NEW ORLEANS – Thousands gathered under blue skies Saturday to hear the music of neo-soul artist Erykah Badu, who took the stage at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival burning a stick of incense and wearing a lavender kimono.
“My eyes are green,” she cooed to the crowd, which responded with claps and cheers.
“She’s so emotional,” said Stacey Cunningham of New Orleans, who had a spot on a blanket near the front of the stage.
“I love that about her.”
At least one famous face was in the crowd of thousands to hear Badu – New Orleans Hornets center Tyson Chandler, who headed to the festival grounds just hours after the team’s NBA playoff win against the Denver Nuggets.
“Erykah’s lyrics are really moving,” said Donna Gilbert, a regular festgoer from New Orleans.
“I find she touches and reaches people no matter what the age. She’s really inspirational.”
Earlier Saturday, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, one of New Orleans’ most energetic brass bands, had a crowd of thousands on its feet dancing and clapping. On another stage, The Imagination Movers, a children’s band with a television show on the Disney Channel by the same name, had parents and their little ones dancing as well.
“We love the Movers,” said New Orleans resident Dan Pellerito, 35, as he bobbed and clapped with his kids, four-year-old Sophia and two-year-old Henry.
In all, Jazz Fest features hundreds of acts on 12 stages this weekend and next. Jazz Fest will continue Sunday and pick up again Thursday. Among this year’s headline acts are Bon Jovi, Neil Young, Kings of Leon and Sugarland.
Besides Badu, Saturday included performances by singer-songwriter James Taylor, the rock group Wilco, jazz clarinetist Pete Fountain and trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis, who performed with The Jazz at Lincoln Center, the New York City-based orchestra he directs. Marsalis also performed with the orchestra Friday, the festival’s opening day.
“Wilco sounded great today,” said Wynn Kapit of Kenner, La., who was in the crowd sporting a bright red Wilco T-shirt. He said he also caught performances by the Rebirth Brass Band and Fountain.
“Only Jazz Fest has this kind of variety.”
Earlier in the afternoon, festival organizers held a news conference to thank Jazz Fest sponsors, the biggest of which is Shell Oil Co. Shell stepped in to help Jazz Fest financially after Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 per cent of the city. With the recent economic downturn, the festival lost three other sponsors, but Shell stayed on.
“We’re very fortunate for that,” said Jazz Fest producer Quint Davis.
At the news conference was Jazz Fest founder George Wein, who first started the event in 1970 and hired Davis.
With this year marking the 40th anniversary of the festival, Wein said he was overwhelmed to see “a piece of my life’s work” still alive and well after all these years.
“I get very emotional about it,” he said.
Wein is scheduled to perform on piano with his band, the Newport All-Stars, next weekend. Other acts slated for next weekend include the rock group Bon Jovi, country singer Emmylou Harris, the country group Sugarland and the fest’s closing day act, The Neville Brothers.