THE 2013 NEW ORLEANS JAZZ & HERITAGEFESTIVAL included B.B. King, George Benson, Sonny Landreth, Gary Clark, Jr., and Dave Matthews. The “NOLA factor” was in full play, meaning, as one local put it, “New Orleans can and will bring out the animal in anybody.”
The fiercest set of the first weekend was Clark’s handiwork. He gathered inspiration the night before his performance, hopping from haunt to haunt on fabled Frenchmen Street, and then went off the next day on the Gentilly Stage. Clark put tons of feeling into “Numb” and copped the nastiest fuzztone of the Fest—other than perhaps the one his sidekick Zapata used to launch “Bright Lights” into gear.
The uniquely Cajun guitar moment of the Fest had to be when zydeco maestro Wayne Toups and guitarist Freddie Pate got their Allman Brothers on in the middle of “Please Explain,” playing the harmonized lines of “Jessica” on guitar and accordion. Toups made his squeezebox sing like a fiddle, and Pate’s creamy humbucker tone did Dickey Betts real justice.
George Benson was cool, playing smooth standards such as “On Broadway,” but he got hot—even ragged—when he stopped singing and focused on his signature Ibanez. Sonny Landreth proved once again that he’s the Jeff Beck of Louisiana. No other player approached his technical prowess. Landreth’s behind-the-slide antics have been well documented in the pages of GP, but in this instance it was his plucking approach—specifically his thumb—that stuck out.
Dave Matthews and B.B. King played through a wicked thunderstorm. Matthews used it as fuel. The harder it rained on his audience, the more manic Matthews got, and he savored every soaking moment of “Don’t Drink the Water.”
The multitudes flocked to the Blues Tent for cover, and to catch King. His expressiveness was supernatural, and his tone was as heavy as the weather. King channels every ounce of energy into his singing voice or singing through Lucille, but never divides it into both simultaneously. Shoot, he rarely plays more than a single note at a time. The essence of King’s appeal was his radiant warmth, and with the fierce downpour in full force, it was a most welcome and heartening feeling.
Gary Clark, Jr.