The final day of the 2019 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival proved to be its most crowded, with scorching temperatures and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue closing out the fest’s Acura Stage with an iconic family of New Orleans music: The Nevilles. In recent years, Jazz Fest has seen in upwards of 60,000 or so attendees daily. Official attendance estimates for 2019 are to be released by the festival next week, but those numbers are likely to see an uptick, given Jazz Fest’s much-feted 50th anniversary this year.
It was a boon in crowd sizes for young and veteran performers alike on Sunday (May 5), with John Hammond filling the Blues Tent with fonts of blues history, Chaka Khan playing the crowd-pleasing funk she’s known for at Congo Square Stage and John Boutté charming the WWOZ Jazz Tent with New Orleans and Great American Songbook standards. Shorty and his band demonstrated once more that they’re the future of the New Orleans sound, taking tradition, making it vibrant and new, while respecting and nodding to the old guard.
Here are some highlights of day eight, the second Sunday of Jazz Fest 2019.
1:30 p.m.: Hammond was all by his lonesome on an old dinged-up guitar and harmonica at the Blues Tent, making his harmonica imitate a train whistle. Hammond plays deep cuts so far back in the annals of blues history, they’d rarely if ever be heard or played live if it weren’t for him. He’s been in a particularly privileged position to do so, as he’s the junior of legendary Columbia Records head John Hammond Sr. Hammond Jr. pulled out a resonator guitar and reminisced about New Orleans drummer Charles "Honeyman" Otis, with whom he formed the Swinging Nighthawks, playing “Come to Find Out,” one of their signatures. Hammond recalled how he came to Chicago as young man in 1961 and sat in with many of the city’s blues greats. “These guys were in their mid-50s but I thought these guys were so young,” he marveled.
Earlier, Hammond sat down with Billboard for some Jazz Fest reminiscing as well, which for him starts even before the event's 1970 founding. “I first met [Jazz Fest co-founder] George Wein at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival,” Hammond said. “My dad was very much involved in getting the artists to perform there. I actually worked there for about a week, it was amazing.” Since then, Hammond has been a student at the feet of the blues, describing it as songwriting that’s “like the photographer who shoots in black and white and it makes it more powerful than anything in color.” As far as Jazz Fest — it’s Hammond’s fourth time playing, he said — calling it “the greatest festival out there.”
3:45 p.m.: Khan played to an absolutely packed and scorching outdoor Congo Square Stage as she introduced her very sensual “Everlasting Love” with the promise, “This is what I give to you, it’s the least any human being can do," singing "dogs do it, birds do it for life,” maybe riffing off of Cole Porter's "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Lov" a bit. Then, after she finished, dressed in black in hot weather, it’s as if she’s trying to backpedal the whole sentiment of what she just sang. “I know, it’s too hot for love and stuff,” she joked. “‘Don’t touch me!’ You know?”
This is after her opener “This Is My Night,” with its bright synth horns, and “Do You Love What You Feel” and “Tell Me Something Good,” two more Rufus jams. Khan followed them with “What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me?” a “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” for the ’80s, with her soaring vocal runs on the outro. Then there was a medley of Rufus songs, including "Stay” and “Sweet Thang.”
4:05 p.m.: One of New Orleans’ signature voices, John Boutté, started his set at the WWOZ Jazz Tent with mostly songs he’s covered or composed for his new LP A 'Well Tempered' Boutté. His sound wasn’t so well-tempered, sadly, with rings and a pop or two throughout the first half of his set. But “Nevertheless,” a Frank Sinatra tune, is the tune Boutté started with. Then there was a cleverly secular take on the gospel standard “View That Holy City,” (singing, “view that beautiful city”). Then came a set staple and crowd favorite “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans.”
Some technical difficulties arose, but the Boutté charm came through. “What’s that? You want me to go up [in volume]? At least you don’t want me to go down,” he smirked. Complications cleared up for a moment so he could sing “My Indian Red” (popularized by Dr. John), with Boutté going off on the tambourine for the instrumental break. “Congratulations on 50 years, Jazz Fest!” he said before singing “La Vie en Rose.” Then came “Little Red Rooster,” a Willie Dixon classic popularized by the Grateful Dead and Sam Cooke. Boutté is known for his takes on Nat King Cole, so “Nature Boy” was up next. Later, he finished with his best known tune, the “Treme Song,” the opening theme to the HBO series Treme.
Later, Boutté sat down with Billboard to talk Jazz Fest memories and the over 25 years he’s played the festival, though he’s genuinely lost count of exactly how many times. “I was the video host for the 35th [Jazz Fest, in 2004]. They had me and Amy Helm, Levon Helm’s daughter. They had us walking around doing interviews, talking up the fest, it was for Japanese markets," he said.
Certainly, Boutté’s seen the fest and New Orleans itself change, namely his old Treme stomping grounds. “Here’s a good example: I was doing the Jazz Fest gala and I had to change clothes, so I went to my niece's place, who lives in the house I grew up in. It’s about 3 p.m. and I look up, there’s not a soul on the street. I got down to my drawers, parked in the street, and not a soul peeped out [a window] to look.” Why? “It’s because of AirBNBs, man.” It’s off-color stories like this that contributed to the title of his newest record, A 'Well Tempered' Boutté. “I put it in quotes because I’m not well-tempered,” he laughed, insisting his piano is, pointing out the double entendre.
4:45 p.m.: Trombone Shorty sat down with Billboard backstage before his fest-closing set at Acura Stage to talk about how, most years, he’s outside of New Orleans more than he’s in it. So playing a big hometown show is special for him. “I’m gone four, five weeks at a time, come back for three days, back out for another six weeks” he said, “and there’s new buildings, new stuff. Someone asked me years ago, ‘So when are you gonna be moving?’ And I never understood, like, why should I move? I never felt like I needed to. I wanted to have people come here, deal with the music and spirit that we have here. I wanted to let the youngsters here to know that we can succeed from here and change that whole mindset.”
Shorty’s put his money where his mouth is, too, buying Better Than Ezra’s former digs, Fudge Recording Studio in the city’s Lower Garden District. Born Troy Andrews, he’s been touring since he was 13 with the Neville Brothers, who had as guests for his Jazz Fest closing headliner spot, which used to belong to them until 2013. “For the first time ever, at least with this band, we have Aaron Neville playing with us. Cyril and Ian and all them, we tour together year round, and to have them all here is a dream come true for me. It’s crazy. I got the chills right now, thinking about it.” Though it’s been years since he took the Jazz Fest closer mantle, Shorty only now feels like the torch has been officially passed. “I’m just glad that we have them,” he said. “We’re losing so many of our legends, you know? I just wanted to capture this.”
5:45 p.m.: Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue is just a few songs into their set at Acura Stage, rocking out with the fierce “Buckjumping” followed by the soulful “Ain’t No Use.” Shorty and the boys tack on a Latin tinge to “Craziest Things,” with Shorty standing on his conga drummer’s riser for a tremendous trombone solo. “I don’t know about y’all but I’m feeling tremendous here on this Sunday at Jazz Fest. Only in New Orleans!” It precedes “Here Come the Girls,” with the a bit of a Mardi Gras Indian “ooh nah nay” chant.” Then comes the catchy instrumental of “Suburbia,” which eventually decrescendos into a groove so soft it’s a refreshing and stark contrast to the almost hard-rock raucous sound of most of Shorty’s set. “We love you so much Jazz Fest!” Shorty said to the crowd. “I got some very special guests for y’all.”
Guitarist Ian and keyboardist Ivan Neville joined the band for The Meters’ “Fire On the Bayou,” a New Orleans standard, with a “do you wanna funk it up” chanting intro. It’s the start of an extension of last year’s Charles Neville tribute during Shorty’s fest-finale set. Charles died the day before Jazz Fest’s 2018 kickoff. In an interview with Billboard before his set, Shorty called it the proper hand off of Acura Stage’s closing second Sunday set. Andrews and his band have been the keeper of this coveted spot since 2012.
Shorty brought out Cyril Neville “all the way from Uptown,” he said, for another Meters standard, “No More Okey Doke.” Cyril left, getting all the way off stage before Shorty called him back. “Cyril, don’t go nowhere!” turning to the crowd “We can’t let him leave!” It’s a brief moment of New Orleans round the way This Is Spinal Tap farce, because Cyril still has “Brother Jake” to sing, which he obliges.
“This is a dream come true for me,” Shorty said. “I’m forever grateful to the Neville family, y’all!” Aaron Neville arrives for “Yellow Moon,” then an earnest and quiet acapella moment of “Amazing Grace” (which Aaron’s signature voice sounds gorgeous on), followed by the band coming back in for Bob Marley’s “One Love,” more the flavor of a secular or spiritual non-Gospel Tent crowd at Acura Stage and the Nevilles’ traditional Jazz Fest set closer. And as if that hadn’t been enough to knock everyone out, Shorty brought the rest of Jazz Fest house down with “Hurricane Season” and “Do to Me,” closing out the 2019 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in style.