New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was back after a two-year hiatus, and there were plenty of big moments for fans to relish in the fest's long-awaited return.
Of course, Jazz Fest faced a number of last-minute hurdles, but organizers were clearly prepared after nearly pulling off a comeback last fall but once again scrapping the 2021 because of Covid. This time, Covid did affect a handful of performances, including Melissa Etheridge and Willie Nelson, both of whom were scheduled to play weekend 2 of the fest but had to withdraw because members of their team tested positive. Luckily, Mavis Staples and Zac Brown Band stepped in, respectively, with very short notice.
Otherwise, the festival was largely a big success. As we previously mentioned, nearly half a million fans (475,000 of them!) gathered over the seven-day event, which was held April 29 to May 8 at the Fair Grounds Race Course and featured performances from the likes of Stevie Nicks, The Who, Lionel Richie, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Elvis Costello, Jason Isbell and more.
Throughout the fest, fans were treated to a rich selection of music from across Louisiana's diverse history and influences, with a wealth of tasty food choices and incredible art exhibits.
We covered weekend 2 of Jazz Fest, and below are some of our favorite moments.
There was an excitement in the air all day ahead of Nicks' performance. She clearly drew the biggest crowd of weekend 2, and it wasn't lost on her how excited fans were to see her, as she shared in that anticipation, quickly noting it was her first show in nearly three years, spending much of the pandemic "watching miniseries and wearing comfy pants and teaching my dog to shake hands." In addition to huge renditions of "Dreams," "Gypsy" and "Rhiannon," it was Nicks' performance of "Landslide" which truly felt special, as she forewarned the crowd she was dedicating it to her late friend Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters.
Zac Brown Band
In a matter of less than 24 hours, Jazz Fest learned Willie Nelson would no longer be performing the final night due to a positive Covid case on his team, and organizers managed to book Zac Brown Band on extremely short notice. While there was surely some disappointment from some longtime Nelson fans, Brown turned out to be the right kind of replacement, as the group offered a number of great covers layered in with a steady flow of fan favorites, capping the night with their crowd-pleasing hit "Chicken Fried."
The Gospel Tent
In the middle of the sometimes heavy crowds and a flurry of sounds and noise, the Gospel Tent was something of a refuge. It didn't matter so much who was on stage as it was more about the atmosphere in that space, as hundreds of people crowded in, perhaps as a place to relax, escape the heat for a bit, enjoy some old school hymns, get their dance on, or embrace the wonderful fellowship which seemed to be focused less on a performance and more like a celebration. In these strange times, it was absolutely welcome.
For those who trekked over to the Lagniappe Stage in the courtyard outside the Grandstand, there were actually a number of great, intimate performances, one such set being that of Andrew Duhon, the New Orleans singer-songwriter, who delivered one of our favorite performances of weekend 2. It was something noteworthy to see dozens of spectators who had hopped over some surrounding shrubs to sit in the grass in front of the stage, as Duhon was joined by a full band, including an upright bass. Again, this is where Jazz Fest separates itself from so many other events, with captivating performances in a very unique space, anchored by Duhon's truly powerful voice.
Another local favorite and perennial Jazz Fest favorite, The Revivalists drew an intense crowd just before Stevie Nicks on the Festival Stage, and they made clear why New Orleans continues to love this band and why millions of others internationally feel the same way. David Shaw and Co. command the stage in such an undeniable way, and they brought that emotion to a noticeable peak near the end when they delivered a cover of "My Hero" in honor of Foo Fighters' Taylor Hawkins, followed by their own big hit "Wish I Knew You."
Coming just days before his 50th birthday, the New York rapper made himself right at home on the Congo Stage, dressed in an electric green suit as he jokingly admonished the crowd for his not performing in New Orleans in over a decade.
While Buddy Guy is somewhat of a regular at Jazz Fest, his presence is part of what makes the festival great, with such a worthy legacy and a career's worth of hits. Of course, there was something just electric in the Blues Tent every time the 85-year-old music legend wailed on his guitar, reminding new fans and old ones why it's so important to appreciate the greats while we can.
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
The musician, who happens to be Willie Nelson's son, was already on the final Sunday lineup before his father had to withdraw, but maybe it was because of the last-minute changes that Lukas's set had all the more buzz. Whatever the case, the younger Nelson absolutely delivered with a barnstorming set proving to be every bit the entertainer and such a massively talented musician and singer, giving the crowd exactly what they needed on such a balmy Sunday afternoon.
Javier Olondo and AsheSon
There was something magical about Javier Olondo and Asheson's performance on the Jazz & Heritage Stage, where they most definitely wowed the crowd with a sampling of traditional Cuban music that made the gathering feel more like a backyard celebration with family, and Olondo and the band carried on casually, laughing and joking with each other while trumpeting such a beautiful Latin soundtrack.
There was perhaps no greater example of the unique New Orleans aura than in the crowd for Big Freedia, another local favorite turned national star. The bounce queen gave the Congo Stage an exuberant performance, flanked by a colorful set and plenty of flashy backup dancers, while fans young and old celebrated in the crowd. It was especially reassuring to see so many families, parents with their young kids dancing and elderly couples getting rowdy.