Guitar Notes from the 2015 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest

“It’s good to be at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival,” announced Pete Townshend at the annual music bash held from April 24 to May 3, 2015.
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“It’s good to be at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival,” announced Pete Townshend at the annual music bash held from April 24 to May 3, 2015. “I’m going to play some jazz later, and you’re going to hate it!”

Pete Townshend digs in.

Buddy Guy gets percussive.

Leo Nocentelli knocks out nasty funk.

Well, the Who didn’t play any jazz at its first American festival appearance since Woodstock, and neither did Lenny Kravitz, Buddy Guy, the Meters, Elton John, or Vintage Trouble, who all primarily honored roots rock and soul. Townshend can still generate tons of verve from a single windmill, and he also deployed his Stratocaster’s whammy bar frequently, as well as doing some two-hand tapping. At the very end of “My Generation,” however, he caught himself in a moment of frivolous flash, laughing over the mic, “What the f**k am I doing?”

Lenny Kravitz plays it cool.

Luther Dickinson and Eric McFadden.

The original Meters gathered for a rare reunion show, as Leo Nocentelli’s impeccable staccato rhythm figures burst forth from a gorgeous Gibson ES-335 plugged into a Mesa/Boogie Lone Star. Lenny Kravitz and his longtime guitar foil Craig Ross powered through perhaps the most spirited set of the festival—until Buddy Guy took the stage in the Blues Tent. How a 78 year old can generate more electricity on guitar and vocals than any other act on a Jazz Fest bill is a mystery. The blues giant plopped his Strat down on a speaker stack and played it like a lap-steel, slid a towel across the fretboard for a pseudo record-scratching sound, played percussively with a drumstick, and conjured some kind of voodoo magic with a dynamic and totally killing performance. Other standouts during the festival included Vintage Trouble guitarist Nalle Colt and local buzz-band, the Revivalists.


Sonny Landreth and Jimmy Leslie perform J.J. Cale’s “Cajun Moon.”

Phil deGruy plays his fascinating “guitarp.”

This year, GP Presents took lucky advantage of the top guitar cats prowling the Big Easy for club gigs between weekends of the Jazz Fest. Typically shackled to the San Francisco Bay Area—because that’s Guitar Player’s home, as well as where the event producer (me) lives—GP presents ventured to New Orleans for its debut “Frenchmen Guitar Friendzy” at the Frenchmen Theater on April 29. The free show—with a backline provided by sponsor Mesa/Boogie via True South Artist Services—kicked off with Phil deGruy delivering beautiful chord melodies on a “guitarp” (guitar/harp) armed with fanned frets by Ralph Novak. Next up were Bonerama’s Bert Cotton and Honey Island Swamp Band’s Chris Mulé. Then, Sonny Landreth treated an eager full house to a few previews from his upcoming CD, Bound by the Blues, and brought Mulé back for a twin-guitar attack on his signature song, “Congo Square.” Eric McFadden came on and delivered stellar twang with a Trussart Steelmaster and a Mesa/Boogie Electra Dyne, and he joined North Mississippi Allstar Luther Dickinson—who wielded hollow-and semi-hollow Gibsons—for some intriguing guitar conversations. Soulive’s Eric Krasno led his crew through a swinging, stabbing rendition of “Manic Depression,” and then took some spacey groove-jazz excursions as the night deepened. Finally, local favorite Ian Cunningham closed the show.

Perhaps the true spirit of New Orleans soul was triggered not by a guitarist, but by a drummer. Kevin O’Day was originally hired to drum the entire second half of the evening, but between the soundcheck and the gig, his house burned down! Garland Paul and Dan Caro (ironically, a burn survivor with reconstructed hands) did a bangup job filling in until O’Day returned to the event, arriving just in time for the final set. Everyone contributed to a relief fund for O’Day, spotlighting the camaraderie between all the musicians, and putting the true meaning of “friend” into the Frenchmen Guitar Friendzy.