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Looking Back – Best ‘Live’ Shows in 2016

27th December 2016   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

Taking a look back at some of the best live performances in 2016 what is most impressive is that so many of them were at free events. Not having a lot of cash doesn’t mean that folks here can’t hear great music that is so essential to the soul. Free shows also bring people and communities together in a way that few other circumstances do. They offer a way of sharing enriching experiences.

It’s interesting too, that these “no admission” performances were presented by a number of different organizations so they often took place in various locales throughout the city. It’s all about accessibility.

This column is meant to encourage readers to take advantage of the music that’s available in New Orleans at its diverse and abundant festivals and fine, local clubs.

The MotherShip Foundation rocked its 2016 edition of the Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo with the help of an almost full and magnificently completely full moon on Friday, May 20, and May 21 respectively. What could be more one love than the Wailers doing the music of reggae legend Bob Marley in the mysterious dark of night with only the stage lights and “la luna” glowing on the happily dancing and singing crowd. It was magic.

JON CLEARY, left, and TAJ MAHAL, right

JON CLEARY, left, and TAJ MAHAL, right

Saturday night, the Lowrider Band took the same stage near Bayou St. John under a full moon and produced a similar – though rhythmically and stylistically different – kind of magic. With Harold Brown on drums and the great Lee Oskar on harmonica, the group performed its unifying hits like “The World Is a Ghetto,” “The Cisco Kid” and “Why Can’t We Be Friends” in front of an audience, probably made up of many of the folks that saw the Wailers the previous night, again dancing and singing along. It was like the hands of the clock were turned back to a more gentle and fun though ultimately edgy times.

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation presented a fantastic three-show series of Cuban musicians that drew large crowds to its N. Rampart Street facility. Keyboardist Roberto Fonseca proved to be the most dramatic. He entered the venue in the dark and proceeded to light candles that gave the room an otherly glow. His was as much a theatrical performance – he held up signs such as “Welcome to My Home” – as it was a musical experience. The brilliant Fonseca was at once both old school and very much of today as was experienced when he performed the classic “Besame Mucho” as it’s never previously been heard. Wow.

As part of the Foundation’s Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival it was great to see the grandsons of some legendary artists sometimes even playing back-to-back. Boozoo Chavis’ kin – RJ Chavis and the Creole Sounds and Justin Chavis and the Dog Hill Stompers – both did their late grandfather proud. Ditto for Chris Ardoin & Nu-Step that represented the roots of his grandfather, the great Bois Sec Ardoin, while taking the zydeco to another level.

A highlight of the Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival was the renowned guitarist/vocalist/composer Taj Mahal. One of the things that made this closing finale particularly special was that keyboardist Jon Cleary made an unannounced appearance and performed almost the entire set with Mahal. A perfect match-up.



Around town, joints were jumpin’ too. Trumpeter, and one-time New Orleans resident, the always enthusiastic Maurice Brown met up with his former musical cohort, saxophonist Derek Douget for some fine blowing sessions this night at the Prime Example. The two horn players are just so in tune with each other and had the energized drums of Simon Lott driving Brown’s sets. Brown, always a talent to be reckoned with, continues to grow and further his individual sound.

Tipitina’s was the place to be for DJ Soul Sister’s (Melissa Weber) birthday bash with the Chuck Brown Band keeping the funky go-go spirit of the band’s late leader, the great vocalist/guitarist Chuck Brown alive. The place was bustin’ out with grooves all night long. What a dance party.

Over at the House of Blues, Stephen Marley, the son of the legendary Bob Marley, wonderfully balanced old-school reggae styles and classic tunes with some fresh sounds. Not easy to do. He also graciously stuck around after the show and welcomed fans that lined the sidewalk into his tour bus.

Cuban drummer and percussionist Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, who for a time performed with New Orleans own Los Hombres Calientes, dropped into town to perform at Snug Harbor. He was, as usual, on fire with the always innovative, free-wheeling and spiritually motivated saxophonist Clarence Johnson weaving his horn into the torrent of rhythms.

The great, veteran drummer Tootie Heath was the artist in residency at this year’s Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp and performed at the organization’s benefit concert at The Little Gem Saloon. A who’s who of the jazz community played as well as attended the event. A highlight of the night was a duo performance by Heath and saxophonist Kidd Jordan. With these giants, two musicians was all that was needed.

It is hoped that the Bear Creek Bayou Festival, which moved from its home in Florida to New Orleans this year, will return. Held along the river at Mardi Gras World, the event that focused on funk was musically successful though not so much crowd-wise. Solid sets included Tony Hall’s tribute to James Brown, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk and Eric “Benny” Bloom’s horn-filled good-time ensemble. The festival offered an excellent opportunity to dig one of this city’s finest drummers, Zigaboo Modeliste leading a band in an intimate setting. He puts the jazz in the funk.

This article originally published in the December 26, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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