The spring festival season is a short window between the mayhem of Mardi Gras and the swelter of summer this year. It’s a great time to get out and see what South Louisiana culture is up to. Here’s a glance.
French Quarter Festival
April 7-10, French Quarter, New Orleans
Free admission. Visit fqfi.org for more information.
Celebrating its 28th anniversary, French Quarter Fest not only starts the festival season off right, but also best reflects the unique musical culture of the Crescent City. Heavy hitters like Shamarr Allen & the Underdawgs and Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue anchor the 17 different stages this year, but the lineup also includes lesser-known acts still integral to the character of the regional music scene. Multicultural punk accordionists and fiddlers Zydepunks brush up against The Dukes of Dixieland, while Helen Gillet’s avant garde cello action meets Stooges Brass Band’s muscled funk and Irvin Mayfield’s high jazz culture on equal footing. It is the weekend the Quarter transforms from the tourist tangle to a worthy frame for a complex musical portrait of Louisiana.
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
April 29 – May 8, City Park, New Orleans
Visit nojazzfest.com for tickets and more information.
Jazz Fest is bigger than us all, bigger than the New Orleans music on which it was raised. As in recent years, the big names go for a wide spectrum of nostalgia tourists: names like Arlo Guthrie, Willie Nelson and Jimmy Buffet. The young hipster crowd with means to afford Jazz Fest’s ticket prices can dig Wilco, The Decemberists, Arcade Fire and Mumford & Sons. Then there is the bizzarro demographic that holds a warm embrace for music most others thought expired on the shelf long ago, like Tom Jones, Cyndi Lauper and Kenny G.
Among these are the career revisionists like Robert Plant & the Band of Joy and the Gregg Allman Blues Band, plus sure things like Robert Cray, Lucinda Williams and a farewell performance by The Radiators. Replacing these in the years to come will be those artists destined to become wide-spectrum roots festival draws like Justin Townes Earle, The Avett Brothers and Robert Randolph & The Family Band.
This year, the occasionally overlooked jazz lineup at Jazz Fest has a number of heavy hitters, including Sonny Rollins, Ahmad Jamal and Terence Blanchard, to name a few. The real experience of Jazz Fest lies in the great amalgam, in wandering from stage to stage, tent to tent, through the best food vendor lineup at any jamboree in the country, and discovering some aspect of New Orleans music you’ve never seen before. You’ll find blues artists like recent transplant Alvin Youngblood Hart, the charming vagabond folk of Hurray For The Riff Raff, Kidd Jordan’s stretching jazz or the bouncy spectacle of Big Freedia and Sissy Nobby. The point is to treat the festival not as a checklist, but as an opportunity.
April 30 – May 1, downtown Baton Rouge
Free admission. Visit artsbr.org for more information.
A perennial festival favorite in the Baton Rouge area, FestForAll boasts this year’s Grammy winner for best Cajun/Zydeco Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band as a headliner. Also appearing throughout the weekend are Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca, who combine salsa, Cuban and African music into a massive danceable rhythm cocktail, and N’Fungola Sibo Dance & Drum Company, a traditional West African drum-and-dance troupe. As always, FestForAll shines a light on top local talent with Herman Jackson and His Big Band, the Michael Foster Project, blues legend Henry Gray & the Cats, singer-songwriter Jake Smith and local rockabilly upstarts The Bedlamville Triflers. Party music armada Phat Hat and the soulful zydeco stylings of Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble are on the block as well. It’s a great weekend to go get some beer tickets and eat your first gator-on-a-stick of the season while seeing what Baton Rouge has to offer.
Festival International de Louisiane
April 27—May 1, downtown Lafayette
Free admission. Visit festivalinternational.com for more information.
It really is hard to beat Festival International. For this one weekend, the French-speaking world comes to Lafayette, a city already predisposed to enjoying itself. On the first Thursday, blues stars Keb’ Mo’ and Sonny Landreth—who gave a positively thermonuclear performance at last year’s Baton Rouge Blues Festival—appear with folk-rock titans The Duhks and the Remesha Master Drummers of Burundi. On Friday, Indian brass band Red Baraat mingles with the American Afrobeat/surf combo and Jazz Fest veterans Toubab Krewe and a Louisiana music trifecta of Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys, Terrance Simien & the Zydeco Experience, and Joel Savoy, Jesse Legé & the Cajun Country Revival. Saturday night, the fest blows things out with recent Glassnote Records signees GIVERS, Keith Frank & the Soileau Zydeco Band, JJ Grey & Mofro, Feufollet and Balkan Beat Box. The music is a backdrop, too, for some of the best street food around and that fountain kids love to play in—all within an easy walk from one fantastic thing to the next. For free, it’s pretty much the best idea going.
Baton Rouge Blues Festival
May 7, Repentance Park, downtown Baton Rouge
Free admission. Visit batonrougebluesfestival.org for more information.
Thanks to concerted efforts by the Baton Rouge Blues Foundation, Blues Fest can hold its own with all the other entertainment competing for your attention in early May. Last year this event truly transcended its provincial past, not just showing the hand the city keeps close to our chest but really entering the game, expanding its lineup as if to demonstrate how far the blues can reach. Headliner Delbert McClinton is a perfect example. His music pulls the blues through country landscapes, through folk and rock and into a territory of its own. Jimmie Vaughan similarly bridges the world of blues and popular music to a degree only surpassed by his late younger brother Stevie Ray. His band the Fabulous Thunderbirds put some boogie into the otherwise plastic sheen of the late 1980s.
Filling out the lineup are Mississippi backwoods polymath and former Squirrel Nut Zipper fellow Jimbo Mathus & the Tri-State Coalition, blues circuit heavyweights Moreland and Arbuckle, “He Said – She Said” blues (and then some) duo Sue Foley and Peter Karp, Baton Rouge’s own jack of all funky trades Mr. Hinson and the Jazz Blisters, who are the cream of his high school string and rhythm students, and last but not least, blues piano legend and former Howlin’ Wolf piano man Henry Gray, all on the lawn next to the Old State Capitol. This is your festival, Baton Rouge. Be there.