The fifth day of the 2016 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival commenced at the Fair Grounds Race Course Friday (April 29) with sets from locals John Boutté, Irma Thomas, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and The Revivalists, among others. Plus still more tributes to the late Prince from Jazmine Sullivan, among others, and New Orleans R&B legend Allen Toussaint. Not to mention headliners Paul Simon, My Morning Jacket and Ms. Lauryn Hill. Here are some highlights from the jam-packed day five of Jazz Fest 2016 (all times local).
12:35 p.m. John Boutté is wrapping up his interview at the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage with runs through “Scotch and Soda” and an audience singalong with the kitschy and sexy “Good Neighbor.” Don’t expect new music from Boutté in the near future, though. “This may sound lazy, but I’m not working on anything,” he said. Boutté said he’s recently moved out to the country, away from what he cited Allen Toussaint as calling the “between B-and-B-Flat hum of the city.”
1:15 p.m. Next up on the Allison Miner Stage was, in fact, a tribute to the life and music of the late Allen Toussaint, with some of the city’s musical luminaries, among them soul singer Irma Thomas and Cyril Neville. Some of Toussaint’s closest confidants — his son, drummer Herman LeBeaux, daughter and personal assistant Alison Toussaint LeBeaux and his band’s guitarist Renard Poche — were there as well. It was a continuation of sorts from the second half of Elvis Costello’s headlining set on Thursday.
“He had this knack for choosing the musicians he knew would execute what he wanted done on the record,” said Thomas, a frequent Toussaint collaborator. “[But] it took a storm, actually, to show New Orleans what they had as far as talent and musicians here. We were taken for granted for years and, I mean, that’s just normal. This is not the only city that does that. But it was that storm that brought it to the forefront.”
2 p.m. “Y’all lookin‘ so good, New Orleans!” is about all anyone from Dirty Dozen Brass Band says during its Acura Stage set. The band — which has played horn section or opening act for rock bands ranging from Modest Mouse to Widespread Panic and many more — hardly skips a beat to talk to its dancing crowd. The instrumental grooves recall, at turns, Italo disco like Black Box’s “Everybody Everybody,” Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing,” and even OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars.” The compositions are all DDBB, but the beats feel familiar.
3 p.m. John Boutté croons away in the Zatarian’s/WWOZ Jazz Tent with standards like “Skylark” (a ‘40s vocal jazz number that Boutté said “was my mother’s favorite tune”) as Thursday headliner Elvis Costello saunters in, watching Boutté do his thing. More standards like “Straighten Up and Fly Right” (popularized by Nat King Cole and the Andrews Sisters) and more recent New Orleans ones (Allen Toussaint’s “Southern Nights”) follow.
3:30 p.m. Irma Thomas’ band introduces her onto Acura Stage about ten minutes behind schedule after a run through an “Uptown Funk” cover. Thomas sings “I’m Gonna Hold You to Your Promise,” “All I Know Is The Way I Feel,” and “Love Don’t Change,” soulful as can be.
3:45 p.m. It’s still early in the The Revivalists’ set, as they bathe in the shimmering guitar of “Monster.” It’s not the only song with a Kings of Leon-esque groove, and “Catching Fireflies” matches the Tennessee band for hard and heavy guitar. After an intense loud song, the band slows it down for “Soulfight” a ballad with a smooth horn solo. The Revivalists are drawing an impressively large crowd, building a local following since its formation in 2007. The band got a boost in national profile from a recent Today Show appearance.
“It feels amazing to see each and every one of y’all,” lead singer David Shaw said from the stage. “I can tell some of y’all have been with us from the beginning. Let’s have a blast!”
Like so many New Orleans bands, The Revivalists have a plentiful reserve of covers in their repertoire. And, as Shaw told Billboard in an earlier interview, plenty of those are songs from the late Prince.
“He was one of those artists that never settled,” he said. “He was 100 percent striving for greatness no matter the cost, no matter the argument, no matter what it was gonna take… to see his vision through.”
4:15 p.m. Jazmine Sullivan is making her smaller-but-enthusiastic crowd swoon and sing along with every word of breakup songs “Lions and Tigers and Bears” and “Holding You Down (Goin‘ In Circles).” “I don’t hear y’all singing loud enough!” Sullivan tells the crowd, egging them on. Later, she challenges the mold in which she’s found herself cast: the jilted-lover R&B of Mary J. Blige or Keyshia Cole. “I know y’all think I’m this angry chick,” she says, “but I’m a lover, man! This is for all the lovers out there,” as an introduction to “Let It Burn.”
“We’ve lost a lot of greats recently,” she says, mentioning Maurice White of Earth Wind and Fire, who died in February. And, of course, Prince. “Most recent was one of my favorites ever to touch a stage. The icon, the innovator, the Artist Formerly Known As Prince.” It was her intro to a cover of “Adore,” the finale off his seminal record Sign ‘O’ the Times. But Sullivan’s take was stripped down to only an acoustic guitar, a refreshing contrast to many of the bells-and-whistles Prince covers. “It was just sincere, you know?” she told Billboard later. “It’s not trying to be the best, it was just paying tribute to someone who did so much, meant so much to me.”
5:15 p.m. At the Acura Stage, Paul Simon’s band is filling time, starting a tad late, opening with a Graceland-era-sounding vamp. Simon arrives and kicks off the set with “The Boy in the Bubble,” with a Cajun-sounding accordion. An old Simon and Garfunkel favorite, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” follows and Simon throws a curveball next, a brand new song off his forthcoming album Stranger to Stranger. “The Werewolf” recalls Radiohead in its paranoid lyrics and bendy strange sounds underneath an acoustic tune.
Later in the set, Simon pulls out deeper cuts (“The Cool, Cool River”, off his acclaimed 1990 album The Rhythm of the Saints) and more old favorites (“Mother and Child Reunion”, “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” and “Still Crazy After All These Years” with a saxophone solo).
For a pre-encore finale, Simon delivered a bluesy shuffle version of “The Boxer.” And after the encore, “The Sound of Silence” closed the show.
5:30 p.m. My Morning Jacket opens their Gentilly Stage set with a churning “Victory Dance” followed by the funky and rollicking “Compound Fracture,” then their take on dubbed-out reggae with “Off the Record” and “Spring (Among the Living),” a crescendoing psychedelic jam. The band’s followed with The Waterfall’s soaring lead-off track, “Believe (Nobody Knows)”. Later on in the set, the band paid homage to Prince with covers “Sign ‘o’ the Times” and “Purple Rain” — joined by Preservation Hall Jazz Band — blending the latter into live favorite and finale “One Big Holiday.”
6:05 p.m. Here’s one thing Ms. Lauryn Hill and Flo Rida have in common — and it’s likely one of the few things they have in common, artistically– they both had backup dancers as headliners of Jazz Fest’s Congo Square Stage. Hill’s was delayed later (by 20 minutes, not much considering some of Jazz Fest stage’s delays have been as long as 40). Hill is on a contemplative tip (though when is she not?) with “I Gotta Find Peace Of Mind” followed by the barrage of words “Freedom Time.” “Mystery Of Iniquity” follows (with its “all falls down” hook made famous via the early Kanye West hit of the same name). “Ex-Factor”, off her 1998 milestone record The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, inspired a huge singalong. Performing seated for almost the first 30 minutes of the set, she rose for this song, scatting her way skillfully through an extended jam. She riffed on the lyrics of “Final Hour” with “New Orleans” in the line, “People feel Lauryn Hill from New-Ark to Israel.”