New Orleans natives and Grammy winners Rebirth Brass Band covered TLC’s “Waterfalls.” John Mayer covered the Muddy Waters tune “I Got My Mojo Working.” Billy Joel trotted out the Preservation Hall Jazz Band to jam during the midsection of “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant.” And Ben Harper continued his roots exploration in a set with collaborator and blues harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite. At its best, the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fesitval combines traditional New Orleans musicians (playing to the crowd and acknowledging their part in popular music), and mainstream acts paying homage to a region of the country that so greatly influences them.
The first weekend of Jazz Fest showed off the diversity of acts both from New Orleans and around the world. Big crowds turned out not only for headliners such as Joel and Mayer but for local heroes Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Rebirth Brass Band, and Jason Marsalis, who performed an inspired classical jazz set. Mayer was back at the fairgrounds on Friday after cancelling his performance at the fest in 2012 (and most of the rest of his tour), due to a throat ailment. He strayed from his pop side and kept the set focused on blues and roots, including a Grateful Dead cover (“Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad”).