Friday, March 29, 2013

2013 Jazz Fest off the charts

Hard choices to be made as Jazz Fest cubes revealed

By Alison Fensterstock, | The Times-Picayune 
The producer of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell may have spent a little too much time with Dr. John over the years – because apparently, Quint Davis is now making up words. At Tuesday morning’s 30-days-out press party announcing the “cubes” – the stage-by-stage performance schedule for 2013’s festival – Davis commented, “The look-forward-to-it-ness is off the charts.”
On a chilly morning in the paddock area of the Fair Grounds, it didn’t feel much like Jazz Fest to the assembled crowd, who huddled in scarves and coats. But then, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band began to play, schedules were handed out and Davis threw a few yards of 2013’s official Jazz Fest shirt fabric – printed with brass instruments and Louisiana irises - over his chunky sweater, and the “look-forward-to-it-ness” did start to get a bit contagious.
New Orleans City Councilmembers Susan Guidry, Cynthia Hedge-Morrell and Jackie Clarkson all addressed the crowd, as did Shell representative Hasting Stewart. Guidry seemed particularly gleeful, noting that she was “thrilled to death;” the festival, she said, is “a playground, that allows us to be the biggest children in the country.”
“This is our international stage for what we do best, locally,” Clarkson said. “This is bigger than a Hollywood production, bigger than a red carpet.”
A couple of things of note for the 2013 festival: this year’s Cultural Exchange Pavilion will focus on the heritage of Native America, with a somewhat expanded footprint over pavilions of years past. (In 2012, the focus was Mardi Gras Indians; in 2011, Haiti.) The celebration of Native America includes live music and dance in the Cultural Exchange village’s performance tent, drum-making, mask-carving, food, “living history” exhibitions, live mural painting, kids’ activities, a series of nine panel discussions, a traveling exhibit on the native nations of Louisiana courtesy of the Louisiana State Museum, and more.
New this year is a television broadcast of the fest on the AXS TV channel, which is available via DirecTV and Dish Network; the network will cover the festival for all seven days, culminating in a three-day, continuous live broadcast May 3-5.
The day-to-day artists’ breakdown for Jazz Fest 2013 was unveiled in January, and the cubes brought no major surprises – though, as always, they revealed the tough choices festgoers will have to make
Widespread Panic, of course, gets the longest set of the festival, with two and a half hours allotted on the Gentilly Stage Thursday, May 2, for its lengthy jams. Thursday offers a particularly nicely scheduled closing set: the Panic goes up against punk godmother Patti Smith, the contemporary R&B soul of Kem and the vintage, jazzy soul of Roy Ayers, which shouldn’t make for a too-difficult choice.
More of a challenge is Saturday, May 4’s headlining set, which puts two of the most eagerly anticipated shows of the 2013 fest right up against each other: Fleetwood Mac on Acura versus Frank Ocean at Congo Square. And Sunday, May 5 demands that festgoers choose between old-school and new-school, as Trombone Shorty steps into the prestigious festival closing slot on the Acura Stage, while Aaron Neville takes a solo turn to end the day at Gentilly.
The festival’s roster grows more top-heavy every year with the addition of more and more marquee headliners; at the Fair Grounds Tuesday, though, Davis took care to remind festivalgoers that the event also has a deep bench.
“There are little things everywhere,” he said, urging fans to “dig deep” into the schedule for gems like Earth, Wind and Fire’s interview on the Allison Miner Heritage Stage first thing in the morning Sunday, April 28, or Jamaican guitarist Brushy One-String, who plays several brief sets throughout the festival.
A couple of first impressions from the cubes, to help plan your days at the Fair Grounds:
Best reason to stay in one place for a while: on Saturday, April 27, Allen Toussaint’s 3:30 p.m. Acura Stage set is followed directly by Billy Joel’s headlining performance. Piano, piano, piano.
Best reason to get up early: Hurray for the Riff Raff open up the Acura Stage Sunday, April 28, at 11:15 a.m. The local folk-pop group, helmed by songwriter Alynda Lee Segarra, gave a triumphant show in a similar early Acura set last year, and have evolved by leaps and bounds in terms of songcraft and performance since then.
Best day to eschew the big stages at closing time, at least for a minute: I would never tell anyone to skip Billy Joel or Jill Scott, who headline Acura and Congo Square Saturday, April 27. But if you have a moment or an itch to stretch your legs, stroll over to the Blues Tent that evening for Daptone Records soul dynamo Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires, or to the Fais Do Do stage for the excellent multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird.
Watch for more Jazz Fest picks from Keith Spera and myself this week.

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