Like its opening day last week, day seven of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival got off to a late start due to thunderstorms on (May 4), opening its gates at 12:30 p.m. and canceling the first one or two acts on each stage.
As usual, the day featured an eclectic variety: the updated brass traditions of Hot 8 Brass Band, the eccentric funk of Tank and the Bangas, the authentic old timey bluegrass of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs by The Earls of Leicester presented by dobro virtuoso Jerry Douglas, the New Orleans bounce rap of Big Freedia and the timeless Motown soul, R&B and disco of Diana Ross.
Here are the highlights from Jazz Fest’s second Saturday.
1:35 p.m.: Hot 8 Brass Band played to a small but dedicated crowd at Congo Square Stage as storm clouds eased up. It’s still a party whenever the band’s around, though, with its call-and-response arrangements of rap, funk and R&B hits of yesterday and today, including riffs on Snoop Dogg’s “Who Am I? (What’s My Name?),” Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It” and Kool and the Gang’s “Get Down On It.”
1:55 p.m.: Tank and the Bangas started playing on Acura Stage about 15 minutes late due to technical difficulties after making a grand entrance in a burst of green balloons. It seemed appropriate, given that the band’s latest LP, Green Balloon, came out Friday (May 3).
Frontwoman Tarriona “Tank” Ball and her backup dancers hit the stage dressed in a glittery green motif and to a funky groove punctuated by record scratches. “Jazz Fest, how you doin’ out there?” Tank asked the crowd during its opener “Quick” to cheers. “That’s what’s up!” During “Sol Glo,” Tank asked people to hold up with their fingers to show how many Jazz Fests they’ve been to, mentioning that this performance makes five for her and the Bangas. “Nice Things” mentioned Gucci a lot, sure, but also promotes kind acts. Tank rapped it like she’s the lost, wholesome member of Migos. Tank looked to the sky during “Hot Air Balloons,” a silky smooth Quiet Storm R&B groove with a jazz flute solo by Banga multi-instrumentalist Albert Allenback: “You feel good? You beat the rain?” Next comes “Smoke.Netflix.Chill.,” a song that’s just begging to be licensed for an ad by the streaming giant. After “DM Pretty” featuring dueling sax solos by Allenback and Etienne Soufflet, Tank instructed the crowd to make some noise. “Actually, just make some animal noises, whatever you want,” she quipped, introducing “Ants” with a sick conga solo.
“We’re fresh back from [The Tonight Show Starring] Jimmy Fallon, it’s no big deal it’s no big deal,” Tank said before correcting herself. “Actually, it’s a big deal. But not just for me, for New Orleans.” It was her intro to a semi-improvised spoken word interlude that asserted her New Orleanian identity: “I am a jungle of a woman, I’m all Canal street. I’m all Crawfish and Zulu for Mardi Gras.” She invoked “free Africans and Indians at Congo Square” and finished with “I’m off Galvez [Street], I’m off Orleans [Avenue]… ain’t no other place I’d rather be than New Orleans.” The band released their set-dressing green balloons into the sky for a whimsical finale.
3:45 p.m.: “We’re the Earls of Leicester and we play the music of [Lester] Flatt and [Earl] Scruggs and that’s all we play. If you don’t like it… bye,” Jerry Douglas said, introducing himself quite directly to a crowd camped out and mostly expecting Cajun fiddle and zydeco at the Sheraton New Orleans Fais Do-Do Stage.
It’s a brusque salutation but certainly meant in good humor, like most of the bluegrass standards Douglas and the Earls play, like “Salty Dog Blues” and “Will You Be Lonesome Too?”
“We only play Flatts and Scruggs and Lonesome Mountain Boys music,” lead singer/guitarist Shawn Camp said. “The way God intended it!” Douglas added. “I saw Flatts and Scruggs a few times [and] it was like seeing the Beatles.”
4:05 p.m.: Big Freedia’s DJ Juane Jordan started things off in Congo Square Stage with a remix of Lil’ Nas X’s “Old Town Road” with his cowboy hat on. In came Freedia’s dancers (“shakers,” she called them) dancing to a guitar-heavy take on Beyoncé’s “Formation,” with emphasis on Freedia’s contribution to the track, her “back by popular demand” and “I came to slay” lines, in her big intro. Freedia played with a full live band, which included a soulful Rhodes-sounding organ. High-impact songs like “N.O. Bounce” and “Explode” gripped the audience with scattering bounce beats and athletic butt-shaking. “Rock Around the Clock” was a mashup of sorts, with the beat interpolating Bill Haley’s song of the same name plus Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You.”
“How many of y’all got some kinda liquor in your system right now?” Freedia wanted to know. “Y’all know what song I’m about to do, right?” They did, with “Gin In My System” and its considerable dance break drove the crowd wild. There was “Y’All Get Back Now” and “Azz Everywhere,” the very special part of a Freedia set, where she calls up audience members to strut their stuff. Her DJ interpolated Cash Money Millionaires’ “Back That Azz Up” and Juvenile’s “Nolia Clap” into the beat.
5:45 p.m.: Diana Ross hit the Gentilly Stage with, appropriately, “I’m Coming Out” as her first song, a gangbusters opener. She followed that with “More Today Than Yesterday” and her first words to the crowd: “If you know these songs, you gotta join in and sing with me, okay?” There wasn’t a moment of doubt or reluctance: everyone definitely knew and did. “My World Is Empty Without You” followed and served as the start of her delve into her Motown-era Supremes catalog: “Baby Love,” “Stop! In the Name of Love” (with hand choreography and everything, the huge audience following along en masse), “Come See About Me” and “You Can’t Hurry Love” followed in the setlist. Ross’ band sounded as tight as the Funk Brothers ever did, and her background singers were on point as The Supremes ever were. “Touch Me In the Morning” from her Motown solo career, as well as the latter-day Supremes number one single “Love Child” were up next.
“This is my Diamond Jubilee!” Ross told the crowd. “So if I’m 75, you can do it too, come on!” She’s trying to get a clap going for “It’s My House,” not a hard sell for this crowd, which was truly amped to see her. “Love Hangover” (yes, another number one) with a nice little disco break followed. Then came a deeper cut (the ’90s house “Take Me Higher”) and “Ease on Down the Road” from The Wiz. A sax solo intro preceded the Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic “The Look of Love,” with the Frankie Lymon cover “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” after that. She teased “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” with the single version’s build-up and spoken intro. The crowd hung on her every word, waiting for the song to drop, absolutely enraptured. Ross went beyond her time with an encore of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” with her background singers taking solos on a vamp at the end and an unexpected take on T-Pain’s hook on DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win” in the middle. Ross’ set — which spanned over 80 minutes, included five wardrobe changes, pulled from over 50 years of hits and worked in an “I Will Survive” reprise for a second encore — was possibly one of the finest and most anticipated sets Jazz Fest has seen in its 50 year history.