New Orleans Jazz Fest Day Six Sees Headliners Rained Out, Big Freedia Pays Tribute to Prince

Big Freedia
Rick Olivier

Big Freedia

Looming clouds, nearly tornado-strength winds and finally torrential rains cut short the second Saturday, day six of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. With headliners Stevie Wonder, Snoop Dogg, and Beck rained out, undercards like Hurray for the Riff Raff and Dr. John ended the day. Perhaps the biggest crowd draws of the day ended up being Late Show bandleader Jon Batiste and New Orleans’ breakout bounce rapper Big Freedia, who went all out in tribute to the late Prince.

Due to the canceling of its headliners and the ongoing inclimate weather, Jazz Fest announced later in the evening that it is, in fact, scheduled to be open tomorrow (Sunday, May 1) and that any purchased ticket used for Saturday entry would also be valid for Sunday, its final day. Here's the highlights from day six (all times local).

New Orleans Jazz Fest Day Five Sees Prince Covers Abound From Jazmine Sullivan, My Morning Jacket & More

1 p.m. If you missed out on Coachella for Jazz Fest, fear not. Sweet Crude is bringing the California festival’s youthful vibes to Gentilly Stage midway through their set, with a franglais (vocals in French and English) act that recalls Arcade Fire if the band increased its use of French after “Haiti” and “Black Mirror”. “This is a dream come true for us,” singer/percussionist Alexis Marcheau said of the band’s Jazz Fest debut,. The band’s effervescent rock popped with yelps and shouts, crash and bangs of group percussion. Plus it did right by Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain.” A very strong early-in-day performance.

1:45 p.m. Jon Batiste and Stay Human start a tad late, opening with -- what else -- the opening title music to Late Show. The set is something of a homecoming for Batiste, a scion of a family name that rings wide and proud in New Orleans. He’s done well in New York and reminds the hometown crowd that he knows where he came from with “St. James Infirmary” and riffing on instrumentals as varied as “Tequila” by The Champs and Beethoven’s “Fur Elise,” turning the staid classical composition into a funky jam.

2:30 p.m. Big Freedia doesn’t care about the rain. It’s all purple rain to him, anyway. His squad of dancers and musicians (he calls them his “shakers”) is decked out in purple in honor of Prince at Congo Square Stage. Freedia pops it to “Rock Around da Clock,” sampling the Bill Haley and His Comets track that popularized the song. Freedia’s DJ flips the beat, too, folding in Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You”. Then comes the call and response of “I Got That Gin in My System” and the cathartic “Explode.” Then comes the audience participation part of the set, when “Azz Everywhere” means, well, there’s asses shaking everywhere. Men and women of all walks of life get up there strutting their stuff, in what is frankly an impressive display of athleticism.

Freedia’s show takes on a new dimension with his Prince tribute. With “I Would Die 4 U”, he accentuates the chorus as well the opening lines “I'm not a woman/I'm not a man/I am something that you'll never understand.” Then comes the big “Purple Rain” singalong as Freedia points to the grey rainy sky. By the end of the set, having gone through live staples like “Y’all Get Back Now,” Freedia releases purple balloons to that purple rainy sky as a poetic finale.

3:20 p.m. By Jazz Fest’s long-running institutional memory, Dr. John’s new backing band The Nite Trippers is still new on the block in its current setup. It’s a shame it didn’t get more than a few songs off at Acura Stage, like a slower-tempo riff on “Iko Iko” and “Let’s Make a Better World” before being waved off stage due to severe thunderstorms.

3:35 p.m. Speaking of institutional memory, Hurray for the Riff Raff starts its Gentilly Stage set with “Levon's Dream”, a reference to The Band’s late Levon Helm and “Ode to John and Yoko.” Alynda Lee Segarra casts these classic-rock heroes as characters in her own stories, some based in fiction, some in non-fiction, often her songs contain a little of both. “If I could, I’d put all of you under a giant umbrella,” Segarra says to the crowd amid a particularly intense moment of downpour. Several cracks of distant lightning don’t faze the band at first, but its song “The End of the Line” presages an early cut-off time. Segarra mentions new songs “Life to Save” and “Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl” from a forthcoming as-of-yet-untitled new record. “We’ve been out in California recording a new album,” she says. “We hope to get it to you soon.” The band caps it off with the emotional “The Body Electric,” a song about violence against women (“he’s gonna shoot me down/put my body in the river,” goes its dark refrain) made all the more menacing against roaring rain and claps of thunder. As the band scurries off stage, Segarra gives a final parting shot to the crowd. “F--k Donald Trump,” she says, matter of factly.

5:45 p.m. At Acura Stage, Stevie Wonder gives this impromptu rendition of Prince’s “Purple Rain” through a megaphone, with the stage’s gear behind him under tarps. 

 

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