NEW ORLEANS – If there’s a theme to this year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, it may be living legends.
Headliners include B.B. King, Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, Hall and Oates and Fleetwood Mac. There’s also a cast of modern day hit makers such as The Black Keys, Maroon 5, Jill Scott, Kem, the Dave Matthews Band and New Orleans native Frank Ocean.
Over the next two weekends, fans of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival will be treated to traditional jazz as well as rock ‘n roll, Cajun, gospel, blues, hip-hop, funk and zydeco.
“The way the talent fell into place this year, it became a very special year for us,” festival producer Quint Davis said. “It’s Jazz Fest, but it’s also B.B. King, Willie Nelson. It’s Ben Harper. It’s Hall and Oates. We ended up with probably the greatest living proponent in each kind of music we feature here.”
In all, about 5,000 entertainers will play the festival on 12 stages. The first weekend is Friday through Sunday, and the following weekend starts Thursday, May 2, and lasts until Sunday, May 5.
R&B soul singer, songwriter and producer Kem hasn’t played the festival since 2005 — before Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. He closes the Congo Square stage on May 2.
Kem said he loves playing in New Orleans.
“You all treat us so good,” he said. “The hospitality is tremendous. The food is unbelievable. But one thing that resonates with me also is that the city is so resilient. I take inspiration from that, that you all are not just standing, but thriving. I know there are places where people are still dealing with the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina, but what greater life message is there than to move and push forward. I identify with that.”
For the first time in two decades, the festival will have a new closing act on the event’s largest stage. The Neville Brothers had held court on the stage for the past 20 years, but Davis said Aaron Neville wanted to promote his newest release, “My True Story,” with a new band.
“It was very important to him this year to feature that and not be with the Nevilles right now,” Davis said.
Neville, who is also the subject of this year’s official Jazz Fest poster, will perform on the last day of the festival. The rest of the Neville clan — Art, Charles and Cyril — will play this Sunday under the name The Nevilles.
Taking The Neville Brothers place as the final act will be New Orleans native Trombone Shorty.
“Trombone Shorty has really emerged out of New Orleans as a major worldwide star but staying true to his roots, playing trombone, playing trumpet at the front of the band,” Davis said. “So rather than find someone of the same generation as the Nevilles, I felt it would be, again fitting with this whole question of heritage and not looking in the rearview mirror but looking at heritage through the front windshield, that we pass the torch to another generation.”
Other closing day acts will be The Black Keys and Hall & Oates, both making their first appearances at the festival. Also making their Jazz Fest debuts are Fleetwood Mac and Maroon 5 — the rock band fronted by Adam Levine, who is also a judge on the television show “The Voice.”
The festival also will spotlight Native American culture, crafts and food. Davis urged fans to check out Native American flute player Robert Mirabal and Canadian group A Tribe Called Red — an electronic DJ crew who do Native American chants over the music.
Most of the lineup is from Louisiana, including festival favourites Irma Thomas and jazz singer-pianist Allen Toussaint.
“A lot of things that we had wanted for many years, like Fleetwood Mac, for whatever reason — we’re pretty persistent — they all fell into place this year, so that makes it a very special year,” Davis said.