New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

“I’m going to play as much guitar I can get away with here,” announced Brad Paisley to an expansive audience of music lovers at the 38th annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. John Mayer expressed similar feelings the following weekend. He even apologized for losing momentum during a conservative rendition of his breakout pop hit “No Such Thing,” and promised to get back to playing more rockin’ guitar. Such is the musical climate in the Crescent City each year on the last weekend of April, and the first weekend of May, when pop stars like Paisley and Mayer share the same bills as local veterans such as Leo Nocentelli and Anders Osborne—who are well accustomed to the expectations of folks who come to hear players play.

The official daytime shows at the fairgrounds are half of what the festival is about. Each night, hearty breeds of music lovers stay out until sunrise soaking in the voodoo-induced vibrations at haunts all over the country’s funkiest city. Odd couplings, featured guests, and surprise sit-ins are Jazz Fest hallmarks. Of course, New Orleans A.K.—“After Katrina”—is a different place, and the festival has become a barometer. Jazz Fest 2006 ushered in the rebirth of a region ravaged by the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. This year’s event reflected a palpable sense of homecoming and rebuilding.