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Sites, sounds of French Quarter Fest

4th April 2016   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

Negotiating the expansive French Quarter Festival (Thursday, April 7 – Sunday, April 10, 2016) that includes 23 stages, takes some serious planning. Because the distance between, say, the Brass Band Stage, located by the Old U.S. Mint and the Big River venue located just past the Aquarium of the Americas is over a mile as the crow flies, it’s even more difficult than Jazz Fest to catch all the acts one wants to experience.

One way to go about it is selecting an area – or areas close to each other – on any given day. Here’s how that would work when considering some of the “Picks of the Festival.”

Thursday, sometimes considered “locals’ day” though seemingly the world has discovered it, is the easiest. There are only five stages, all within a short walk of each other, in the “uptown” section of the Quarter nearest to Canal Street. The Jackson Square Stage, the site of the “World’s Largest Jazz Brunch,” boasts a strong schedule from its opening time of 11:15 a.m. to the last note at 6:45 p.m. It’s notable that New Orleans’ modern jazz, which is renowned around the globe, is being celebrated in the heart of the Quarter with piano great Ellis Marsalis coming on at 3:50 p.m. followed by his son, trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis & the Uptown Jazz Orchestra – an ensemble loaded with local talent – closing it out beginning at 5:30 p.m.

BUCKWHEAT ZYDECO

BUCKWHEAT ZYDECO

The same, upper Quarter area looks good on Friday too with pianist/vocalist Davell Crawford, who we don’t get to see enough since he now lives in New York, playing in the Square at 2:30 p.m. Speaking of great pianists, David Torkanowsky will perform a solo, don’t miss set, at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse in tribute to the late, great, multi-talented Allen Toussaint. It is advised to get to the 2:30 p.m. show early in order to find a seat. At the same time and at the same spot on Saturday, pianist Victor Atkins and saxophonist Ed “Sweetbread” Petersen, both of whom are exceptional musicians and professors at the University of New Orleans, present a tribute to the legendary keyboardist/vocalist/composer Stevie Wonder.

It’s very exciting to have Buckwheat Zydeco making his French Quarter debut at 3:45 p.m. on Sunday, April 10. Though the accordionist, vocalist, composer and bandleader, born Stanley Dural, still lives in Louisiana on seven acres of land in Carencro, his appearances in New Orleans remain rare as he is on the road so much. “I love what I do,” Buckwheat once declared. “The road is my home away from home.”

Buckwheat plays the big, piano keyboard accordion that perfectly suits his rhythm and blues style of zydeco. He began on organ and was at a Hammond B-3 as a member of the “King of Zydeco” Clifton Chenier’s band. He continues to work out on the instrument today.

His son, Sr. Reginald Master Dural, often moves from the rubboard to the accordion to allow his father to get behind the organ. Buckwheat, who performs out on the lawn stage in Woldenberg Park, likes to mix up a set with some New Orleans’ classics like Fats Domino’s “Walking to New Orleans.” “There’s not a night that goes by that I don’t play them,” he’s declared. “I love reggae too – Bob Marley is my guy.”

“I just have fun. When I see people out there with smiles on their faces, I’m rewarded. I’m just a people person. That’s what I’m there for to make you happy.”

Luckily, it’s a quick trip to catch Buckwheat when heading from the stage in the 400 block of Royal Street where at 3 p.m. pianist Lawrence Cotton leads the Legendary Experience.

Fans of New Orleans classic rhythm and blues and/or traditional jazz have probably run into Cotton either live or on recordings. The New Orleans native toured and recorded with such legends as guitarist/vocalist Guitar Slim of “The Things I Used To Do” fame and Edgar Blanchard and the Gondoliers and for years worked with the great producer/bandleader Dave Bartholomew.

In the traditional jazz realm, he’s played with “them all,” including trumpeters Teddy Riley, Alvin Alcorn and Gregg Stafford and banjoist/guitarist Danny Barker and his wife, vocalist Blue Lu Barker to name just a few.

Cotton, who at 89 years old remarkably takes piano lessons from noted Roger Dickerson, will touch on both of these styles that have been so important to his career of over 60 years. The Legendary Experience will include saxophonist veteran Daniel “Weenie” Farrow, bassist Al Bernard, clarinetist Orange Kellin, trombonist Freddie Lonzo, trumpeter Wendell Brunious and drummer Kerry Brown. Brown’s wife, vocalist Jane Harvey Brown will also step in for a couple of numbers.

LAWRENCE COTTON

LAWRENCE COTTON

Wow… so much music and no mention of the goings-on in the lower Quarter. Perhaps the most interesting development is that the Brass Band Stage, which several years ago moved from the riverfront to the Old U.S. Mint lawn, is all brass, all of the time. It pops on Saturday and Sunday with old favorites like the Storyville Stompers and the hot styles of the New Breed and Stooges brass bands.

On the other side of the building, at the Esplanade in the Shade Stage, musical genres mix it up. The exciting and very dramatic Tank and the Bangas close out kicking on Saturday with modern jazz masters, Astral Project, offering a chilled-out, yet provocative way to end the fest on Sunday.

Don’t forget to hit Bourbon Street during the weekend for some traditional jazz and the House of Blues Garden Stage on Sunday to experience the unique, hill country blues of drummer Cedric Burnside. He’s the grandson of the late, great guitarist and vocalist R.L. Burnside with whom he used to play. Cedric is for sure the real deal.

This article originally published in the April 4, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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