Day six of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival kicked off in light rain at the Fair Grounds Race Course on Saturday (May 5) with performances by New Orleans rapper Boyfriend, Baton Rouge alternative-rock stalwarts Better Than Ezra, local staple Kermit Ruffins paying tribute to the music of Louis Armstrong and the only rock band this year maybe bigger than Jazz Fest itself: Aerosmith.
Here are the highlights from day six of Jazz Fest 2018.
12:57 p.m.: New Orleans rapper/singer Boyfriend makes her way to stage a bit late, but when you consider the rainy weather and her massive wedding gown with head-to-toe veil, you can understand why. She starts with the jilted-bride act of “Love Meansm,” following with “Lean” and the props-heavy stage act of “Beauty Is Pain” (with a riff on Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” thrown in). Boyfriend’s stage act — supersized for Jazz Fest — is more kitsch than overt sex, more pin-up than lurid come on. And the booty-bass beats bang especially hard, too, when she brings on Big Freedia and dance troupe the Merry Antoinettes for “Marie Antoinette.” She polishes off the set by properly introducing her burlesque dancers, Fleur de Tease and the Camel Toe Lady Steppers.
After her set, she sits down with Billboard to discuss her early adoption of the new Airbnb Experiences for concerts, which she thinks could be a game changer for smaller-scale touring artists. “[Airbnb] reached out to me and I was really excited about it,” she said. “I’ve been doing this immersive theatrical show here in town at Preservation Hall every year for Halloween that’s a play where people are wandering around through the space as a theatrical concert unfolds. I want to do that in a domestic setting because so much of the imagery I’m trying to pull from is domestic.”
Boyfriend says this kind of strategy could work as a kind of off-date-filling boutique show model. “It’s essentially a whole new ticketing platform and whole new network of venues,” she says. “I think it could be a really cool thing for touring artists. Say you have an off Thursday where you’ve gotta get from Denver to Vegas and there’s no market in between that you can play — there might be some weird funky little town where you can sell 20 tickets but you can’t sell 250.”
2:15 p.m.: In Louisiana, ’90s alternative rock band Better Than Ezra are still legit rock stars, drawing a solid post-rain crowd to the Gentilly Stage. “It’s just a kiss of rain, to wake you up and tell you, ‘Hey, it’s Saturday, it’s Jazz Fest!’” singer/guitarist Kevin Griffin tells the crowd. He’s wasting no time getting the crowd lathered up, either, launching right into the radio single that made the band famous, “Good,” followed by “A Lifetime” and “The Great Unknown.” Griffin points out the 30th anniversary of the band’s first rehearsal, where the band ran through their first covers (Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio” and The Smiths’ “Bigmouth Strikes Again,” a decent bookend of influences on the band’s guitar rock). The catchy “Crazy Lucky” follows. Later in the set, graduating eighth graders from New Orleans’ Bethune Elementary — for which the band’s foundation helped build a playground — come out to bust a move during “Juicy,” which is incredibly cute and charming.
4:30 p.m.: Kermit Ruffins’ tribute to Louis Armstrong, an annual Jazz Fest fixture in the Economy Hall Tent, gets started a tad late but the packed-out tent crowd knows its worth the wait. Ruffins starts with “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South” and the Fats Waller-penned tune “(What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue,” one of the earliest recorded non-spirituals to lament the black American Jim Crow-era struggle. Ruffins makes up a quintet including drummer Shannon Powell, one of New Orleans’ finest sidemen, to romp playfully and jauntily through these numbers for a few minutes, tacking on a bit of vamping. “Jeepers Creepers” follows, as does “Hey Look Me Over.”
5:15 p.m.: Aerosmith squeezes in a few extra songs by starting before the scheduled 5:30 p.m. set time, and the Acura Stage is packed out to the absolute gills. Today’s Jazz Fest has been Aerosmith and everyone else, and once you get a few songs deep into the setlist, you know why: they’re bringing all the hits they can. There’s “Same Old Song and Dance,” “Love In an Elevator” and “Cryin’” all in a row. “I love this daytime s—!” singer Steven Tyler muses. “You can see me scratch my ass. I’m no better than you.” A weird aside but, okay, whatever. He gets back to the hits with “Livin’ On the Edge,” “Rag Doll” and “Janie’s Got A Gun” which features Tyler’s harmonica skills and vocal effects. Doubly so for “Sweet Emotion,” which is basically a Peter Frampton-type affair, it’s so washed in vocoder. There’s a power-ballad break for “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing,” the band’s only Hot 100 No. 1 to date. It shows in the huge crowd singalong too. And for diehard fans of the Toxic Twins, there were deeper cuts like “Adam’s Apple.”
The set’s a marathon of Aerosmith songs whose choruses you don’t even remember you remember. It starts to wind down with “Dream On” and the band takes a proper encore break (longer than usual for a typically time-crunched festival set) and comes back with — among other hits, of course, you know they had to do it — “Walk This Way.” The biggest takeaway from what was almost a full-scale two-hour Aerosmith set: Steven Tyler, 70, can still really wail and belt. The band is as tight as ever, with lead guitarist Joe Perry providing a bluesy, calming partner to Tyler’s manic energy. Aerosmith is still a force to be reckoned with live.