New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2024: First Weekend Highlights

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival made a triumphant return for its third consecutive year, overcoming two cancellations due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This iconic festival has a rich history, dating back to 1970, and was originally founded by the renowned George Wein, who was also instrumental in creating the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals. George Wein passed away in 2021 at the age of 95. Traditionally spanning two weekends with distinct lineups, this year’s festival was extended to eight days, including an additional day of celebration. The festival kicked off on April 25th, marking the beginning of an unforgettable musical extravaganza.

This year’s festival featured an impressive lineup, combining local legends and major acts. The Thursday lineup included Widespread Panic, The Beach Boys (who also performed at Stagecoach that Sunday), Stephen Marley, and Kenny Barron. Widespread Panic’s set was particularly notable as it marked their return to the festival after their last performance in 2019. Duane Trucks, nephew of The Allman Brothers’ Butch Trucks, joined Widespread Panic in 2016, following the departure of their original drummer Todd Nance, who unfortunately passed away in 2020. Notably, Widespread Panic had the longest set of the two weekends, performing for 2.5 hours.

Earlier on the same day, the annual New Orleans Classic Recording Revue featured performances by Wanda Rouzan, The Dixie Cups (who were also featured on this year’s Jazz Fest poster), and Al “Lil Fats” Jackson. Unfortunately, Al ‘Carnival Time’ Johnson was unable to perform as planned due to hospitalization. The revue paid tribute to celebrated New Orleans legends, including the late “Ain’t Got a Home” singer Clarence “Frogman Henry”, who passed away on April 7 at the age of 87, and “Mr. Big Stuff” singer Jean Knight, who performed at the festival for over 20 years and passed away at the age of 80 on November 22, 2023. The band for the revue included the talented Gerald French on drums. talent on drums, percussion, guitar, and vocals. The band saw a recent lineup change with Jon Bolton joining as the new drummer, replacing John Cowsill who had been with the group for 22 years. Advertisement

Over the weekend, the Gentilly Stage hosted an array of unforgettable performances, including a stellar show by The Meters’ Zigaboo Modeliste and captivating sets by the Revivalists and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The lineup also featured acclaimed local drummers Johnny Vidacovich and Peter Varnado, who added their unique flair to the vibrant atmosphere of the Jazz Fest.

Saturday saw the festival reach its peak attendance, with standout performances by country artist Chris Stapleton, indie rockers Vampire Weekend, and the soulful Fantasia, drawing in an enthusiastic crowd. The day was also marked by a poignant parade celebrating the legacy of Russell Batiste Jr., a revered drummer from New Orleans, in the Congo Square. Sunday’s lineup boasted the timeless performances of Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, The Dirty Dozen, Rebirth Brass Bands, and an electrifying set by Heart, which marked their return with an all-new band lineup. The Allman Betts Band, comprising of Gregg Allman’s son Devon and Dickey Bett’s son Duane, delivered a soul-stirring performance, paying homage to their legendary predecessors.

The Jazz Fest weekend was a celebration of music, heritage, and the enduring spirit of New Orleans, leaving lasting impressions on all who attended.