Jazz Fest 2018 was a blast and was one for the books. Here are a few highlights and recollections of some of the memorable moments as I played 18 gigs in 11 days.
It's always fun to kick off Jazz Fest on the Thursday night before the fairgrounds open with my Organ Trio. I've been playing with Robert Walter and Will Bernard for several years now, and we've been holding down this slot for over a decade. We had a blast playing together again and seeing a lot of familiar faces. It was also great to play with Will Bernard's 10th anniversary of Blue Plate Special. This gig was especially fun because I got a chance to play with John Medeski and Chris Wood together for the first time. I've played with each of them separately before, but I've never gotten to play with them together. We made a record with Will Bernard, John Medeski, and Andy Hess 10 years ago called Blue Plate Special. I'm really proud of that record. It was fun to go back and revisit that record and replay a lot of this music with Medeski, Chris Wood, and Skerik was added to this lineup as well.
This brings me to Saturday night at the fairgrounds where I played a fun gig with The New Orleans Klezmer Allstars. I've been playing with these guys for well over 20 years now. They were the first band that I really hit the road with. I traveled to LA, San Francisco, and New York for my first time with these guys, so it's always great to get together with them and play Jazz Fest. Steve Bernstein was a special guest and it was a blast to get to play Klezmer with him for the first time. Galactic at Tipitina's later that night was a blast. Galactic has been a Jazz Fest mainstay for over 20 years now and we always love playing Tip's during Jazz Fest.
Everybody was anticipating David Byrne's slot. He was beyond expectations and people in New Orleans are still talking about his slot as being one of the best Jazz Fest spots that anyone has seen in many years.
Monday night is always a fun night. Playing with Frequinox with Donald Harrison, Robert Walter, Will Bernard, and Robert Mercurio. We were at One Eyed Jack's, and it's always great to reconnect with those guys.
Tuesday night, was great to play at One Eyed Jack's with Dragon Smoke featuring Ivan Neville, Eric Lindell, and Robert Mercurio. We've been doing that gig for well over a decade now, and it's great to play that slot every year with those guys.
Wednesday during the day I went to a crawfish boil hosted by Doug Belote, who is getting close to finishing a documentary on New Orleans drummers called Street Beat: Drumming Below Sea Level. It was great to see lots of my drum friends and mentors like: Herlin Riley, Jeffery "Jelly Bean" Alexander, Raymond Webber, Raymond Webber Jr., Allyn Robinson, George Porter Jr., and Ivan Neville.
From left to right: Raymond Webber, Allyn Robinson, Carlo Nuccio, Jeffery "Jellybean" Alexander, Jamal Batiste, Stanton Moore, David Mahoney, Paul Thibodeaux, John Wooton and Doug Belote
Thursday it was great to play at the fairgrounds with Walter "Wolfman" Washington, celebrating the release of his record that I played on called “My Future Is My Past”. It's a great record featuring David Torkanowsky and James Singleton, who play in my piano trio. I'm proud to be a part of that record, and we played some songs from the record in the blues tent at the fairgrounds during the day.
Walter Wolfman Ivan Neville, Stanton Moore, James Singleton during the 2018 New Orleans Jazz Fest. Photo by Douglas Mason.
Thursday night I played with the M&Ms at One Eyed Jack's featuring Papa Mali, John Medeski, and Robert Mercurio. Later that night, I played with Fiya Powa. Featuring Ivan Neville, George Porter Jr, Tony Hall, "Big" Sam Williams, Maurice Brown, and Karl Denson. After this late night gig, Skerik, (who stays with me during Jazz Fest) and I got back to my house at the same time from separate late night gigs. We were both a little hungry and wanted to unwind after a long day of gigs. So we heated up some of my fiancé’s mom’s gumbo and opened a bottle of wine. This was at about 6:30-7am. My fiancé heard us talking and came into the kitchen… she was waking up to go to work. She said (a little annoyed) “What are y’all doing?” We said, “eating your mom’s awesome gumbo and having a glass of wine after work. Don’t you like to have a glass of wine after a long day at work?” She couldn’t even be mad at us…
I often get asked how I maintain my energy level during Jazz Fest… I usually say “naps and coffee”, but that's an oversimplification. I try to get as much sleep as I can at night, but sometimes that's not a lot. Especially if I have to play late and then play at the fairgrounds the next day. This Thursday in-between that I just highlighted is a good example to detail. That was a quadruple day for me (3 gigs and a 2 hour rehearsal). As I mentioned, I had to play a short set at the fairgrounds with Walter Wolfman Washington in the afternoon, so I got out to the grounds, got something to eat and tried to stay out of the sun… I played the gig and then went straight to a 2 hour soundcheck/rehearsal with the M&M's. After that I went straight home and here's the key… I got as much nap time as I could. Maybe 30-45 min. Then I woke up, made an espresso shot and an iced coffee. Usually, Adam Kelly is picking me up, so we're both in the kitchen, and he's making my ice coffee to go and I'm heating up Lauren's mom's gumbo or my mom's red beans and rice. They stock us up for fest. This year, gumbo first weekend, red beans second weekend. I eat just a little bit, pop a couple chocolate covered espresso beans, drink my espresso and head out the door with my ice coffee. Usually, jump in AK's car or sometimes an Uber or Lyft and head to the gig. I don't drive to the gigs during Jazz Fest so I don't have to worry about parking…After the M&M's gig, I left right after and went home to “wash rinse repeat”, catch a nap, get up do coffee, a little food and head to the late night Fiya Powa gig with George Porter Jr. and Ivan Neville…
All this said, on days like this, I don't drink anything until after the end of the last gig, then maybe one drink to wind down. Also, all of this is only possible because Adam Kelly is running in front of and behind me setting up and tearing all the gear down. I just have to walk up and play, so that helps a lot… Also I knew that after the Fest, I’d be heading to the beach with my fiancé Lauren…Knowing that I’d finally get some R&R was a definite light at the end of the tunnel throughout it all as well and that helps too!
Friday I got the chance to meet up with some of my SMDA members at the Joy before the Galactic set. I had Nick and Jimmy from Greece in town for the whole fest and they were excited to meet fellow SMDA members like Dave Clive and Scott Gunshore.
From left to right SMDA members Scott Gunshore, Jimmy, Dave Clive, Stanton Moore, Nikos Anastasiadis.
Then the Galactic set at the Joy was a blast. It's always great to have Leo Nocentelli, the guitar player for The Meters, as our special guest. Later that night I played with Ivan Neville, George Porter Jr, and Johnny Vidacovich along with many great special guests as the Bayou Rendezvous All Stars.
Saturday I ended an eight gig run with Karl Denson's Tiny Universe doing his Allman Brothers tribute. It really felt like the band became a unit and it was great to become better friends with guys that I've known over the years. Mike Dillon sat in and made the double-drummer extravaganza that is me and Zak Najor an explosive trio of drums and percussion. I really had fun on this gig, and I really had fun on the whole run, and it's always great to reconnect with Karl.
Later that night, I played with Dumpstalactic. This was Dumpstaphunk with members of Galactic including myself, Robert Mercurio on bass, and Erica Falls. We also had the Naughty Professor horns. This gig was a blast and one of my highlights for this Jazz Fest. There were times that I was looking over at Ivan Neville and he had one of the biggest grins I've ever seen him wear. He was having so much fun, he would just stop playing and dance behind the keyboard. I saw him on the track of the fairgrounds the next day. I walked up and said, "My man, I know you were thinking the same thing I was thinking." He cut me off and said, "That that was some of the baddest sh*t I've ever played, or I've ever been a part of." I said, "Yes, exactly. Right!? There were times I was saying this has got to be the funkiest band in the entire world right now."
We all had a blast and we expected it to be fun, but I think it exceeded any of our expectation. I really hope to be doing more of that configuration in the future.
After that gig I got to go home and get a few hours sleep before I had to wake up and go out to the fairgrounds to play with Galactic at the Acura Stage. This is always a highly anticipated slot for us, and we feel like it is both a homecoming and a show-and-tell where we get to show the largest audience that we play for during the year, what we've been up to for the last year. We debuted some new songs and got to play some crowd favorites. I felt like we had a strong, powerful set and we're always grateful that Jazz Fest puts us right in front of one of the national headliners. This year we were right before Jack White, it was great to check him out and play for people who were anticipating his set. Hopefully we gained some new fans. It was super fun to hang out afterwards and watch Trombone Shorty. We're looking forward to touring with him and Preservation Hall throughout August and September. Shorty had Cyril Neville as his special guest, and Cyril absolutely killed it and sounded as good, or better than I've ever heard him sing. It was a blast to watch all of our friends absolutely crush the Acura Stage to close out Jazz Fest.
Galactic playing Jazz Fest Acura stage. Photo by Douglas Mason.
After going home for a quick nap, I headed to DBA to play from 10 PM to 1:30 with my Organ Trio, featuring Robert Walter and Will Bernard. Then at 2 AM we were joined by Donald Harrison Jr. and Robert Mercurio to flesh out the unit known as Frequinox. We played until 4:30 AM and were surrounded by lots of our long-time friends and fans. It was overall an incredible Jazz Fest full of great memories and great music. I was glad to get some rest afterwards, and I'm looking forward to next year's Jazz Fest already!