The annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival at the Fair Grounds Race Course launched Friday (April 24) with performances by Keith Urban, Hozier, Wilco, Royal Teeth and many others. Here are the highlights from day 1 of Jazz Fest 2015.
1:30 p.m.: Country superstar Keith Urban is being interviewed on the Alison Miner Heritage Stage, an indoor interview stage at Jazz Fest. It’s one that inspires intimate and sometimes impromptu performances, which Urban gave the crowd gladly in the form of “Somebody Like You.” He brought one of the festival’s Sign Language interpreters — performers in their own right and largely unsung heroes of Jazz Fest — center stage for “Raise ‘Em Up”.
Urban was approached by die-hard fans no fewer than four times in 45 minutes for a personal interaction — pictures and a promposal during the Q&A portion, which made Urban feel “like Geraldo Rivera all of a sudden,” he said — even with an offer to kiss on a Louisiana teacher. The students were promised a classroom “pizza party” if they could convince Urban of the smooch. In a sweet and funny moment from the affable star, Urban obliged. Definitely the moment to beat for Cutest of Jazz Fest 2015.
2:30 p.m.: Near the end of its set on the Gentilly Stage, Louisiana indie-pop band Royal Teeth covers Fleetwood Mac‘s “Landslide” as a stripped-down cover, in contrast to the whoa-oh’s and anthemic choruses that it seems to lean on. The band closes with its breakout song “Wild,” striking its first chords just as the sun peeked out of the clouds. The track, like the sun, was a welcome rarity on an otherwise dreary and overcast Jazz Fest kickoff day.
3:20 p.m.: “Take Me to Church” singer-songwriter Hozier muscled through his set on the Gentilly Stage with the heavy blues and jagged, hard guitar of PJ Harvey, interspersed with some graceful folk-rock, similar to that of fellow Irish countryman Van Morrison. He drew one of the strongest crowds of Jazz Fest’s first day with “To Be Alone,” “Work Song” and, of course, the ubiquitous “Church”.
5:20 p.m.: “We’re gonna get as much as of this as we can,” Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy said, facing down a serious Louisiana storm. “No chit-chat.” The venerable rock band blazed through nine songs (from “Handshake Drugs” to “Impossible Germany”) before getting shut down by festival staff for a too-close-for-comfort clap of thunder.
Meanwhile, Urban got through 11 songs in about the same amount of time before the storm shutdown, including an apropos cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” Urban tweeted a video of it thanks to his fans at Jazz Fest on his way out.
— Keith Urban (@KeithUrban) April 25, 2015
8:00 p.m.: Anyone who has been to Jazz Fest will tell you the fest’s magic really happens after the headliners are done, the sun goes down and the night shows start.
A strange and wonderful after-show happened at the Music Box in New Orleans’ City Park after day one of Jazz Fest: an improvisation put on by local art collective Airlift featured, among many, members of Wilco and New Orleans electronic music producer Quintron. They played on sophisticated instruments that looked equal parts bayou junkyard and Bang On A Can, the New York neo-classical collective.