Jazz Fest's High-Profile Headliners And Their Special Guests

My Morning Jacket i i

hide captionJim James of My Morning Jacket, backed by his band and members of the Preservation Hall ensemble.

Patrick Jarenwattananon/NPR
My Morning Jacket

Jim James of My Morning Jacket, backed by his band and members of the Preservation Hall ensemble.

Patrick Jarenwattananon/NPR

The folks who plan the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival generally do well to pick big-name acts with connections to New Orleans. Which results in plenty of cameos for local musicians, as seen in arguably the three most popular names on Saturday's bill: My Morning Jacket, Drake and Simon & Garfunkel.

Jim James, the front man for beyond-Southern-rock band My Morning Jacket, recorded with New Orleans' Preservation Hall Jazz Band for a benefit compilation released earlier this year. He'll also appear with the Preservation ensemble on Sunday of the first weekend, and his band also sat in at Preservation Hall itself on Saturday evening.

But he volleyed back into their court for the finale sequence of MMJ's set at the Gentilly Stage. After the schizophrenic "Evil Urges," he invited the entire Preservation Hall Jazz Band on stage for several songs. The music sounded little like early jazz, but the extra instrumentation — horns, percussion, piano — added textures crucial to pulling off the tunes performed. On their penultimate number, Al "Carnival Time" Johnson came on stage to sing the hit that became his calling card. And for the last tune, the familiar horn riffs of Curtis Mayfield's "Move On Up" — and James' ferocious energy — made for a satisfying cover.

More photography and reportage, after the jump.

Al Johnson i i

hide captionAl "Carnival Time" Johnson, performing his hit with My Morning Jacket.

Patrick Jarenwattananon/NPR
Al Johnson

Al "Carnival Time" Johnson, performing his hit with My Morning Jacket.

Patrick Jarenwattananon/NPR
Drake i i

hide captionThe teen actor turned Young Money affiliate, Drake.

Patrick Jarenwattananon/NPR
Drake

The teen actor turned Young Money affiliate, Drake.

Patrick Jarenwattananon/NPR

Halfway across the Fairgrounds, the Canadian actor-turned-rapper Drake was holding court among a crowd of, largely, young women. Songs from his mixtape So Far Gone made him something of a young heartthrob; plus, they helped him formally ink a deal with New Orleans' Cash Money Records. He also owes much to the immensely popular New Orleans rapper Lil Wayne, who took him into his Young Money crew and is audibly the biggest influence on Drake's delivery. To Drake's credit, he called Weezy a "big brother" while on stage, and New Orleans his "second home."

Drake's existence is being more-or-less bankrolled by his New Orleans godfathers, so it was only natural that Birdman made a guest appearance. The Cash Money CEO, aka the 5 Star Stunna, is a recording artist too: he has a new song called "4 My City" featuring Drake and Wayne.

Birdman i i

hide captionBirdman, co-founder of Cash Money Records.

Patrick Jarenwattananon/NPR
Birdman

Birdman, co-founder of Cash Money Records.

Patrick Jarenwattananon/NPR

Finally, Simon and Garfunkel finished their set at the main Acura stage in front of what appeared to be a sea of tens of thousands. It was nearly futile attempting to push toward the herd, so I only saw enough of the set to make my 18-year-old self proud. I did see trumpeter Terence Blanchard's pianist and drummer (Fabian Almazan and Kendrick Scott, respectively) watching from the crowd, though. That should have been a tipoff: reports have it that the songwriter duo brought on Blanchard, clarinetist Dr. Michael White and zydeco man Rockin Dopsie, Jr. for a finale on "Cecilia."

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