Debbie Davis — singer-songwriter with the trio the Gloryoskis! — was telling the crowd at the Lagniappe Stage about the trio’s club show that night at , at 9 p.m. “It’s a real 9,” she said. “Not a Rebirth 9… which is 11:30, as you know.” That got a good laugh from the crowd.
It’s was the kind of offhand comment that visitors to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival learn to savor. On the surface, the music of the Gloryoskis! and the Rebirth Brass Band have nothing to do with each other: a trio of three white female singer songwriters and an African-American brass band straight outta the hood. But that’s the New Orleans music scene — at least as I’ve experienced it over the years: non-sectarian, a mutual appreciation society that crosses genre, class, generations, ethnicities. Of course the Gloryoskis! know about Rebirth — everyone in New Orleans knows about Rebirth. They’re famous. As is their weekly residency at the Maple Leaf. And if you make a joke about them going on late, everyone gets it.
Or course, there’s a downside to community spirit. You’ll be sitting in the festival’s trad jazz tent, awaiting the arrival of a singer whose name you only vaguely remember, and all you can think is the worst: “Sub-par standards with lots of innuendo. Local fave.” Or maybe some youngster has a famous surname: “Talentless grandson of. . . . ”
The fact is, New Orleans is both the most local and the most cosmopolitan of festivals. Today, Saturday, you had a choice between Orange Kellin’s New Orleans Deluxe Orchestra, Wayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers, the Original Pinettes Brass Band (“the only all-female brass band in the world!”). . . . and Bruce Springsteen. All playing concurrently. And this year the international focus is Brazill — there’s a Brazil pavilion, and regular appearances by the Os Negoes of Bahia Brazil 30-piece samba crew. There is, of course, a strong French-Cajun tradition in Louisiana music, which is probably one reason the Belgian singer-songwriter Helen Gillet (one of the Gloryoskis! trio) feels so at home here, singing songs in French, accompanying herself with cello and loops. She moved here 12 years ago.
The Festival — now celebrating its 45th anniversary — takes place on 11 stages (plus an interview stage, and supplemental crafts fair and innumerable food booths) at the Fair Grounds race course. The big draws for aficionados are the local acts — some of whom never tour north of Route 10, like Al “Carnival Time” Johnson or Frankie (“Sea Cruise”) Ford, or the local Mardi Gras Indians, trad jazz bands, Cajun and zydeco acts. But, of course, there are bands here of international import, like Springsteen or, last weekend, Phish. The big-name draws always threaten to tilt the festival and to turn the 50 or so other artists performing on any given day into ostensible opening acts.
Springsteen certainly was the big draw today, but some veteran festival goers were not impressed. Settling in the shade of an open tent to enjoy a quick snack (crawfish bisque and trout baquet — yum!) my wife and I found a couple of dining companions (Louisiana natives) who were unequivocal.
“I’m sorry, what have you done for me lately, Bruce!,” said one woman who didn’t want to hear the boss “screaming” at her for nearly three hours. Instead she was going for Al Jarreau. Well, okay. A lover man, a 60-minute man, not a 2-hour-and-45-minute man wailing about the ghost of Tom Joad.
Well, tomorrow she’ll have a choice of John Fogerty, Trombone Shorty, and Arcade Fire, among dozens of others. Me, I think I’ll have to check out Bobby Lounge, the Stooges Brass Band and the Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church Mass Choir in the Gospel Tent. And, of course, Aaron Neville. Hey, maybe I’ll run into the Al Jarreau fan at that one.