The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, known most simply as Jazz Fest, returned for the first weekend of its 45th year with headlining performances from the Bay Area’s own Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton, Vampire Weekend and Robert Plant.
With several stages hosting more than 500 acts and 5,000 individual performers, and vendors serving a variety of Nola’s world-famous cuisine and drinks, it was hard to go wrong during the the first three days of the event.
-Eric Clapton paid tribute to New Orleans with half a dozen songs on acoustic guitar before peaking with hit song “Crossroads,” ending with his classic “Cocaine” and returning for an encore rendition of Joe Cocker’s “High Time We Went.”
-Phish, who last played Jazz Fest in 1996, delivered a three-hour set filled with sophisticated rock to devoted fans armed with flag images of Bob Marley, symbols of The Grateful Dead and LSU logos.
-2013 pop breakout Robin Thicke opened with “Blurred Lines” performed two covers (Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” and Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together) and ended his set boldly posing atop a baby grand piano while his DJ dropped Kanye West’s “Clique.” Thicke walked off stage while his band stayed on, dancing.
-Santana dropped full-length versions of both “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va” early on in his set, backed by a large brass and multiple percussionist band. His wife, jazz drummer Cindy Blackman, joined him on stage for a power-trio moment with Grammy-winning bassist Benny Reitveld.
-An exuberant Robert Plant and his Space Shifters band played plenty of re-worked Led Zeppelin tunes, including an acoustic guitar and mandolin filled version of “Going to California” re-created as “going to Louisiana.”
-Pioneer rap group Public Enemy rocked with augmented sound from DJ Lord, who replaced Terminator X and the always unpredictable Flavor Flav ended their set with commentary about Vladimir Putin and the missing Malaysian airliner.
-John Hiatt repeated new lyrics to “Memphis in the Meantime” with adjusted pitch and tone, admitting “‘New Orleans’ just doesn’t fit, syllabically…Then it came to me like a bolt from the sky — Jazz Fest! I want to go to Jazz…Fest…” climaxing with an intense audience roar.