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New Orleans Jazz Fest 2014: Top 10 Moments of Weekend One

A reminder of why the Big Easy is one of our most vital cultural assets.

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new orleans jazz fest 2014

    Photography by Paul R. Giunta

    The first day of the first weekend of Jazz Fest has the tendency to be both exciting and confusing. When you enter the festival grounds, the sheer scale of the operation, combined with the intriguing multitude of “only in New Orleans” knickknacks, makes getting oriented something of a challenge. However, once you’re in, you’re in; all you can really do, then, is get into a flow as you drift from stage to stage. In a way, that mentality is a metaphor for the way of life in the Big Easy, where things don’t always make sense and people often overindulge in food, drinking, and debauchery.

    What’s custom in NOLA isn’t exactly the norm in most places. Jazz Fest recognizes this and functions as a microcosm (and perhaps an exaggeration) of New Orleans culture. Mardi Gras parades, free-flowing daiquiris, brassy bands, and gumbo galore are all readily available within the confines of the Fair Grounds Race Course nestled in the historic Mid-City. And despite a recent flair for the mainstream — ahem, Robin Thicke, Christina Aguilera — the festival remains a ritual, like so many others, in the Crescent City.

    Given that the festival’s spread out over 12 stages and squeezed into seven short days, it’s pretty much impossible to do it all at Jazz Fest. Those who try will likely be wheeled out on a stretcher come sundown. Because of this, the best method for absorption is to do like the locals do and just let yourself go. There’s always something to miss but also always something to see. As soul diva Irma Thomas said during her Sunday set, “In New Orleans, we celebrate everything.”

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    Everything is fair game.

    Best Casual Owning of a Stage

    Irvin Mayfield & the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra

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    Photo by Paul R. Giunta

    At 36, Irvin Mayfield has accomplished quite a bit. These days, he’s as much a cultural ambassador of New Orleans (Treme, anyone?) as he is a musician. Onstage, he held down the role of natural leader and conductor, leading his large orchestra through loose, sprawling soundscapes. Similar to his peer and fellow local Wynton Marsalis, Mayfield can effortlessly keep himself front and center, serving as liaison between the musicians he rules over and the audience he holds in the palm of his hand, occasionally chiming in with a smooth trumpet solo here and there. Towards the end of the band’s set, Mayfield invited out Haley Reinhart of American Idol fame to swoon, croon, and charm the audience with her sensual take on jazz standards, making for a lighthearted set to accent a warm spring afternoon.

    Best hippie-hillbilly dance party

    The Infamous Stringdusters

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    Photo by Paul R. Giunta

    A little bluegrass never hurt anyone, right? Amidst the Cajun and zydeco bands playing the Fais Do-Do stage, somehow it made sense for a bluegrass act to play a late afternoon set. While hippies basked in the sun and danced barefoot in the green grass, the Charlotte-based Stringdusters threw down a set of contemporary jam band-influenced bluegrass, impressing most and disappointing few.

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