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Gavin reports back from Jazz Fest in New Orleans

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Gavin Dahl
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KVNF
Fans wave Ukrainian flags in the crowd during DakhaBrahka's performance at the Cultural Exchange Pavilion on April 30, 2022.

Twas the night before Jazz Fest. After two flights, I landed in New Orleans. A friend picked me up and took me to Vaughan’s Lounge for Corey Henry and Treme Funktet. They started an hour and half late but kicked ass in the poorly lit neighborhood dive bar.

COREY HENRY CLIP

Friday morning after a scenic bike ride, we stopped in for a bloody mary at Cafe Degas where they started serving to-go drinks at 10:30am. WWOZ was kicking off its live coverage and excitement was sky high for the first Jazz Fest since 2019. It took an hour just to get through the line for ticket holders. Like the night before I learned time can be elastic in the Crescent City.

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Gavin Dahl
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KVNF
A bartender at Cafe Degas prepares half a dozen bloody marys on the first day of Jazz Fest, April 29, 2022.

DONALD HARRISON CLIP

Big Chief Donald Harrison, Jr. age 61 blew away the small crowd gathered at the Congo Square Stage with his saxophone as his band, including the impressive Dan Kaufman on piano, rocked funky nouveau swing. Next up on the Fais Do Do stage, former Carolina Chocolate Drops cellist Leyla McCalla was exploring her Haitian creole heritage with her own band. This one is from The Capitalist Blues, her latest album.

LEYLA MCCALLA CLIP

Another highlight from Friday at Jazz Fest was the critically-acclaimed singer and piano player Lilli Lewis. She’s soulful, playful, and deadly serious all at once. She held the crowd in her palm with dynamic playing, a stunning voice, and engagement between songs. One minute she was inviting the crowd to sing along, the next offering nurture in the form of instructions on living ones best life like “spend your time doing the thing you love the most, if there’s a spark you have inside you, use it." Then topping off crescendoes of applause, she beckoned “give it up fo yo selves y’all.” Lilli Lewis is one of those New Orleans artists who can’t be easily defined by genres. Her spirit seems to embody the meaning of the Lagniappe stage, a bonus or extra gift, like the 13th donut in a baker’s dozen.

LILLI LEWIS CLIP

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Gavin Dahl
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KVNF
Lilli Lewis performs at Jazz Fest on April 29, 2022.

72-year old Cuban-American trumpeter, pianist and composer Arturo Sandoval gave an impressive performance at the Jazz Tent, bopping from percussion to keys to trumpet within extended uptempo numbers like this one.

ARTURO SANDOVAL CLIP

Live music at the Fairgrounds ends around 7 o’clock each night and crowds swarm the exits because club shows all over the city are fantastic during Jazz Fest. My favorite dance party vibe of the weekend was Friday night at Broad Side where The Soul Rebels warmed up the crowd with a tight horn section and a simple call and response.

SOUL REBELS CLIP

Cimafunk, a rising star from Cuba, had everyone dancing their asses off shortly after. Hard to describe, it was... off the chain.

CIMAFUNK CLIP

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Gavin Dahl
/
KVNF
Cimafunk performs at Broad Side in New Orleans on April 29, 2022.

Saturday I was lucky enough to witness Mardi Gras Indians in their full regalia. Real pretty.

MARDI GRAS INDIANS CLIP

At the Cultural Exchange pavilion, Ukrainian band DakhaBrakha wooed first-time listeners and established fans alike with blue and yellow flags waving in the crowd after every song. Putin trash talk abounded near where I was perched in the front row stage right. The band couldn’t help but evoke mental images of alleged war crimes during the Russian invasion, now in its third month. Three women singers and musicians with dramatically large black fuzzy hats, and one guy who sang not unlike an eastern European Thom Yorke, received riotous applause at the end of every song.

DAKHABRAKHA CLIP

Attendees could scan a massive QR code on the front of the stage to donate to humanitarian aid efforts in Ukraine.

The music of Tank and the Bangas landed on the national stage when they won NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest back in 2017. This year’s Jazz Fest performance challenged audiences with an edgy high energy rock opera feel Saturday afternoon.

TANK & THE BANGAS CLIP

There was a dramatic rainstorm with some thunder and lightning in southeastern Louisiana on Sunday morning and I began my day at the luxurious Hotel Saint Vincent, noticing former James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan, in town filming a new movie called Fast Charlie, dining on the patio. I wasn’t there to gawk at movie stars, I was there to gawk at one of my fave jazz harpists, Chicago’s Brandee Younger. She performed with bass player Dezron Douglas at a small and noisy bar space indoors. Here they do their own take on Alice Coltrane’s “Gospel Trane.”

DEZRON DOUGLAS & BRANDEE YOUNGER CLIP

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Gavin Dahl
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KVNF
Brandee Younger and Dezron Douglas perform at the Hotel Saint Vincent in New Orleans on May 1, 2022.

Back at the fairgrounds, one of my biggest Sunday highlights was Charlie Wilson, best known as one of three brothers who made up The Gap Band. Now sober after many years struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, he worked his way through his deep catalog repeating “I bet you didn’t know I sang on this one” to hilarious effect, before diving into one familiar jam after another. His band was tight, fashionable and choreographed. My personal fave was the top 10 r&b hit from 1986, that sure enough I didn’t know he sang on... Zapp tune “Computer Love.”

CHARLIE WILSON

Running out of time on my bucket list trip late Sunday afternoon, I opted to try an alligator sausage po-boy from nearby the Fais Do Do stage where Lil Nathan and the Zydeco Big Timers made for the perfect soundtrack to an authentic taste of the culture.

LIL NATHAN & THE ZYDECO BIG TIMERS

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Gavin Dahl
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KVNF
The reporter enjoys an alligator sausage po-boy at Jazz Fest on May 1, 2022.

Other notables I caught at week 1 of Jazz Fest were Bombino from Niger, The Who, Sweet Crude vocalist Alexis Marceaux, the Caesar Brothers, and a remembrance for Spencer Bohren. All this footage was recorded on my iphone without professional equipment. I wasn’t planning to report on the event, I was on vacation, but once I got back I had to share. Shout outs to my hosts Doc and Angie, to the hard working crew and volunteers who make Jazz Fest so much fun, and big thanks to Missy and all the other WWOZ radio hosts.

Gavin Dahl is a writer and producer with a passion for community media. He worked for KVNF from July 2020 to July 2022. He won awards and recognition for his KVNF reporting from the Colorado Broadcasters Association and Society of Professional Journalists. His writing has been published by The Montrose Press, The Sopris Sun, Boulder Weekly, Raw Story, Radio Survivor, Boise Weekly, and The Austin American-Statesman. He graduated from The Evergreen State College with a BA in media production and community organizing.
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