2:50 p.m.: Royal Teeth are near the beginning of its set on Gentilly Stage, playing the intense and smashy “Time Bomb,” followed by a cover of The Knife “Heartbeats,” the latter featuring Nora Patterson on some strong lead vocals. The band’s anthemic “Mais La” follows, a Louisiana French slang of sorts from its native southern Louisiana, meaning “so there!” or “that’s that!” with singer/bassist Gary Larsen inspiring a rousing call and response with the crowd. The band tries its hand at another cover, Santigold’s “Can’t Get Enough of Myself,” as well, followed by its newest single, released on Friday, “Rivalry.” The band wraps up the set with the sweet and swoony “Kids Conspire” and its signature single “Wild.”
Before their set, Patterson and Larsen catch up with Billboard about “Rivalry” and how playing Jazz Fest— even after doing it seven times— still makes Larsen nervous. “You’d think I wouldn’t care anymore,” he says. “It’s more like I don’t want stuff to go wrong. But it’s usually okay.” And Royal Teeth is an anomaly among even its generation of New Orleans bands, in that their music has steeped little to none in what’s considered traditionally New Orleans (brass, jazz, blues, funk, etc.) “There’s always that thing in the back of my head [when playing to a Jazz Fest crowd], ‘Should we jam out more, or something?’ But I think at the end of the day you just gotta do you,” Larson adds.
3:40 p.m.: It’s 50th Anniversary of Jazz Fest Storytime with Bonnie Raitt at Acura Stage and she’s dropping anecdotes, music history and names like mad. “This is the greatest festival in the world for artists of all stripes,” she says from Acura Stage, and points out “it’s an endangered species,” which is sadly too true. Too few festivals do what Jazz Fest does. Raitt calls it “hallowed ground,” even, but it when comes to all the Jazz Fests she’s played (this is her tenth!) and the thick and thin of her career, well, “That’s why I don’t wanna write a book, there’s some things that I don’t even wanna remember.” She’s a font of bluesy wisdom but she keeps the set moving with “Unintended Consequence of Love” with New Orleans gadfly and pianist Jon Cleary. She introduces her longtime side men, including Hutch Hutchinson on bass, Ricky Fataar on drums and George Marinelli on lead guitar before “Need You Tonight” off her latest 2015 LP Dig In Deep.
Raitt dug deep into wardrobe to avoid being noticed at the fest or around town, where she wore a hat and sunglasses to avoid being mobbed. “I’ve heard some of the most treacherously great music the last few days” at the fest, she says. She mentions the Cultural Pavillion and dedicates “One Belief Away” as tribute to the late recently passed Oliver Mtukudzi, a co-writer on the track. Raitt covers The Fabulous Thunderbirds song “I Believe I'm in Love” with Cleary on piano and a little hip check from her to punctuate its final note.
“Damn, Cleary, you’re a mess in all the right ways!” She has kind words for John Prine as well (“having a helluva year,” she says, followed by a rueful, “It’s a miracle any of us are still around!”). It’s all by way of her introduction to “Angel from Montgomery,” Prine penned but Raitt popularized. She remarks on the 30th anniversary of Nick of Time before playing “Something to Talk About.”Then there’s a funked-up version of “Love Letter” from Nick of Time, dedicated to all the New Orleans funk greats. Too many great Raitt tunes and anecdotes to list, she winds down her set with the maudlin “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”
Raitt sat down with Billboard earlier to talk her personal Jazz Fest history, the fest’s significance and ways she sees music at the fest and around New Orleans without being noticed. “This festival changed the whole nature of festivalgoing,” she says, nodding at what set the bar for fully immersive live-music experiences in the ’70s. “There were Grateful Dead concerts, and then there was Jazz Fest. It was a precursor to Coachella and Bonnaroo and a lot of festivals were modeled on it.” If it’s changed much at all, Raitt said, it was “the volume” of it. “They need to get those headliners in there, sometimes people wish it weren’t so crowded, but it’s just the way they keep the economics of it going.”
So how has Raitt been able to enjoy it all this years without being asked for selfie every ten steps she walks? “It’s a total immersion of food and culture,” she says. “I try to plan a couple days off before, I put on a hat and be incognito and just be a fan, you know? I love just being among a swarm of people, which I don’t get at my own gigs. It’s been great to go around and pick and choose what to eat and which acts to see when. The fun part is the audience, for me, as well.”
4:50 p.m.: Near the beginning of the set, Emily Sailers, one half of Indigo Girls, introduces “Elizabeth” as a “where is she now?” college love song about a girl Sailers was in love with at Tulane, “in that way you love someone when you’re in college,” she says. It’s one of her many New Orleans memories that brought the Indigo Girls back to Jazz Fest this year. It doesn’t hurt to be playing there when the “we were old enough to drink in Louisiana” line gets a big laugh from the crowd absolutely packing out the Sheraton New Orleans Fais Do-Do Stage.
After that is “Become You” and what the Indigos’ other half Amy Ray calls “a traveling song,” “Get Out the Map,” a very earnest road trip narrative. Violin (or fiddle, depending on whom you ask) plays a central role in the sounds of this set, with a instrumental fiddle break as an acknowledgement of the stage’s Cajun fiddle music leanings. The jam ends up in “The Wood Song,” with a beautiful violin lead. By the end of the set, the Indigos played the song everyone was waiting for: “Closer to Fine,” in a big singalong.
Ray sat down with Billboard earlier to talk about how the Indigo Girls weren’t always invited to festivals and how they always seek to challenge their live audiences with diverse openers. “When some of these bigger festivals [of today] started taking off, we were in a niche, I think, that was too gay for a festival band.” Ray says. “Things started getting a lot more polarized, demographically. I think that’s coming around again, but we just weren’t hip enough or whatever it is.
We didn’t get asked to do festivals for a long time and then we started getting asked to do them again.” In New Orleans, though, the boundaries social, sexual and musical melt away. “For Mardi Gras, these different groups dress up in these big costumes, it’s like a big furry convention or something,” Ray said. “It’s very liberating. We get so repressed and hung up on things.”
4:40 p.m.: As A Tribe Called Red gets part-way through its set at the Jazz and Heritage Stage, it’s the first and only EDM act to play (twice in a fest day, and for at least two different years!) at Jazz Fest, a festival dedicated to New Orleans traditions, not sick drops. Where A Tribe Called Red does speak to Jazz Fest’s cultural priorities is how it celebrates pow-wow dance and the indigenous music of Bear Witness’ tribe and 2oolman’s tribe. It’s just that the way they do it is unlike literally anyone else at Jazz Fest. Songs like “Electric Pow Wow Drum,” sprinkled through its set commanded attention, dancing and pumped fists.
Tribe Called Red DJ/producers Bear Witness tribe 2oolman’s sat down briefly with Billboard earlier to talk indigenous peoples taking back the narrative of how they see themselves. “The music that we use, that we sample is specifically pow-wow music made for competition, for performance,” Bear Witness says. “It’s made to make dancers dance. And as DJs, that’s what club music is. You fuse the two together, and there was an ‘a-ha!’ moment where it was like, ‘Of course this works.’” But they don’t consider themselves leaders, just “riding a wave,” Bear Witness says. He continues, “We came around at a moment where the indigenous community was willing to say, ‘Yes, we can do this with our culture.’”
5:35 p.m.: Van Morrison is packing out Acura Stage, starting out his set with Muddy Waters’ “Baby Please Don’t Go” (as in, “down to New Orleans,” in an offering to locals) with a vocal effects mic as well as Waters’ “Got My Mojo Working.” There’s the ennui of “Days Like This” and a beloved romantic Morrison ballad from 1989's Avalon Sunset album: “Have I Told You Lately” with Morrison on sax, soloing alongside his bandmates. Later on in his set, Morrison plays the light-as-air “Moondance,” with horn and percussion solos vamped at the end and the onomatopoeia of “Broken Record,” its clipped ending refrain recalling a stuck vinyl disc. Morrison ends his set with a trio of killers: “Wild Night,” “Real Real Gone” and, of course, “Brown Eyed Girl.”