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Archive for May, 2012

Your long, hot summer just got a little cooler. Down here at the Palladium we’ll be spending June, July and August – and a little bit of September – in the air-conditioned Side Door Cabaret for what we’re calling “Side Door Summer.”

Friday nights we’re focused on the Blues – with great performers and bands like Damon Fowler, Sarasota Slim, Selwyn Birchwood, Lauren Mitchell and more. Saturday is more eclectic – some rock, some  jazz, some folk, some world music depending on our mood. We’ll feature jazz bands on Sunday afternoon at 3 including Nate Najar’s trio, O Som Do Jazz, Helios Jazz Orchestra among the bands.

Side Door Summer kicks off with two great shows on back-to-back Saturdays. On June 9 we welcome back those amazing ’60s rockers, Coo Coo Ca Choo. Great music, with five-part harmonies. They’re previous shows sold out, so get your tickets early. The next Saturday we bring in the legendary songwriter, singer and band-leader, Marty Balin. The co-founder of Jefferson Airplane and a guy with multiple hits in the ’60s and ’70s, Balin is bringing in his full band for an acoustic show in the Side Door.

So your job is to check our website for a full schedule of shows. They will be posted later this week. Our job will be to make sure make sure the beer is cold, the lights are low and the air conditioner is set on “stun.”

See you all summer long in the Side Door.

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LOUISIANA MUSIC FACTORY – TUESDAY AND WEDNESDAY: I spend much of Tuesday and Wednesday inside the Lousiana Music Factory catching the in-store shows. Each hour, another band crowds onto the small stage, the jazz festers line up in the record stores narrow aisles or stand back on the wooden stairway.

Since this is New Orleans, the bar across the street is selling beers and mixed drinks and the sidewalk outside turns into a small party.

Jazz Fest is a stop on the perpetual Deadhead tour – several jam bands are on the bill over the two weekends – and the hippie vendors have taken up spots on the sidewalk too. Skinny girls with dreadlocks, wearing lots of Indian prints, hawk feathers and hand-made jewelry from small prayer rugs on the sidewalk.

Michael from Malibu, wearing a t-shirt and a paisley head-scarf, walks through the crowd with a plate of multicolored glass pipes. He says he’s been on the Deadhead circuit for over 20 years.

How’re sales? I ask.

“I’m killing this weekend, I tell ya.” He swears he’ll do $5,000 to $10,000 in sales over two weekends. But life as a street retailer following the jam bands takes a toll.

“My short-term memory is shot,” he says. “I started off with an IQ of 187 but I think I’m down to about 147 now.”

If he meets a girl who offers a place to stay, he’ll stick around after Jazz Fest. If not, he’s off to the next Phish or Allman Brothers show with a van load of imported glass.

The lineup inside the store on Tuesday is another good one. I catch one of my favorite New Orleans bands, The Iquanas, who are pushing a new CD of their Tex-Mex tunes. They’re followed by the The Dirty Dozen Brass Band – who offer up a rollicking hour of horn-driven music. Now over 30 years playing, the Dirty Dozen was the first brass band to break through to mainstream success.

Later, I hear the The Revivalists, a group of young street musicians who add pedal steel to a horn and rhythm section, plus some great vocals. New Orleans keeps drawing top young musicians like this, who find new ways to build on the New Orleans sound.

The Iguanas announce they’re doing a free show Tuesday night at someplace called The Bayou Beer Garden. A few hours later, we’re there on the crowded dance floor.

Wednesday’s in-store lineup starts with the stars and creators of Treme, the HBO show set in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I decide not to fight the crowds for that one and come later when the bands start.

It was a good decision. I hear Davell Crawford, who sports low-rider red Mohawk, and is a student of New Orleans piano. Crawford reels off some James Booker, a little Professor Longhair and some of his own compositions. He records for Basin Street Records, one of New Orleans best local labels. He’s on my radar for a Palladium show.

Theresa Andersson is next, and she has her own connection to the show Treme. Andersson came in 1990 to play violin on the streets of New Orleans with fellow Swede, Anders Osborne. She left him to play with other people when Osborne, a guitarist,  was struggling with drug problems. Sound familiar?

Their story was loosely adapted into the HBO drama, which includes a couple of street musicians – a beautiful, talented violinist who breaks up with her pianist boyfriend over his drug problems.

Things turned out well for the real life Swedes. Osborne is now clean and making great music – he had a jazz fest slot and a late afternoon in-store show. And Andersson is a married mother of two who is earning raves creating music that’s mixes a bit of Bjork, with her epemeral voice and  New Orleans rhythms. She uses a looper to build up layer on layer of her own vocals, then sings and plays above it, backed by a three-piece band.

Afterwards, the rain had chased away the street vendors, but it cooled down the French Quarter and stopped just as I was ready to go.

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JAZZ FEST, THURSDAY, May 3:  There was rain on Wednesday and the flat, black clouds have stuck around, but the are mostly just keeping the sun from doing its worst. Thursday is always the best day at the fest – small crowds, no lines, and today, no summer heat.

Jazz Fest crowds are famous for their t-shirts and the hit shirt this year carries just two words: Free Payton. If you haven’t been paying attention, Saints coach Sean Payton is out for the season as punishment for the bounty scandal. In this Saint’s crazy town, it’s the shirt of the year!

After four days of non-stop music, I’m targeting shows today, not trying to see everything.

ACCURA STAGE: The Honey Island Swamp Band is a bunch of New Orleans musicians who fled to San Francisco after Katrina and formed the band. They’re back in NOLA now and earned a spot on the main stage. With a three-piece horn section, Hammond B3, and congas, added to guitar, bass and drums, the group is able to take off on some spacious jams.

JAZZ TENT: Amina Figarova is a classically trained pianist, who knows her way around Ellington and Satchmo. Her set featured her husband, Bart Platteau, on flute. Joined by sax and trumpet, she proved why she’s earning raves as a pianist, bandleader and composer.

CONGO STAGE: I unfold my chair on a grassy spot about half-way back from the stage, just as Henry Butler and his band kick it off. I had seen Butler on Monday at the more intimate House of Blues stage.  Playing this major stage, he stayed away from some of his jazz excursions and offered up blues, funk and some salutes of Professor Longhair and the Mardi Gras Indians. Still, in an extended jam on “Big Chief,” Butler switched gears into a mellow and rhythmic piano jam, that soars from the stage, finally coming back to the Mardi Gras march, which brought the crowd to it’s feet.

In the middle of Butler’s set, I turn around and there stands another fantastic piano player  – Bob Seeley, the star of our Boogie Woogie Piano Stomp. He and his buddies come to Jazz Fest every year for a guys weekend. No wives or girlfriends allowed. And they spend all four days at the Fest, which is pretty impressive since Bob is now at least two years past 80.

Seeley isn’t known in New Orleans, so he isn’t playing the fest. That’s a shame, because he should be a star in this town. Henry Butler, is an old friend, he says.

Bob’s says headed off for a six-week tour playing boogie boogie piano all over Europe in June. He’ll be back for our Stomp next year.

FAIS DO-DO STAGE: I catch only a few moments of Ani DeFranco’s set, but she is in energetic and fiery good form – closing with a powerhouse, updated version of “Which Side Are You On,” which should be the anthem of the Occupy Movement.

CONGO STAGE: I get back to catch the beginning of the set I really want to see – jazz artist Esperanza Spaulding. But things do not go well. The show is delayed for 30 minutes, while tech crews stand around staring at her stand-up bass. When she finally does come on – the bass refuses to be amplified. She has to do her show on electric bass, which, as she said, is like taking away half of her voice.

She is touring in support of her new CD – Radio Music Society – and a big boom box cut-out provided a bandshell for an 8 piece horn section. She’s a beautiful, engaging presence, with a voice that floats like a butterfly. But the outdoor setting and the lack of her stand-up, keeps the show from taking off. Her crowd, which starts off filling 3/4s of the listening area, thins out well before she’s finished.

ACCURA STAGE: A bit bummed with the Spaulding sound problems, I head for some guilty pleasure. Eddie Vedder, of Pearl Jam, was supposed to close the show today, but he’s said to be ill. Filling in is Jimmy Buffett, doing a acoustic set with singer and songwriter Mac McAnally, along with a conga player, and the great Sonny Landreth, on slide guitar.

It’s like a barroom jam session with bunch of buddies having fun and that works well for Buffett’s music. At one point, he sends the band off so he can do solo versions of two “love songs.” The first is “Come Monday,” which lives up to the love song billing.The second is about a different kind of love – “Why Don’t We Get Drunk…” Which has the audience singing along.

The 7 p.m. closing time passes, and the boys are still playing. He offers up a rowdy version of Margaritaville, as the sun starts to set. Afterwards, he looks out at the  beautiful, fading day and says he asked some nuns he knows to pray for good weather.

The prayers were answered.

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WWOZ PIANO NIGHT AT HOUSE OF BLUES: This is an annual fundraiser for NOLA’s community radio station. It’s a celebration of New Orleans piano styles.

Got here a little late because I’d been celebrating some New Orleans cooking styles, but I did catch Palladium favorite, Joe Krown, and visited with Krown outside. One of the stars of our Boogie Woogie Stomp in 2011 and a Hammond B3 show that same summer with his R&B trio, Joe has just released a solo piano CD and he carried a box-full under his arm.

Some fans outside were asking if he gave piano lessons. He smiled, then leaned to me:

“Hurry back inside,” he said. “Marcia is just going on.”

I angle my way through the crowd to a good spot near the stage as Marcia Ball and her band crank-up. She’s one of my favorites. I met her backstage at Jazz Fest in the early ‘90s. She had just come off the Ray Ban stage and we were both waiting for Van Morrison to play. I think we talked about the first time I saw her at an outdoor show she had done for WMNF in Largo. But I mostly remember how nice she was to a stranger backstage.

Twenty years on, she’s still long and lean – sitting far back from the keys to give her always- bare arms some room to move. The only nod to the passing of time is a V of gray – Bonnie Raitt style – at the front of her black tresses.

Playing with her full band, she pounded through a powerhouse set that included her “Red Beans Cooking” and the classic “Play With Your Poodle.”

Closing the show was Henry Butler, blind since birth, and one of NOLA’s best piano men. He’s a virtuoso, who moves easily from boogie, to improvisational jazz to classical samplings. His jazz excursions fall somewhere between Errol Garner and Sun Ra but he keeps it all rooted in New Orleans R& B.

I hope to get Butler to the Palladium sometime for our Boogie Woogie Stomp or with his trio. He’d appeal to both the blues and the jazz audience.

Filing out past the vivid collection of primitive artwork – the signature of the House of Blues – I ran into more Tampa Bay folks. Jazz Fest in April and May is a little like North Carolina mountains in  July and August – everywhere you turn you run into somebody from home.

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The week between the two jazz fest weekends is my favorite time in New Orleans. Great music in all the clubs and the in-store showcases at Louisiana Music Factory, across from the House of Blues on Decatur.

This is an old-school, music-lovers shop that carries new and vintage New Orleans music and books. All the best CDs are available at listening stations, so you can listen before you buy. And they bring in the local bands for in-store shows – they even have an upright piano on site – which warms my heart. The shows range from obscure young bands to stars like Trombone Shorty and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The cast of the HBO show Treme are due Wednesday morning.

Here’s a sampling of some of my favorites from Monday’s in-store shows:

MESCHIYA LAKE: Got in by noon because I’d heard the buzz on this young singer named. She’s a picture – vivid tattoos on her arms and calves, a 20s hairdo and school-girl cotton dress and a great smile. Her voice starts at the crossroads of Billie Holiday and Patsy Cline – and that’s a pretty great place to be. She does some standards, some ’20s blues, then moves easily into Hank Williams – emphasizing that she’s doing Hank One, not Hank Jr. Her pianist is Tom McDermott, one of the big names in New Orleans piano these days. They just released a live album together. She’d be a perfect act in our Side Door.

JON CLEARY: The hardest working pianist in New Orleans this week. He’s everywhere, both playing solo and with his band, the Absolute Monster Gentlemen. His singing is first-rate too. At Jazz Fest he’s usually on one of the main stages, so it’s a treat to hear him in this  tiny record store – crammed in with a few hundred other music fanatics.

CHRIS THOMAS KING: I recognize this blues guitarist from is starring role in “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” and  from the “Down From The Mountain” CD and concerts. He’s appearing solo in today in support of a new CD of southern tunes called Antebellum Post Cards.

I’ll be adding more notes from Tuesday and Wednesday’s in-store shows.

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NEW ORLEANS, SUNDAY, APRIL 29: It’s a beautiful, sunny Sunday in New Orleans, with low humidity and enough sun-blocking clouds and breeze to make a day at the Jazz Fest tolerable and, often, pleasant. We arrive early to avoid the ticket lines, since The Boss is closing the show today and that means a lot of folks will be here.

GOSPEL TENT: Start off, as you should on a Sunday with some gospel. Inside the tent, the misters are already going and the New Orleans Spiritualettes are testifying. Six female singers in long shimmering silver dresses, backed by guitar, bass and drums. They trade off lead vocals and powerful backup harmonies and chants, then end their set by pulling out silver and black feathered parasols for a second line through the tent.

CONGO SQUARE: The Batiste Family is one of New Orleans great multi-generational music families – so much that a character in Treme carries the name. They’ve gathered in force on the Congo stage for a musical family reunion. Some blues, some funk, a little rap, and even a round of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” which in this context is a pretty fitting theme song for both the festival and the town.

FOOD VILLAGE: While Trombone Shorty, New Orleans hottest young musical export, is mixing horn band and hip hop on the main stage, the lines at the food vendors are short. Time for crawfish strudel, which pretty much needs no more description than that, some red beans and rice, followed by my fest favorite – cochon de lait po-boy.

JAZZ AND HERITAGE STAGE: The first big discovery of the fest for me – Bill Summers and Jazalsa. Summers is a member of Los Hombres Calientes, with Irvin Mayfield, he’s played percussion with Herbie Hancock, and  during his show he shares a story about one of his late-60s collaborations with Carlos Santana, as a prelude to “Oye Como Va.” His band is moves easily through tight salsa and samba styles that demands dancing.

BLUES TENT: It’s midday and the sun is taking charge, so it’s time to retreat to the Blues Tent, fight your way in and find a seat in back for Sonny Landreth. The slide guitar master, who has played and collaborated with folks like Clapton, Jimmy Buffett, Mark Knopfler and John Mayall, fronts a power trio – just guitar, bass and drums. But his soaring, and often lightning fast slide work, makes it sound like a lot more musicians are on stage. This set is so good, we stay from start to finish.

CONGO SQUARE: Al Green, in great voice, with a powerhouse R & B band, closing his show with “Love and Happiness.” What else can you say?

ACURA STAGE: Usually, I avoid the headliners at Jazz Fest. I’m looking for bands that fit the Palladium, not Times Forum. Besides, the crowds are too big and there’s no escape from the sun around the big stages. But Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball tour is getting ecstatic reviews across the country and he’s here.

Just before his 4 p.m. set, I walk around the outside track and find a packed dirt spot that offers a view of the big screens, a bit of stage, and great sound. Springsteen lives up to his reviews. He’s replaced the late Clarence Clemons with a full horn section – with Clarence’s nephew taking his sax solos. The result is a much stronger R&B feel, that propels the hits and the surprise choices.

This is Springsteen’s return to the fest after a rousing, emotional set with this Seeger Sessions band right after Katrina in 2006. He brings back some songs from that show – “My City in Ruins” and a hushed, intimate version of “When The Saints Go Marching In,” with the obscure verse that reveals the song is really a lament about death and loss. With the loss of three key E-Street Band members in recent years – two players and a staff member – the show was both a vibrant, sexy onslaught and a meditation on grief. In less capable hands, it would have  been all wrong. But Springsteen has always been able to meld opposites into something exactly right. He closes with “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” and when he recalls – “When The Big Man Joins The Band” – Springsteen stopped the song and the show for almost a full minute, pointing skyward, before launching into the furious finale.

In New Orleans there’s always a chance for Lagniappe – a little something extra – and I get that as I walk back around the track toward the exit. A line of big SUVs pulls slowly away from the Acura backstage area. We stop to let them pass. A clearly spent Springsteen, in a white SUV, sits in the front seat, the window half-way down, tapping outstretched hands with his fingers. He passes six-feet from me. The other long-time E-Streeters, each pass in their own private SUV, followed by a bus with the rest of the band.

It’s been a long day and like every jazz fest experience, you leave knowing you missed as much great music as you heard. But you did your best and it’s time to go home.

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