The second day of the 2018 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival kicked off at the Fair Grounds Race Course Saturday (April 28) with sets from New Orleans locals Hot 8 Brass Band and Big Freedia, and went on to deliver a star-studded tribute to the late Fats Domino, Oscar-winning rapper Common and headliners young (the soulful Khalid) and old (Rod Stewart).
Here are the highlights from day two of Jazz Fest 2018.
12:30 p.m.: Hot 8 Brass Band starts its set to a remarkably large Acura Stage crowd considering the early hour. Bandleader Bennie Pete certainly took the opportunity for a little branding (touting the hashtag #WeBrassHard) and bragging (“Grammy-nominated!” he repeated, for the band’s 2012 sophomore release The Life and Times of…The Hot 8 Brass Band). It’s a charming bit of self-promotion that comes with the band’s hip-hop swagger, a common feature for younger but otherwise fairly traditional New Orleans brass bands. Louis Armstrong looms as large for them as Lil Wayne: They’re tight on the horns as can be, but they riff on Snoop Dogg’s “Who Am I (What’s My Name)” and Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It,” not the New Orleans songbook most visitors get to hear. They bring the gospel too, riffing on Kirk Franklin’s “Stomp,” all amid complex original arrangements and bits of emceeing and call-and-response chants to the crowd. A fine, rousing start to a busy Jazz Fest Saturday.
1:50 p.m.: Some legends remain immortal and untouchable, even after the moment they die. The late Fats Domino — his loss akin to what David Bowie or Prince meant for pop music — was one of those icons in New Orleans music. He died at 89 last year, having lived and performed enough for several lifetimes. So the old guard of New Orleans is out in full force at Acura Stage for this tribute.
Gregory Davis of Dirty Dozen Brass Band put together a lineup including Deacon John (he stepped up on vocals for “River of Tears” and “All By Myself”), Al “Lil’ Fats” Jackson (Fats’ brother in law), Late Show bandleader and native son Jon Batiste (who sat in on “I Want to Walk With You” and the seminal “Ain’t That A Shame?”), Bonnie Raitt, Irma Thomas and more. Jazz Fest producer Quint Davis and founder George Wein even showed. Known for his humility, even shyness, Fats would have laughed off or demurred from the whole gang on stage singing “When the Saints Go Marching In” as a finale, but what could better suit such an important figure?
2:10 p.m.: New Orleans bounce rapper Big Freedia comes to slay every year at Jazz Fest’s Congo Square Stage, and 2018 is no different. As of her 2016 feature on Beyoncé’s Lemonade hit “Formation,” she’s been one of the city’s most sought-after stars, better known than the New Orleans bounce genre itself and defining it for the nation at large. At this current peak of her career, she’s surpassed Lil Wayne, Kevin Gates and other Louisiana favorites to be the city’s star rapper. She marked the occasion by bringing an 11-piece choir with her, which she conducted through a selection of hymns — including “Down By the Riverside” and “This Little Light of Mine” — for the finale. After almost an hour of the body-positive party bounce of “Y’All Get Back Now,” “Rock Around the Clock” and “Azz Everywhere,” it made a statement.
Big Freedia is for everybody, even for religious types who might otherwise not accept an openly gay and gender-fluid performer. And after all, these are her roots: Like virtually every New Orleans talent, Freedia learned to sing and perform in church. In interview with Billboard after her set, Freedia waved away any notion that she gets bigoted backlash to her face for her scantily clad shows, anywhere in the world she’s performed.
“They ain’t bold enough to tell me,” she said, somewhere between a chuckle and a sigh. “I’m just free. And when they come, they come into my world. I’ve opened for The Postal Service, to all kinds of crowds.” She’s set to tour this summer in the U.S. and Europe — she really wants to go to Japan, other places she’s never played before, she said — to support a new EP Third Ward Bounce, out in June.
2:50 p.m.: Jon Batiste sits down with Billboard to talk new music and how much he continues to learn on the set of The Late Show as its bandleader. “The comedic role is like school again,” Batiste said. “Because [Stephen Colbert] is a great improviser and being around him I’m figuring out how to learn that language. I didn’t go into it to do comedy but it’s something [the producers] wanted, for me to be a vocal presence.”
He’s also been hard at work with roots music don T Bone Burnett on an as-yet-untitled solo piano LP to be released this year. Batiste didn’t let much slip about it, not even a title, but said it will have 11 tracks and feature no vocals or instruments but Batiste’s. “It’s the tone of ‘Blackbird’,” he said, referring to a tender cover of The Beatles classic he played on The Late Show in 2016. “We recorded here in New Orleans, at Esplanade Studios. And we put the Steinway [piano] in the middle of room. We recorded for three days and got 40 tracks.”
3:45 p.m.: Common opens his Congo Square Stage set with “Time Travelin’ (A Tribute To Fela)” and the groovy bass pockets of “The Corner” and “The Food” (both off his 2005 LP Be). Later in the set, he calls on the ladies in the place to step up to the stage so he can honor them with a freestyle (over Alicia Keys’ “You Don’t Know My Name” beat), which Common parlayed into the romantic “Come Close,” a kind of soft-and-smooth rapping serenade that only he would be suave enough to try and not make it seem too clumsy. (Oh, and the woman Common was getting close to was an on-duty New Orleans police officer in uniform. She stayed remarkably still.) Shifting gears later on, Common gave the crowd a bit of a crash course in old-school hip hop (“I Used to Love H.E.R.”, “Take It EZ” with classic rap hooks and verses sprinkled in). He closed out with the stellar finale “The Light.”
5:30 p.m.: Rod Stewart is starting his Acura Stage-headlining set with “Infatuation” and “Having A Party,” with Vegas-ready glamour and slick stage setup. At 73, Stewart can still strut for several songs at a time. (“I just glanced at my Fitbit and it says I should be dead in a half hour,” Stewart poked fun at himself at one point.)
“Some Guys Have All the Luck” and “Tonight’s the Night” follow, then his hit “Forever Young” gets an extended fiddle break (think Celtic Woman), where Stewart seems to take a breather and a quick change of clothes. Later in the set, the band settles into the sentimental “Have I Told You Lately” and “You’re In My Heart,” followed by a funky cover of the Curtis Mayfield-penned “People Get Ready,” which Stewart recorded with guitarist Jeff Beck as a one-off single, a brief reunion of sorts in the ’80s. More hits followed, including “Maggie Mae.” And Stewart went full-tilt sexpot with “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” as an encore. The gradual crescendo of “Sailing” proved to be a fitting finale, played a bit over his set time. “You can go home if you want,” he said. “We’re going to do it anyway.”
5:45 p.m.: Khalid’s crowd draw and enthusiasm more than holds its own against Rod Stewart’s main stage set. In fact, he and Stewart’s sets are working as a fascinating study of contrasts in how to seduce and entertain as a performer. Khaled is a newly minted pop soul star who couldn’t be more aw-shucks wholesome even as his cheerleader dancers dance up on him fleetingly or act out the CW vibes his American Teen lyrics evoke.
While Stewart peacocks lasciviously in a mostly unbuttoned shirt, Khalid takes more of a Drake route — sad sexy — in “Another Sad Love Song.” It’s followed by “8TEEN,” full of youthful abandon. Khalid dedicates “The Ways,” off the Black Panther soundtrack, to the cultural impact of the record-breaking superhero film. Don’t even get into Infinity War with him, though. He’s on tour and hasn’t seen it yet. He’ll not tolerate spoilers.
It’s right back to lovelorn, then, with “Love Lies” and “Saved” (“one of the first songs I ever wrote,” he said). “Hopeless” and “Therapy” dig further into the teen drama motif but it’s not like his audience gets the least bit tired of it, with full-on singalongs up front.