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The 50th year of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival started later in the day due to a massive storm Thursday morning on April 25. A little rain and some mud were not going to keep the spectacular show from going on. Late in the afternoon, the rain had subsided and the weather was picture perfect for an exceptional first weekend of great entertainment.

The festival is an institution dedicated to the city’s culture. The food was plentiful and fabulous. The beer and the daiquiris flowed freely. The people showed up in masses to partake in one of the most diverse and incredible group of entertainers in the industry. There were parades throughout the weekend.

The fourteen stages on the fairgrounds were buzzing with continuous music from more than 300 acts. The artist lineup featured a number of performers who had been on the first bill back in 1970 including members of The Meters, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and Ellis Marsalis alongside his children Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo and Jason. 

AXS was there and here are some of the best moments we experienced.

1) Santana brought his familiar guitar solos on “Oye Como Va” and “Black Magic Woman” back to the Jazz Fest stage along with his slow and sensual new single “Do You Remember Me.”  He insisted his fans spell “S-E-X,” which they did happily. Trombone Shorty, from New Orleans, joined the band for an encore of “Fever.”

2) Taj Mahal brought his authentic blues from its beginnings to the present day. Mahal shifted from the harmonica, banjo, and guitar while his eccentric vocal stylings included improvisations in a jazz vein. He gave a strong performance laced with his usual wit.

3) Al Green, or the Reverend Al Green, dressed in a three-piece suit in the late afternoon sun, was at the Congo Stage happy to please the ladies as he threw long-stemmed red roses to female fans. The set was all about his legendary hits and everyone in the crowd seemed to know the songs word-for-word.

4) Gregory Porter made two appearances on Saturday. Fans were able to experience a very insightful interview with Porter at the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage. Later, Porter got more well-deserved adulation as he closed the Jazz tent. Porter has admired and emulated Nat King Cole for many years, but his vocal capabilities reach far beyond Cole’s. Many of the songs in the set were self-penned revealing Porter’s truth and experiences.

5) Across the fairgrounds, Ciara was giving fans a tight mixture of high-octane R&B. It was a joyous dance party for the fans who moved along with Ciara.

6) Lauren Daigle was a great surprise as she and her band gave a high energy, sparkling performance. The Grammy Award-winning singer hails from Baton Rouge, LA. It was obvious that the Adele sound-alike singer has a bright future.

7) Reggaeton music made its appearance at Jazz Fest with the inclusion of J Balvin from Columbia on the bill. The music is influenced by hip-hop, Latin and Caribbean music that induces an irresistible urge to dance. The fans were delighted to dance the afternoon away. 

8) The legendary Doobie Brothers band was there on the first day to give fans what they wanted and that was their rich harmonies on their long line of hit songs. 

9) There were several tribute shows on the first weekend. The most memorable was the tribute to Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew that featured special guests Bonnie Raitt, Irma Thomas, Davell Crawford, John Cleary, and Al “Lil Fats” Jackson with the Fats Domino Orchestra.

10) Boyfriend was a show like no other at Jazz Fest. There was a stage set up with three curtain covered entrances that had scantily clad dancers emerging to the stage. Elizabeth brought out every prop and lyrics to create a show that is one of a kind, and bashed the societal “norms” chaining women to “manhood.” Boyfriend’s show was much like a cabaret about femme liberation. This is a set one must see for yourself. It was one of the most entertaining sets of the weekend.

Of course, there were many more outstanding moments during the first weekend of Jazz Fest and there will be many more to come on the second weekend. For more information on the second weekend, please click here.