Blues Beat
"French Quarter Festival "

French Quarter Festival is held every April and is a celebration of French Quarter life, with endless activities such as the infamous and numerous outdoor concerts, plus patio tours, a parade, battle of the Jazz bands, bartender competition, art shows, children's activities, talent competitions, and more. Jackson Square is transformed into the biggest Jazz brunch in New Orleans, as local restaurants and bars present hurricanes, dirty rice, bread pudding, blackened catfish, and shrimp creole, and much more. These can all be sampled at the booths, which is all nearby to the music where the stages along the riverfront and other locations inside the Quarter. Oh, and admission is free!

The French Quarter Festival offers the perfect opportunity to celebrate New Orleans and its one-of-a-kind cultural personality. This is Louisiana's largest free music event and one of its most popular music or festival events of the year, offering over 150 musical performances held at 15 stages located around the French Quarter and almost 60 food and beverage booths to accompany them.

And the music goes on throughout the three-day weekend and throughout the Quarter. All of the musicians that perform are local. However, you won't just find Cajun and Zydeco music, but a host of other genres such as Jazz, Funk, Classical, and brass. Everyone knows that there are only several months within a year that New Orleans offers hospitable weather, and this festival falls right at that time. I arrived mid-afternoon on Friday. It was a cool but cloudless day, the crowds along the Mississippi were already large and I checked out Coco Robicheaux and the electrifying vocalist John Boutte. But a visit to the Crescent City would not be complete without a visit to Pascal Manali's, where you find the best oysters on the planet. My evening plans consisted of checking out Luther Kent and his trio, who were playing at the same hotel where I was staying, and then a taxi ride to check in on Billy Iuso, who was playing with James Andrews (brother of Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews) at the Maple Leaf. Both performances did not disappoint.

Now for some of Saturday's highlights: trumpeter Kermit Ruffins exchanged vows with fiancÚ Karen "Juicy" James, followed by his sizzling afternoon set on the Coors Light Stage at Woldenberg Park. Next up was Big Sam's Funky Nation, followed by the always tight and funky Blues of Walter "Wolfman" Washington. Later that evening I got myself invited to a private party in Baton Rouge where Luther Kent was playing with his big band, and man did those guys tear it up! And a big band is what it was, with seven horns, two guitars, bass, and Bruce Elsensohn's sparkling piano. Big Luther's vocals roared through two tight sets of Soul, Rhythm 'n' Blues, and straight Blues.

I was also really looking forward to Sunday's festivities as I really wanted to see Wardell Quezergue's Big Band and I also wanted to see the evolution of Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews and Orleans Avenue. Quezergue is looking a little frail these days, but that did not take away from the Creole Beethoven's fine selection of musicians and his unmistakable signature horn charts and arrangements.

One word describes Trombone Shorty's band performance: Awesome! I have seen this band several times over the last year and as a collective unit they continue to grow and develop their own unique sound and groove. The rhythm section has really turned on the afterburners with a lot of explosive guitar work from Pete Murano, the creative pulsating bass work by Mike Ballard, and drummer Joey Peebles, who often gave me flashbacks of a young Keith Moon. But upfront and center were the horns, the funky horns of dynamite sax player James Martin and their fearless leader Troy Andrews on trombone and trumpet. These kids (no one in the band is over 23-24 years old) have taken their music to a new level and they have cleverly melded New Orleans traditional horn sounds with the rocking rhythms of Blues, Soul, and dirty Funk! I have to think that it won't be too long before this unit will be making the rounds on the festival circuit in the United States, as well as around the world, as they are that good! At all times Troy is in control of his very talented band and on this day had the crowd eating out of his hands, as they marched through updated tunes from their debut recording, Orleans and Claiborne, plus the funkiest version of "The Saints Go Marching In" and a great James Brown segment which consisted of "Pass the Peas" and "Give Me That Funky Horn." I felt bad for Walter Washington's wife Barbara, who does a superb job of running the main and featured stage on which Troy and Orleans Ave. were playing, they were already running over their time slot and she had to explain to the wildly enthusiastic crowd (who wanted much more) that their performance was over. By all means, if you are in New Orleans or if you see this band playing anywhere just go see them as you will definitely not be disappointed.

My last stop on Sunday was to go see the under appreciated Charmaine Neville, who basically closed French Quarter Fest 2007 and delivered a very strong performance in Jackson Square.

So if you're tired of the crowds at Jazz Fest and making your way to the Fair Grounds Racetrack and just want to only take in indigenous New Orleans music, the French Quarter Festival could be for you. It offers a great and less hassled way to spend a three-day weekend without having the rigors of traveling outside of downtown New Orleans, as all the regalia, great music, and food is all right there for you to enjoy within the confines of the French Quarter district. This free event takes you through the Quarter and offers all of its best qualities at your own pace and in a relaxed and celebratory way.

Until next years French Quarter Fest 2008...

Bob Putignano is contributing writer at BluesWax. He also produces a radio show, which may be heard at: http://www.SoundsofBlue.com. You may contact him at: bob8003@yahoo.com

Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com