I started off the night a little late on the unofficial first night of this year’s Musikfest for preview night featuring Trombone Short’s Voodoo Theauxdown, a stacked line-up of four headliner-worthy bands jammed into one evening. Whether it was the threat of rain or the general preview nature of the night, the crowds were subdued other than the main stage show.
I got down to the area in time to catch Galactic opening for Trombone Shorty and just two songs into shooting the rain started coming down. Fun and funky, with a little more pizzazz than the bit of the classic Preservation Jazz Hall Band I overhead, they played with gusto and singer Erica Falls was exemplary. By the fourth song in the skies opened up and a deluge of rain sent many (myself included) scrambling for cover or out of the venue. By the time I made it back to my waterlogged seat Galactic was finishing up their set with a stunning rendition of their song, “Heart of Steel” with NOLA legend Walter “Wolfman” Washington on guitar.
Luckily for fest-goers, that brief, but intense, rain shower was the only one of the evening. I was surprised to see the venue still has so many people that stayed throughout the rain, and by the time Trombone Shorty hit the stage most of the crowd was out from their hiding spots and back in their seats.
A ten song set sounds like it would be over in 45 minutes, but when you’re playing with a band like Trombone Shorty, it can easily stretch into the hour-and-fifteen mark as it did last night. They started off with a bang, with a great version of “The Craziest Things” that had the crowd dancing and clapping along. Shorty then busted out his popular cover of “On Your Way Down,” an Allen Toussaint cover that is among my favorite in his repertoire. Then came probably the best song of the night “Here Come the Girls”, an extended version that had Trombone Shorty playing a seemingly endless note utilizing his Kenny G-like circular breathing technique. The ten piece band jammed throughout, and then Shorty played conductor for the rest of the band, and to close out the song, played an almost Lucky Chops-esque closing with his two sax players.
Then out came Cyril Neville for a cover of his brother’s song from The Meters, “No More Okey Doke,” another high point of the evening. The energy completely broke down when Neville stayed on stage for another Meters cover, “Fire on the Bayou” that instead of lighting up the crowd left most of them sitting down for the first time. The band then launched into a really long version of “Where It At,” which as first was enjoyable. He implored the crowd to get back up on their feet, which they complied with for the rest of the evening, surprisingly. “Where It At” devolved into an unbelievably bad and regrettable cover of the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “Give It Away” which had his sax player Dan “Uncle Dan” Oestreicher unintelligibly screaming the lyrics to the song. They reverted back to “Where It At” and finally, thankfully, closed out the song.
There was only one more song left in their wheelhouse for the night, a fun and upbeat delivery of “It Ain’t No Use.” And for how well the show started, it was anticlimactically over at 11pm on the dot thanks to the noise curfew, without one of their classic closings of “When the Saints Go Marching In” or even his signature “Hurricane Season.” While it was a good show, it could have been much more enjoyable had the setlist been tooled with to squeeze their best into such a short set.
I then briefly popped over to the Artsquest Center to check out the Baby Soda Jazz Band, who, based on their sound, would’ve been right at home down the street at The Bookstore Speakeasy. Light and easygoing, refreshing after a night of booming and excitable jazz performances on the main stage, they had a tight sound that was being enjoyed by a small crowd that stuck around for the late night. And yes, that is a gutbucket, being played quite expertly, in the back in those photos. Stay tuned, we’ll be back tomorrow with picks for Day 2 and a full recap of the first official night, rain be damned.