it’s scattered through the Quarter.
As always, this year there are several new twists at the Fest. Most notably, especially for fans of Cajun and zydeco music, is that the fiddlers will be fiddling and the accordions pumping at a different locale. At previous events, the Old U.S. Mint was headquarters for the southwest Louisiana styles and the surrounding food booths often reflected the cuisine from that area. Bands like the ever-popular, Grammy-winning Terrance Simien & the Zydeco Experience (Saturday, 7:30 p.m.) and the the highly musical and respected Beausoleil avec Michael Doucet (Sunday, 5:30 p.m.), which also earned a Grammy, will now perform in front of the Bienville Statue at 400 North Peters Street. Dancers can kick-up their heels two-stepping on the pavement in the heart of the festival. With the zydeco showcase now located in “fest central,” walking from it to all the activities at Woldenberg Park and Jackson Square will be much easier.
The French Quarter Festival scraped by financially for many years though the situation got better in 2012 when the producers took over the chore of finding sponsors for individual performers rather than putting the burden on the artists. In 2013 Chevron stepped in to become the entire event’s major sponsor.
Seven pedicabs, the rickshaw-like vehicles that are powered by bicyclists and function like cabs during normal times, will be offering free rides from the Old U.S. Mint to Jackson Square. Those spots will act as pick-up points from noon to 7 p.m. all four days of the festival. Sounds like a great idea yet their popularity might mean difficulty in catching a ride. Early birds stand the best chance.
With Cajun and zydeco music heading to the upper Quarter, the two U.S. Mint stages will offer a more eclectic schedule. A Latin and world music tinge remain at the locale with performances by artists like Honduran-born, New Orleans resident, vocalist Fredy Omar cons su Banda (Saturday, 2:15 p.m.), the west African rhythms of Ivoire Spectacle (Sunday, 12:45 p.m.), led by Seguenon Kone, a multi-instrumentalist, composer and dancer from the Ivory Coast who now calls New Orleans home, and the New Orleans reggae of Higher Heights (Sunday 4 p.m..). Master percussionist Bill Summers of Los Hombres Calientes and the Headhunters fame leads his solid, Latin jazz group, Jazalsa that teams him with fellow percussionist, Cuban-born, New Orleans resident Alexey Marti plus a strong band of jazz musicians (Saturday, 5:45 p.m.). The sound of modern jazz comes on full force with Astral Project, an all-star band that’s been together over three decades with saxophonist Tony Dagradi, bassist James Singleton, drummer Johnny Vidacovich and guitarist Steve Masakowski, closing out Sunday at 5:30 p.m..
While, as it should be, traditional jazz is the core of the French Quarter Festival, modern jazz remains under presented as, despite this city’s wealth of talent in the genre, it does at so many of the city’s profusion of festivals. At the FQF, saxophone great, Donald Harrison Jr. represents one of just three purveyors of the modern style playing outdoors. He performs Saturday at 12:45 p.m. at the Abita Beer Stage next to the river and trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis & the Uptown Jazz Orchestra, a wonderfully vigorous ensemble, closes the Jackson Square Stage on Sunday at 5 p.m.. Other modern players can be found primarily at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse, located in the Royal Sonesta Hotel, 300 Bourbon Street.
There is so much music with favorites spread geographically so far apart, getting a handle on planning is, to put it mildly, difficult and it’s absolutely impossible to do it all. Here are a few highlights of each day.
Thursday: “Locals’ Lagniappe Day” is usually the least crowded. The Abita Beer Stage, referred to by most as the lawn stage, presents a particularly strong line-up that includes New Orleans Soul Queen, Grammy winter Irma Thomas at 2:15 p.m.. Hang there for the legendary urban blues of guitarist/vocalist Walter “Wolfman” Washington at 4 p.m. followed by yet another legend, bassist/vocalist George Porter Jr. & the Runnin’ Pardners at 5:15 p.m.. Over at the Riverside Legacy Stage, better known as the brass band stage, catch the Soul Rebels at 5:15 p.m..
Friday: Clarinetist Dr. Michael White, a keeper of the traditional jazz flame while adding to its heritage, performs at the Jackson Square Stage at 12:30 p.m.. The Louis-Louis Pavilion Stage (the Hibernia Pavilion by the river) welcomes home vocalist Tricia Boutte – once known in her reggae days as Sista Teedy and a member of the musical Boutte family – who has been residing in Norway. She’ll offer a mixed bag of New Orleans style music. The brass band stage looks good with trumpeter/vocalist Leroy Jones leading the rarely heard Hurricane Brass Band (3:45) followed by the also rare-on-the scene, the Orleans Nightcrawlers (5:40 p.m.) and then the on-fire Stooges Brass Band (7:15 p.m.). Interestingly, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band takes off at the Cajun/Zydeco Showcase at 7:30 so just keep dancin’.
Saturday: The Abita (Lawn) Stage cooks all day with a special, and again, rare treat at the FQF, a performance by the “Piano Prince of New Orleans,” keyboardist/vocalist Davell Crawford (5:45 p.m.). It’s time to hit the 500 block of Bourbon Street for some real-deal traditional jazz with drummer Gerald French and the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band (1:45 p.m.) and clarinetist Tommy Sancton’s New Orleans Legacy Band (4 p.m.).
Sunday: It wouldn’t be French Quarter Festival without hearing the Treme Brass Band. Led by snare man Benny Jones, the popular group jumps on the Legacy Stage at 2 p.m.. Not too far away, accordion pumper, Dwayne Dopsie, who carries on the heritage of his father, the late Rockin Dopsie Sr., kicks off at the House of Blues Stage, 225 Decatur Street, to lead his band, the aptly named Zydeco Hellraisers (3:30 p.m.).
Missed anything? Well, unfortunately, so will you. So just have fun.
This article originally published in the April 8, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.