New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival 2015 Day 2 Highlights: The Who, John Legend, Trombone Shorty & More
The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival at the Fair Grounds Race Course continued Saturday (April 25) with performances by The Who, Trombone Shorty, John Legend, Juvenile and many others. Here are the highlights from day 2 of Jazz Fest 2015.
1:30 p.m.: As a rainstorm raged outside, some festival-goers took shelter at the Jazz Fest's handful of indoor venues: the Jazz, Blues and Gospel tents and the festival grounds' indoor grandstand, featuring the Alison Miner Music Heritage Stage. Where Keith Urban had been interviewed a day before, celebrated New Orleans rap producer Mannie Fresh (Cash Money Millionaires, Big Tymers) took a turn.
In the interview, Fresh described the origins of bounce and New Orleans rap. He said in Cash Money's '90s heyday, his goal was to make hits nationwide -- not just for New Orleans -- something that would please everybody.
In a Q&A session, Fresh disclosed that labels today are more interested in him conforming to the sound of today's "trap music," as he called it. But he's not interested and is "not doing much music," he said. "If it's not broke, I'm not messing with it."
2:40 p.m.: The Touré, the First Family of Malian desert blues, are no stranger to performing in New Orleans, namely Jazz Fest. So it's only natural that Vieux Farka Touré, son of Ali Farka Touré, stopped by the fest this year. Touré's funky rhythms throbbed with the increasing rains bearing down on the Blues Tent, dotted with lyrics in English and French, plus his native country's Bambara.
3:35 p.m.: Cash Money Records and New Orleans hero Juvenile reunited with Mannie Fresh for an anticipated Jazz Fest performance. The enthusiasm was widespread, with a large crowd sticking it out in the rain for such a momentous live reunion. The two didn't waste time giving the crowd what it came for with a greatest hits set: "U Understand," "Slow Motion," "Project Chick" and, of course, "Back That Thang Up." Juvenile, true to his name -- either recklessly or on purpose -- flouted Jazz Fest's usual PG-language policy throughout his time.
5:00 p.m.: "The set we're playing is supposed to be hits," Pete Townshend said near the beginning of The Who's first U.S. festival date in about 40 years. "We don't actually have very many." Townshend's right, at least when it comes to U.S. Billboard charts. The band didn't land a top 10 single in the Hot 100 until 1966's "I Can See for Miles" -- included in its Jazz Fest setlist-- or its first platinum record in the U.S. until 1969's Tommy.
Almost 50 years later, you wouldn't know it. The Who was received at the Acura Stage like returning heroes. Jazz Fest producer Quint Davis -- who has been the festival's face and emcee going on 46 years -- called the British rock legends' set "one of the best rock concerts I've ever seen in my life."
That would be enough until you see the setlist: "I Can't Explain" and "The Seeker" kicking off the set, "Who Are You," "Behind Blue Eyes," "My Generation," all concluded with Townshend's signature guitar windmills and singer Roger Daltrey's piercing yowl on "Won't Get Fooled Again".
5:30 p.m.: John Legend provided a sweet and smooth alternative to The Who's aggro rock'n'roll at the Congo Square Stage. In the middle of his set, he delivered a nearly impossible-to-resist charm offensive of "Save Room," "Ordinary People" (his first R&B chart hit) and "Green Light." Legend followed it up with two deft covers, one of Michael Jackson's "Rock With You" and -- as the sun came from behind the clouds after a full festival day of rain -- Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Legend dedicated the song to his late grandmother, who taught him piano and gospel music as a child.
9:30 p.m.: Some post-Jazz Fest night shows are so full of performance energy, New Orleans tradition and guest drop-ins, they feel like the festival in miniature. That was the case with Trombone Shorty's Treme Threauxdown at the Saenger Theatre, which regularly hosts legacy roots-music and New Orleans acts in classy and bold surroundings. Shorty's band has toured the world, web and radio dial as if starving for modern influences to shake up the traditional profile of the New Orleans brass band.
He's certainly found a path of his own. Like many newer New Orleans acts, Shorty -- given name Troy Andrews -- pulls more from funk grooves than his native city's traditional jazz ones. But he also pulls from hard rock, given the percussive, even distorted, attack that his band gives brass-led songs. His live production is big and bombastic, recalling Metallica or Michael Jackson (whose dance moves, Moonwalk included, Shorty borrowed that night). He and his band pull from New Orleans rap music, a musical tentpole of his generation. So of course he'd get former No Limit soldier Mystikal for a performance of his verses on Mark Ronson's "Feel Right." And you can't have Mystikal on stage without performing the New Orleans rapper's staple hit "Shake Ya Ass."
Shorty respects the tradition, too. It's in his upbringing. For his rendition of Little Feat's "On Your Way Down," former The Allman Brothers Band guitarist Warren Haynes and venerable pianist Allen Toussaint -- also an accomplished songwriter who penned the song -- joined Shorty on stage. Kermit Ruffins, a New Orleans tradition bearer on an upward trajectory of his own, joined him on stage as well.
It'd be difficult to cite a performer as young as Andrews that's joining modernity and New Orleans tradition on this level, performing at halftime at the NBA Playoffs. As of the last few years, he's tasked with closing out Jazz Fest's Acura Stage on its last day. He's a force to behold right now. And why Andrews, of relatively young age, gets to curate an all-star jam at prestige venue like the Saenger. Who dat? It's Trombone Shorty, in the midst of a star turn.