French Quarter Fest Lineup Announced: Astral Project, Irvin Mayfield, Radiators, Bonerama, More

Book dozens of major New Orleans and Louisiana acts, and many of the lesser-known ones, put them on stages throughout the French Quarter, and don’t charge an admission fee.

That’s the successful strategy taken by the French Quarter Fest, the 27th annual edition of which is slated for April 9-11.

The festival again emphasizes a terrific mix of jazz, blues, funk, zydeco, cajun, brass band, gospel and other music, played exclusively by New Orleans artists.

That’s a factor differentiating the fest from the larger, better-known Jazz Fest, which (with some exceptions) features big national acts in the headlining spots while still devoting about 85% of stage time to artists from New Orleans and throughout Louisiana, according to organizers.

While it’s impossible to duplicate the rambunctious, non-stop, feelgood party vibe of Jazz Fest, which returns the last weekend of April and first weekend of May (I’ll be there, for my umpteenth trip), some fans of New Orleans music prefer the lower-key, more intimate setting of French Quarter Fest.

Or, at least, it felt a bit more laidback the last time I visited, about seven years ago.

As mentioned, much of the cream of the NOLA crop is headed to French Quarter Fest, including such personal favorites as Astral Project, Bonerama, Anders Osborne, Kermit Ruffins, Irvin Mayfield and the NOJO, Rebirth Brass Band, John Mooney, the Kora Konnection, Alex McMurray (performing with his Tin Men group), the Radiators, Trombone Shorty, the New Orleans Nightcrawlers, John Boutte and Paul Sanchez, and many more.

In addition to performances by more than 150 acts, French Quarter Fest means great local cuisine, with 105 food booths set up by vendors who are required to be dine-in restaurants from the New Orleans region.

The fest offers several new features for 2010, including a BMI-sponsored songwriter showcase, with a dozen up-and-coming talents, and an iPhone application soon to be available through iTunes. And traditional dances — Charleston, Swing, and Second-line — will be taught at the Traditional Jazz stage, which will feature performances by the Jazz Vipers, James Andrews, and others.

For more details, go to http://www.fqfi.org/news/?cat=9

New Orleans: Serious About Its Identity As a Music Town?

But of course: New Orleans is a music town, one of the greatest on earth, and in many respects the heart and soul of American music.

It’s the birthplace of jazz, and it would be darn near impossible to gauge how great an impact the city and its indigenous arts culture have had on other forms of musical Americana, including R&B, blues, funk and soul.

And yet because of pesky political obstacles or a lack of imagination, the city’s fathers have never quite been able to capitalize on NOLA’s music/arts culture, which encompasses everything from still-vital brass bands to Mardi Gras Indian groups, great modern jazzers, traditional jazzers, amazing funk/rock groups, inspired singer-songwriters, and soul singers — artists like the Dirty Dozen, Rebirth Brass Band (in photo), New Orleans Nightcrawlers, the Wild Magnolias, Ellis Marsalis, Astral Project, Kermit Ruffins, Trombone Shorty, Galactic, Paul Sanchez, Alex McMurray and Irma Thomas, just to name a few.

By capitalizing, I mean spending the time and energy, and devoting the appropriate funding and resources to help leverage New Orleans’ amazing music scene — from Frenchman Street to the Uptown clubs — as an essential element driving visitors from all over the world to the city.

No, I don’t mean handouts, although expanding the available arts grants would be entirely appropriate. I’m talking about consistently creating opportunities for musicians to demonstrate their art, and pushing even harder to get that message out to potential tourists from the U.S. as well as those in Canada, Europe, South America, and elsewhere.

Other American cities have accomplished that task more effectively, and two of those cities are in the South – Austin, which has effectively branded itself as “the live music capital of the world” and  Memphis, where blues haven Beale Street does big business.

What would it take for NOLA to become known worldwide as “the home of American music” or “the heart and soul of American music” or something similar, and for hundreds of thousands of additional music-loving tourists to come to the city year-round, not just for the wonders of Jazz Fest?

These were among the topics discussed in a mayoral forum held Monday at Loyola University. Five of the candidates vying to succeed (the largely incompetent) Ray Nagin for the city’s top job met to share ideas during  a gathering sponsored by Music Swings Votes, an organization comprising local music industry professionals.

“The music and cultural community want to be sure that we are recognized by the next mayoral administration, taken seriously, and that we can actually get the mayor to achieve some agreed-upon goals,” said OffBeat magazine publisher Jan Ramsey, an organizer of Music Swings Votes, according to a piece written by Times-Picayune music writer Keith Spera. “We want to emphasize that this is important and they need to include it in their platform and their administration.”

I don’t live in New Orleans, so I’m not familiar enough with the local issues — including those having to do with racial politics — to weigh in on which candidate is best qualified to lead a city still reeling from hurricane devastation. But I will say that Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu (photo, left) has consistently worked to elevate the music and music industry of New Orleans and the entire state, which also boasts regional musical treasures zydeco and cajun.

During a Jazz Fest press reception several years ago, I spoke with Landrieu about his efforts to promote Louisiana music. I’ll link to that piece here as soon as I can track it down.

“The music community stepped up to remind everybody that New Orleans is the soul of America. … I want to trumpet it, no pun intended, to the rest of the world,” Landrieu told the crowd, which included New Orleans-born trumpet great Terence Blanchard.

Boosting the public profile of the city’s music/arts culture would be of huge benefit to all of the city’s people, not  just for the musicians and other artists. A dramatic increase in tourism would help everyone in New Orleans survive, and again thrive, to regain its footing as a major American city.

Here’s hoping that the city’s next mayor possesses the inspiration and determination to make that happen.

Sco Goes NOLA

Musicians wanting to dig into a certain type of groove — funky, earthy, rooted to a jazz vibe that goes all the way back to the African percussionists of Congo Square — go to New Orleans to find it.

Last year, the Blind Boys of Alabama headed to the Crescent City for Down in New Orleans, on which they hooked up with the trio of pianist David Torkanowsky (ex-Astral Project), bassist Roland Guerin, and drummer Shannon Powell (Harry Connick, Jr.). Guests included Allen Toussaint, the Hot 8 Brass Band and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

John Scofield, a fiercely talented guitarist rooted in jazz but also drawing from rock, blues, and fusion, worked with pianist-singer Jon Cleary and Meters bassist George Porter, Jr. (both based in New Orleans) and drummer Ricky Fataar — for the just-released Piety Street (Emarcy). The album of refried gospel tunes was recorded in the Crescent City.

Sco is taking the band, or a variation thereof, on the road. The tour touches down May 1 at Jazz Fest in New Orleans (is Porter REALLY not playing the Jazz Fest date, as indicated on Sco’s site?) and heads to Europe at the end of June. His show Sunday in New York generated a glowing review from New York Times critic Nate Chinen.

“…it’s Mr. Scofield’s old-time gospel album, recorded in New Orleans with a band drawn mainly from that city’s robust R&B scene. It’s a basic concept, and it makes all kinds of sense. (Scofield achieved) the proper blend of grace and grit. He didn’t sound like a visitor in the realm. He sounded at home and happy to be there.”

Click here to read the rest.

(I’ve yet to hear this disc – but it’s on my list …)

Note to Sco: Please bring the Piety Street band to Florida!

French Quarter Festival in New Orleans

No doubt, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, AKA Jazz Fest, is the Mac Daddy of roots-and-branches music bashes in New Orleans (and maybe the entire Southeast).

But the Crescent City is also home to another extraordinary music festival, one that places the spotlight entirely on artists from New Orleans and throughout Louisiana.

fqf1I’m talking about the French Quarter Festival, which celebrates its 26th anniversary with another great lineup, April 17-19, a week before the start of Jazz Fest.

The free-admission FQF drew an attendance of 435,000 in 2008, and a strong turnout is expected for this year’s event, featuring performances all day long  on stages throughout the French Quarter.

Among the headliners:

  • Friday, April 17 – Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, the Zydepunks, Soul Rebels, and the Bruce Daigrepont Cajun Band.
  • astralSaturday, April 18 – Astral Project, Ingrid Lucia,  Charmaine Neville, 101 Runners, Little Freddy King, Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes, Treme Brass Band, and J.D. Caillier & the Zydeco Knockouts.
  • Sunday, April 19 – Irvin Mayfield, the Radiators, Bonerama, Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. & the Zydeco Twisters, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Susan Cowsill, New Orleans Nighcrawlers, John Boutte & Paul Sanchez, Big Chief Bo Dollis, Jr. & the Wild Magnolias, and Leroy Jones & New Orleans’ Finest.

Last time I attended FQF, maybe eight years ago or so, I found the fest to be relatively laidback and accessible. It offers hours of great performances by regional artists — jazz, blues, cajun, zydeco, R&B, funk, rock — minus the big national acts (and attendant crowding) of Jazz Fest.

For the complete schedule, click here.

Offbeat Best of the Beat Nominees

Some of New Orleans’ finest musicians — of multiple genres — are among the nominees for 2008 “Best of the Beat Awards.” The awards, a labor of love courtesy of long-running Crescent City music monthly Offbeat, will be presented Jan. 31 at the House of Blues in NOLA.

Wanna participate? Click here to vote for your favorites.

A long list of first-rate musicians are for honors, including some artists — drummers Johnny Vidacovich and Stanton Moore; jazzers  Astral Project, Terence Blanchard and Christian Scott; roots-rockers the Iguanas and the subdudes; bassists James Singleton and George Porter, Jr. — facing off in the same categories.

And it’s encouraging to see home-grown label Basin Street Records so heavily represented.

A quibble regarding one odd quirk about the list: Why are record labels for some independently released CDs (those not affiliated with major labels) identified as “independent” and some identified by their actual names?

In the age of digital downloads and the decreasing relevance of major labels, why not just refer to the labels by the names their owners (in some cases, the artists) have given to them?

Cases in point: Paul Sanchez’s Exit to Mystery Street, one of the first two releases from Threadhead Records (created by folks who met online at the Jazz Fest’s chat board), is listed as an “independent” release. And yet others in the same category — best country/folk/roots-rock album — are also independent releases, but their label home is listed by its name. John Boutte’s Good Neighbor, also from Threadhead Records, and up for best traditional jazz album, is also listed as “independent” while other independent releases in the same category are accompanied by their official label names.

Here’s the list of nominees:

Best Blues Band or Performer
Tab Benoit
David Egan
Little Freddie King
Sonny Landreth
Irma Thomas

Best Blues Album
David Egan: You Don’t Know Your Mind (Independent)
Sonny Landreth: From the Reach (Landfall)
Eric Lindell: Low on Cash, Rich in Love (Alligator)
Kenny Neal: Let Life Flow (Blind Pig)
Irma Thomas: Simply Grand (Rounder)

Best R&B/Funk Band or Performer
Big Sam’s Funky Nation
Bonerama
Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen
Porter-Batiste-Stoltz
Trombone Shorty and Orleans Ave.

Best R&B/Funk Album
Big Sam’s Funky Nation: Peace, Love & Understanding (Independent)
Henry Butler: PiaNOLA Live (Basin Street)
Dr. John: City That Care Forgot (429/Savoy)
Joe Krown, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Russell Batiste, Jr.: Live at the Maple Leaf (Independent)
Walter “Wolfman” Washington: Doin’ the Funky Thing (Zoho Roots)

Best Rock Band or Performer
Theresa Andersson
The Happy Talk Band
The New Orleans Bingo! Show
Quintron and Miss Pussycat
Rotary Downs

Best Rock Album
Theresa Andersson: Hummingbird, Go! (Basin Street)
The Bad Off: Lady Day (Independent)
The Happy Talk Band: THERE there (Independent)
The New Orleans Bingo! Show: Vol. 2: For a Life Ever Bright (New Orleans Bingo! Show)
Quintron and Miss Pussycat: Too Thirsty 4 Love (Goner)

Best Rap/Hip-Hop Band or Performer
B.G. and the Chopper City Boyz
Fifth Ward Weebie
Juvenile
Lil Wayne
Truth Universal

Best Rap/Hip-Hop Album
B.G. and the Chopper City Boyz: Life in the Concrete Jungle (Chopper City)
Lil Wayne: Tha Carter III (Cash Money)
Truth Universal: Self-Determination (Independent)

Best Traditional Jazz Band or Performer
John Boutte
Tom McDermott
Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Don Vappie
Dr. Michael White

Best Traditional Jazz Album
John Boutte: Good Neighbor (Independent)
Evan Christopher: Delta Bound (Arbors)
Tom McDermott and Connie Jones: Creole Nocturne (Arbors)
Seva Venet: Mens Working (Jazzology)
Dr. Michael White: Blue Crescent (Basin Street)

Best Contemporary Jazz Band or Performer
Astral Project
Terrence Blanchard
The Magnetic Ear
Jesse McBride & the Next Generation
Christian Scott

Best Contemporary Jazz Album
The Magnetic Ear: Live at the Saturn Bar (Independent)
Ellis Marsalis Quartet: An Open Letter to Thelonious (ELM)
Jesse McBride: Jesse McBride presents the Next Generation (AFO)
Christian Scott: Live at Newport (Concord)
Frederick “Shep” Sheppard: Tradition: The Habari Gani Sessions (Drumparade)

Best Brass Band
Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Free Agents Brass Band
Hot 8 Brass Band
Rebirth Brass Band
The Soul Rebels

Best Gospel Band or Performer
Electrifying Crown Seekers
Franklin Avenue Baptist Church Choir
Tyronne Foster & the Arc Singers
Trin-i-tee 5:7
Zion Harmonizers

Best Cajun Band or Performer
BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet
Feufollet
Lost Bayou Ramblers
Pine Leaf Boys
Cedric Watson

Best Cajun Album
Michael Doucet: From Now On (Smithsonian Folkways)
Feufollet: Cow Island Hop (Valcour)
Pine Leaf Boys: Homage au Passé (Lionsgate)
The Savoy Family Band: Turn Loose but Don’t Let Go (Arhoolie)
Cedric Watson: Cedric Watson (Valcour)

Best Zydeco Band or Performer
Jeffery Broussard and the Creole Cowboys
Leon Chavis and the Zydeco Flames
Geno Delafose & French Rockin’ Boogie
Travis Matte and the Kingpins
Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience

Best Zydeco Album
Jeffery Broussard and the Creole Cowboys: Keep the Tradition Alive! (Maison de Soul)
Leon Chavis and the Zydeco Flames: Holla @ Me (Independent)
Travis Matte: Hip Hop Zyde-Rock (Mhat)
Earl “Washboard” Sally: Home Grown (Catfish Zydeco)

Best Country/Folk/Roots Rock Band or Performer
Susan Cowsill
The Iguanas
Paul Sanchez
The subdudes
The Zydepunks

Best Country/Folk/Roots Rock Album
Bobby Charles: Homemade Songs (Rice ’N’ Gravy)
The Iguanas: If You Should Ever Fall on Hard Times (Yep Roc)
Paul Sanchez: Exit to Mystery Street (Independent)
Amanda Shaw: Pretty Runs Out (Rounder)
The Zydepunks: Finisterre (Independent)

Best Emerging Artist
Antenna Inn
The Figs
Los Po-Boy-Citos
The Other Planets
The Vettes

Best Cover Band or Performer
Bag of Donuts
The Bucktown Allstars
The Top Cats

Female Vocalist
Theresa Andersson
Susan Cowsill
Irma Thomas

Male Vocalist
John Boutte
Marc Broussard
Clint Maedgen

Bass Player
Robert Mercurio
George Porter, Jr.
James Singleton

Guitar Player
Sonny Landreth
Jimmy Robinson
Walter “Wolfman” Washington

Drummer/Percussionist
Russell Batiste, Jr.
Stanton Moore
Johnny Vidacovich

Saxophone
Tony Dagradi
Tim Green
Donald Harrison

Clarinet
Evan Christopher
Tim Laughlin
Dr. Michael White

Trumpet
Trombone Shorty
Terence Blanchard
Irvin Mayfield

Trombone
Craig Klein
Mark Mullins
Rick Trolsen

Tuba / Sousaphone
Matt Perrine
Phil Frazier
Kirk Joseph

Piano/Keyboards
Henry Butler
Jon Cleary
Tom McDermott

Accordion
Steve Riley
Wilson Savoy
Terrance Simien

Violin/Fiddle
Michael Doucet
Cedric Watson
Linzay Young

Other Instrument
Dave Easley (steel guitar)
Don Vappie (banjo)
Washboard Chaz (washboard)

Album of the Year
Theresa Andersson: Hummingbird, Go! (Basin Street)
Michael Doucet: From Now On (Smithsonian Folkways)
Dr. John: City That Care Forgot (429/Savoy)
Irma Thomas: Simply Grand (Rounder)
Dr. Michael White: Blue Crescent (Basin Street)

Artist/Band of the Year
Theresa Andersson
Lil Wayne
Tom McDermott
Irma Thomas
Trombone Shorty

Three New Orleans Jazz Fest CDs Grab Grammy Nominations

Not sure how I missed this when the Grammy nominations were announced last week, but …

Three albums recorded live at this year’s Jazz Fest in New Orleans notched Grammy nominations. Has this ever happened before?

The three nominees:

BeauSoleil & Michael Doucet (Best Cajun/Zydeco album)
Del McCoury Band (Best Bluegrass album)
Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys (Best Cajun/Zydeco album)
All were released on Munck Music, the on-site operation that lets Fest fans, in many cases, go home with the music they heard on stage.
Click here to check out the label’s complete collection of Jazz Fest recordings, going back to 2004. Of course, not all performers gave permission for their live sets to be released, due to contractual obligations, etc.
While at Jazz Fest this year, I picked up live recordings of the May 1 Bonerama set, which I caught, and the April 26 Astral Project performance, which I missed.

Jazzfest Grids: New Year’s Eve Edition

The Threadheads (Jazz Fest fans) behind Jazzfest Grids, THE guide to nightclub music during Jazz Fest, have assembled a handy guide to music around NOLA happening on and around New Year’s Eve.

Here it is.

If I were headed to the Crescent City for the occasion, on NYE I’d be seriously torn: Galactic featuring Shamarr Allen, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, are at Tipitina’s; and Astral Project is at Snug Harbor.

And for pre-NYE jamming, I’d head to the Maple Leaf, for the Rebirth Brass Band’s traditional Tuesday night gig.

New Year’s Day? Johnny Vidacovich (Astral Project) is at the Maple Leaf, and Kermit Ruffins is doing his regular Thursday night show (and barbecue?) at Vaughan’s.

Also at the JazzFest Grids site is the ever-intriguing list of artists rumored to play JazzFest. Scheduled to play so far, according to the list: Wynton Marsalis; rising-star jazz bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding (My feature on her was the cover story for the June issue of Bass Player mag);  legendary soul singer Solomon Burke; Juke Joint Duo (Cedric Burnside and Lightnin’ Malcom); and the O’Jays.