More JazzFest Musical Memories Saturday, May 2 2020 

Realizing it’s truly an impossible task — sharing my “favorite” JazzFest musical moments that is — I’ve decided to take a different tack for this last take on JazzFest for this year.

Because, I love it all. Even the days when I can hear umpteen different performers and none really grab on and don’t let go.

As I always say, that’s why I keep coming back. From day to day. From year to year. Even now in 2020, when I can only experience the event via WWOZ’s JazzFesting in Place.

So, here’s some quick mentions of some regulars, and I’ll give it up for this time around.

 * * * * *

Have I mentioned how much I cherish Allen Toussaint?

Duh, like only a gazillion times.

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t start with He Who Is My Favorite New Orleans Musical Icon, my favorite musical icon period.

When still alive, Toussaint, except maybe way back in the day, never had a regular band that gigged together all the time, that toured. He was, until Katrina for sure, mostly a writer, producer, arranger. But a sometimes performer.

So, at his annual JazzFest sets, his ensemble was always a put together outfit. The upper echelon of NO players, of course, Men and women who have played with him through the decades. But, not playing regularly, the groups were often not as tight as one might hope.

Plus, his singing voice, never anything truly special, diminished over time.

But ya know, it was always Allen Toussaint with his incredible presence that bridged the gap between dapper and dazzle, and his sweet persona, and his amazing songs and charts.

So I tracked down this snippet of one of his endearing performances from a few years back.

(His 2009 set, which WWOZ aired Saturday as part of JazzFesting in Place, was seriously hot. Toussaint and band were hot hot hot. Unfortunately I couldn’t track down any video of that gig. Sigh.)

 * * * * *

The Gospel Tent is, well, the ultimate testament to feeling the spirit.

I’ve been there on an Easter Sunday, when I swear it was levitating.

I remember walking in once in the middle of a set by the mass choir from a church in Dallas, and so powerful was their sound and energy, it literally slowed my pace. Like walking into a strong wind.

And I’ve been in there, when a group just wouldn’t fire, or the crowd wasn’t ready.

Just a few examples here to give you a sense.

The first video of the Electrifying Crown Seekers is choppy — you’ll see — but a great example of just how out of control the place and performers can get.

Then there are gospel singers most of us have never heard of that make you think, “Why aren’t these people famous?”

Like Cynthia Girtley.

Or, a choir that just gets it on.

 * * * * *

I’m a sucker for cover songs.

I’ve always been fascinated at every concert anywhere by what song of someone else the artist or band might perform.

If it’s an oldie, I’m rarely not smitten.

Like when rising blues star, a recent New Orleans emigrant, Samantha Fish opened her first appearance ever at the Fest in the Blues Tent with Barbara Lewis’s sultry, “Hello Stranger.”

This isn’t from JazzFest, but I have to share anyway.

 * * * * *

Another personal peculiarity I mention often about my many annual treks to Fest, it’s rarely about the Big Name Acts.

With some exceptions.

Like Springsteen with his Seeger Sessions Band, at their first gig, at the first JF just eight months after Katrina.

As I’ve often written before of his so damn good so damn appropriate opening tune, he had me at Oh.

 * * * * *

OK, one more and I’ll get outta here.

Had to give a tip of the hat to Dr. John, New Orleans through and through.

His best gig at JazzFest might be his set from ’06. Sadly I couldn’t find a video from that one. (Track it down if you can, the audio might be in the archives.)

So I’ll just bid you my adieu with this New Orleans classic from Mac Rebennack:

— c d kaplan

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Favorite JazzFest Musical Memories, Part Trois Thursday, Apr 30 2020 

There’s a chat room where JazzFest obsessives like myself hang out.

For the acolytes, the Jazz Fest Forum  is a year round thing.

The denizens are called Threadheads, and most seem to know each other from hookups during Fest. Or otherwise. Liuzza’s seems to be the official unofficial meeting place. They also have a party every year during Fest called the Patry. With boffo lineups.

I’m sort of an outlier, an auxiliary Threadhead if you will, having come to the dialog later than most of the regulars. On the way to the Fest a few years back, in the Charlotte airport, I did meet a couple that helped start the Forum. And there’s the NRBQ-loving regular I chatted up a couple years ago between acts at the Gentilly Stage.

It’s a year round deal, but, as you can imagine, conversations ratchet up with the lineup announcement in January, and the posting of the Cubes a month out.

One of the regular threads will deal with lesser known, obscure acts that somebody’s heard in concert with a hearty “You gotta hear this group.”

I check them all out on youtube before making my daily plans. Weeks in advance, I must admit. Plus, disciple that I am, I also check out the ones I don’t know that might not have been recommended.

Which brings to my favorite tip of recent years . . .

. . . Bombino.

Real name: Goumar Almoctar. His lineage is that of a Tuareg tribesman. They’re nomadic, as I understand. Though my research is limited.

What I know is when I watched and listened to the first video, I put a big square around his time block on my Cubes. Which essentially means, “Don’t even think of meandering to another stage, and be there at the start.”

Whoever told us in that thread he was a must see was absolutely correct.

Bombino’s style is evocative and hypnotic. Think snake charmer music.

What I remember about his set, other than being transfixed and transformed, eyes closed, to another reality, is the guy who shouted as exiting the Blues Tent when the set was over, “Now that’s what JazzFest is all about.”

So I present this video of him at JazzFest, though I don’t remember if this was his first or second appearance. As you’ll note, the sound of the music is somewhat fuzzy, yet it’s a cool presentation.

Because it gives a real sense of what it’s like in the Blues Tent. Jammed. People locked into the music. People milling about looking for seats. People trying to dance in the aisles, and get up in front of the stage. The mix of hubbub and hot tuneage.

 * * * * *

You had to really experience the ultimate one hit wonder Ernie K-Doe in person to observe the true glory of his hubristic smile-inducing provenance.

The fellow was a character.

I recall hearing him in a small club, almost completely empty, in New Orleans in the early 70s before JazzFest became a thing. He prattled on about the old days, when he was the King of the Tulane frat house parties. And the magnificence and importance of “Mother In Law” of course.

To attempt to convey K-Doe’s engaging, cocky personality, I present a photo of his grave marker.

My favorite of the several times I heard K-Doe was at a Doo Drop Inn Revisted gig in a New Orleans hotel back in the 90s.

For a time, this was an annual evening show that was part of the festival, where they celebrated the iconic Crescent City rhythm and blues club.

There’d be a hot big band, conducted by Wardell Quezergue or Allen Toussaint or some New Orleans musical genius. Then they’d trot out the Dixie Cups and Al “Carnival Time” Johnson and Benny Spillman, and other hitmakers from the 50s and 60s.

The year I’m talking about, not sad to say the one in the video below, K-Doe was apparently in his cups a bit more than usual.

He did a couple of tunes. Ended with “Mother in Law,” during which he vamped, hoping to hold the stage as long as possible.

At some point, he admonished the crowd, “On your feet for Ernie K-Doe.”

Then, “Wave your handkerchief for Ernie K-Doe.”

Finally and emphatically, “On your knees for Ernie K-Doe.”

At which blissful oh so New Orleans moment, he was given the hook.

Here’s K-Doe at another year’s Doo Drop Inn Revisited. It gives a good sense of the fellow’s personality.

What I love about this set is that band leader Allen Toussaint is getting such a kick out of K-Doe, he can’t stop smiling.

K-Doe’s gravestone does get one thing so very right.

After him, there’s no other.

 * * * * *

I have no recollection of exactly how I came to the music of Daniel Lanois. Whether I knew he was a producer of a bunch of name acts like U2 and Dylan, or whether that came later?

But I got his own CD “Acadie” in the late 80s.

Loved its melancholy feel. Loved the unique sound of his guitar. His brooding songs struck a chord. Still do.

When I saw him on the schedule at JazzFest I rejoiced. One of my most anticipated performances there ever.

It was gray day, the clouds outlined in black, or so it seemed.

Perfect for Lanois.

There’s actually a CD of his JF performance from ’89, which I just discovered when doing some research for this. But the cost of same was a bit much.

Nor could I find a video of his gig there.

But . . . I did come upon this video of a searing performance of his signature tune, “The Maker.” You may know the song from Willie or Emmy Lou.

 * * * * *

Along with some other recordings, I gave a CD of Olu Dara’s album, “In The World: From Natchez to New York,” to some friends as a gift after I’d stayed at their home.

“How did you hear about this guy?,” I was asked.

Again, I hadn’t the slightest remembrance.

Again, I cherished the moment he’d be at JazzFest on the Congo Square stage. The Mississippi native made a second appearance a few years later.

During that first performance, my pal and I taunted a friend back home, whom we had been trying to get to come to Fest for years, and whom we knew loved Olu Dara. We phoned him during the set and let him listen for a moment or two, and abruptly hung up.

Olu Dara is Yoruba for “God is good.”

The jazz cornetist’s real name is Charles Jones III. Doesn’t have the same exotic ring, does it?

Through the years, he had a couple of zestily named ensembles. The Okra Orchestra. The Natchezsippi Dance Band.

Anyway, by the time he released that album and played Fest, his music had morphed into a truly intriguing mashup of jazz and blues and folk and African and reggae.


For reasons which should come obvious, this tune was all the rage for a good while after his performance at Fest.

The video is obviously from another gig.

More to come. Maybe. We’ll see if listening to classic sets over the next four days instigates more memories.

— c d kaplan

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My Favorite JazzFest Musical Memories, Part Deux Sunday, Apr 26 2020 

Oh my, the power of suggestion.

As I write this Saturday afternoon, I’m listening to old JazzFest classic sets at, which the station will be streaming again Sunday the 26th, and next Thursday through Sunday, noon to 8:00 EDT.

Today’s sumptuous slate opened with Bonerama, which as I write I am confirming to myself might be my favorite of the current New Orleans fusion maestros. (I’d like to more definitive, but, my ears are easily turned, faves change on a whim.)

You know Bonerama’s like funk and rock and some second line Longhairish rumba, all fronted by — Ready for it? — a trio of trombones. Which they play straight up or synthesized.

I mean, ya know, it’s New Orleans. Where else?

And, listening to them open today with “Big Chief,” reminded me of a favorite JF musical moment I’d forgotten.

At the first Fest after Katrina, a miracle really but so endearing and fun, Bonerama’s set featured a searing version of the Zeppelenized version of Memphis Minnie’s seriously appropriate at that moment, “When the Levee Breaks.”

I couldn’t find a youtube of that particular performance, but here’s the band doing it another time at a different gig:

OK, I assume you now realize that, unlike the first entry in this series, meant to help take my mind off the reality that I’m not actually at JazzFest in 2020, this will not be a podcast.

But it does include music. So, hey, it’s got that goin’ for it, which is nice.

 * * * * *

So, as I’ve mentioned a trillion times, my first JazzFest was in ’76. My first experience was not actually at the Fest during the day, but an evening show on the Riverboat President. Allen Toussaint. Professor Longhair. Gatemouth Brown.

Pretty overwhelming actually. Joyously so. To be brutally honest, mea culpa, I’m pretty sure I’d never heard of any of them at age 31, despite my addiction to rock & roll and all its permutations.

Chuckie had some catchin’ up to do. A task not the least bit onerous.

That was a Friday night. The following Sunday, Longhair closed the first weekend of Fest.

It remains to this day, thousands of concerts before and after, my favorite set of music E.V.E.R..

I could go on and on about the situation. I’ll just say I was swallowed whole by it.

Longhair could, as they say, tickle the ivories. In a manner as unique as any in the history of music.

Here’s a grainy video of Fess at another gig:

And, yes, in case you’re wondering, that’s the same Earl King-penned “Big Chief” tune Bonerama covered at the outset of their set today.

 * * * * *

For years, until some time in 90s, the whole daily Fest was contained within the infield of the Fairgrounds Race Track. All the stage, concessions, porta potties, crafts.

It was getting crowded.

But, before the Fest spread out all over the grounds, the Congo Square stage was jammed along the backstretch between the Jazz Tent and maybe Fais Do Do, if that stage was called that back then.

Anyway, Congo Square was bumper to bumper that afternoon. When I experienced the dancingest music I’d ever heard, an enthralling set of tuneage that made me seek out contemporary African music at every opportunity.

I shvitzed through my clothes so much did I dance. Blisters on my toes.

For Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens.

Urgent. Primal. Invigorating. Have I mentioned, I and everybody else at the stage could not not dance? The whole time?

A sample of their stuff. Again, not from JF.

 * * * * *

Two of my favorite musical memories actually came back to back on the same day in ’94.

My buddy Mark joined me down there after returning from a visit to India. He was so spiritually light, we put some weights around his ankles. At any rate . . .

. . . we were wandering around the grounds, as one is wont to do, and by chance and dumb luck came upon Ry Cooder and Ali Farka Touré.

From Mississippi to Mali.

From Timbuktu to Tunica.

A merger of the Delta blues and the rhythms of the Sidasso.

We were transfixed. We stopped meandering and let the sublime sounds soak in.

After that laid us low, with the skies turning ominous, we strolled over to the Gentilly Stage, where one time New Orleanian Randy Newman was weaving his sardonic magic.

My memory is that Newman was singing “I Love L A,” when the clouds opened and poured forth. With those kind of softball sized raindrops one can get drenched with in the Crescent City.

Newman stopped in the middle of the song, and broke into his iconic “Louisiana 1927.”

It was a transcendent JazzFest moment, which many performers in years hence when covering the song would reference.

Here’s a different live rendition, one which can’t quite capture how special that moment in the downpour was, but as good a way to end this portion of the proceedings.

I’ll be back with more in a day or two or three.

— c d kaplan

Knowing What It Means To Miss New Orleans Sunday, Apr 19 2020 

Already consumed with the stark reality that my upcoming week was going to be considerably different than planned, I did not need a reminder.

There it was nonetheless when I sat down at my computer Sunday morning.

The Reminder: JazzFest tomorrow.


Not that my favorite thing to do in life, the gravitational pull of my year, started Monday. The festival wouldn’t have begun until 11:00 in the morning Thursday.

Just sayin’. Hearing some hot New Orleans outfit, like, say, Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes, or Flow Tribe, before noon on a workday, while savoring a frozen latte, is among life’s most endearing pleasures.

But Monday’s the day I start the trek down. At least since I’ve been driving instead of flying. No matter to explain, but I’ve got my reasons, and it works for me.

Stay overnight along the way in Mississippi. Get to the Crescent City around noon Tuesday. Check in and let the burg’s quintessential vibe wash over me. Take a jog through the Quarter. Dine with long time pals that night at, say, Clancy’s or GW Fins.

Spend Wednesday hanging out in the Vieux Carré, listening to in stores at Louisiana Music Factory, where I always hook up with similarly minded friends I’ve made through the years. Make a stop at Meyer the Hatter on St. Charles. Maybe drive up Magazine for more gratuitous shopping.

Annual night before Fest dinner with a varying group of good friends from home and hither and yon at Galatoire’s, or, more recently, Mosca’s on the Westbank for chicken a la grandé.

Thursday through Sunday: Festin’ in the day. Feastin’ in the evening.

That’s been what this coming week in April has been for me.

Every. Year. Since. 1991.

And several years before that, starting with my first Fest in ’76, when I went for a weekend, and ended up staying almost two weeks. Thank you, Marc, for the intro, thank you forgiving bosses, for your forgiving.

 * * * * *

A quick history, with my apologies to those who have been with me for awhile, who have heard the chronology too many times, such is my obsession.

I just need to get it out. I just need to vent.

First time, like I said, ’76. First JazzFest concert on Riverboat President. Allen Toussaint, Professor Longhair, Gatemouth Brown.

Fell in love with the whole deal.

Not sure why I didn’t make it back until ’80. Work obligations. Lack of funds. ??? Stupidity. Getting caught up for some reason with Derby Fever. I dunno.

By then, my life was unraveling a bit. Drugs. Alcohol. Got clean and sober in late ’82. And it took awhile before I felt comfortable returning.

New Orleans is . . . well . . . you know . . . New Orleans.

In ’88, that college chum who first introduced me to the whole thing demanded I return. Little Feat reunion was the hook.

After hearing Aaron Neville sing “Arianne,” I vowed never to miss JazzFest again.

Which I haven’t since ’91. Was there in ’89, and ’90, but was recovering from an accident in spring ’91, and c’est impossible.

(What helped me get through missing that year was a gift from a couple friends, who were working on a series of musician interviews for a Public Radio series. Sometime in the early spring of ’91, they interviewed Aaron Neville and had him tape a personal message for me. Which included a rendition of a song of hope he’d just written. I’ve still got the cassette, but, alas, no cassette player.)

I didn’t like missing it a bit.

I was back in ’92.

This year for obvious reasons I shall not be.

It hurts. It hurts so bad.

 * * * * *

As I write this, I’m somewhat calmer than earlier in the day.

I’m listening to WWOZ online, where the incredible New Orleans public music station is playing past sets from French Quarter Fest, another rave up down there, which always precedes JF by a week or two.

Ellis Marsalis from 2004. Panorama Jazz Band, including the amazing Aurora Nealand on alto sax from ’19. Astral Project with Johnny V on the traps from ’16.

The station will be running a Festing in Place musical cavalcade, during days and hours Fest was scheduled the next two Thursday through Sundays.

It shall have to suffice.

There won’t be any Crawfish Strudel.

There won’t be any of AJ’s sublime chocolate snoballs, to which I have a an addiction. There is no Chocolate Snoballs Anonymous of which I’m aware.

(I do have the memory of my moment there years ago with Allen Toussaint, my favorite musician of forever. That’s him and me in the attached photo.)

I won’t be at Marc and Jill’s next Sunday night for their annual crawfish boil.

But I shall abide.

JazzFest will be back.

The Good Lord willing, and the creek don’t rise, so shall I.

— c d kaplan