Early Saturday at Jazz Fest, Bill Kirchen finished his set in the Blues Tent working on a long series of famous riffs and song snippets, some from blues legends and others from the pantheon of classic rock and R&B. Having earned the nickname “Titan of the Telecaster”, Kirchen had fun showing off his skills – playing Bo Diddly, BB King, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. He did a bit of The Stooges’ “I Wanna be Your Dog” and told listeners he went to high school with Iggy Pop. He played snippets of New Orleans icons Fats Domino and Professor Longhair. It also canceled the Rolling Stones, the Sex Pistols and Johnny Rivers.
The audience loved it, and it was an entertaining show. But after a day at the festival, one could notice that there were no songs or female groups in his landmark film. Kirchen left for an appearance with the Creole String Beans – after Derek Houston played sax during Kirchen’s set. But after that there were plenty of female guitarists to be seen on the festival stages, on a day when the headliners were occupied by Stevie Nicks, Erykah Badu, Mavis Staples (who replaced Melissa Etheridge), Lauren Daigle and Lena Primary. On guitar during the day, Samantha Fish, Rickie Lee Jones, all the women of Puss N Boots and Alynda Lee Segarra leading Hurray for the Riff Raff. On Saturday, Jazz Fest was a women’s world.
It would be hard to believe anyone at Fair Grounds Saturday put on a more impressive guitar performance than Samantha Fish at Festival Stage. Fish debuted with a cigar box guitar, working the groove on “Bulletproof”. She played many of the songs from her latest album, “Faster,” a collection of showy rock guitar — and less blues-focused than previous projects, like the stripped-down Mississippi-style blues of “Belle of the West.” She played “All Ice and No Whiskey”, “Twisted Ambition” and “Better Be” from “Faster”, and also slowed down for songs like “Hello Stranger”.
Fish says she doesn’t overuse solos when writing and recording songs. But hearing her perform live is a different experience, and she’s been unleashed on long solos in “No Angels” and “Dream Girl.” Many songs on “Faster” are about a woman taking charge, and Fish certainly did that onstage.
There was quite a shift in tone between Fish’s set and the Fais Do-Do Stage for Puss N Boots, a kind of country project by Norah Jones, Catherine Popper and Sasha Dobson. They started with “Sister,” the title track from their 2020 album on Blue Note, and followed with the band’s “Twilight.”
Puss N Boots is all about vocal harmonies, and the members seem to be having a lot of fun. They swapped instruments during the set, and Jones started with a guitar and took a spin behind the drums. Dobson plays drums most of the time, but she’s also picked up an acoustic guitar for some string-only tracks.
There’s not a lot of twang to the soft country sounds of some of their work, like Popper singing his song, “The Razor Song,” and Jones doing “Don’t Know What It Means.” Dobson sang “Six Degrees of Separation”, plus a rock tune of “No Fools, No Fun”.
They all sang along to “Same Old Bullshit”, which is a fun song that sounds like a country song: “What do you do when you got no money? / What do you do when your car breaks down? / You don’t cry, you don’t cry / The same old bullshit / The same old bullshit / No car, no phone, no money, no house, no man, no hair, no food / Same old bullshit.”
After a set of sweet harmonies on most of their own songs, the trio ended with a little surprise, turning Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” into a country rock tune.
Jones, who is celebrating the 20th anniversary of his landmark album “Come Away With Me,” has a set at 5:40 p.m. in the WWOZ Jazz Tent on Sunday.
Early Saturday, the Seratones of Shreveport made their Jazz Fest debut on the Festival stage. Although the band has its roots in punk rock and lead singer AJ Haynes still has that kind of energy on stage, the band has evolved into an electro funk and soul band. The band jumped around with older songs like “Power” and material from the band’s latest release, “Love & Algorhythms”, including “Get Your Shit Together, Baby”.
But Haynes was looking for positive vibes. She started “Good Day” before stopping it to bring in Cam Franklin, lead singer of The Suffers from Houston, and New Orleans guitarist and vocalist Joy Clark. Haynes made it a feast of love and stopped for an interlude to talk about choosing joy.
The end of the set was marked by heavy bass and reverb, and it wasn’t always easy to hear the keyboards or the guitars, but the band didn’t say anything about the sound.
The band got some extra time near the end of the set, and Haynes claimed she was having a “Gemini moment” and announced that she was going to recite a poem. A tribute to healing and self-realization, it is called “Evidence” and appears as a bonus on “Love & Algorithms”. The group ended with “Two of a Kind” from the album.
On the Congo Square stage, Shamarr Allen was also celebrating the release of a new album and reflecting on the pandemic. He got on stage and rapped the first song and also worked in some trumpet solos. He played a song he released called “Quarantine and Chill”, which sounded a lot more fun than the stops. The crowd was happy to provide the refrain “Sleep all day, party all night”.
On a more serious note, Allen dedicated a song to Bennie Pete, the late co-founder of the Hot 8 Brass Band.
Allen also sang “I Love You”, inserting his own long interlude. Allen said during the pandemic he built a music studio in his home, watched TV and ate. He said eating ice cream can help block depression and music makes him happy. But he discovered that television made him angry. He said “television is the most divisive device” and described the many ways content on television plays out the division in our society over race, class, sexuality and more. His immediate remedy was to tell everyone in the crowd to raise a folded “chicken wing” and greet their neighbors with a nudge. As people happily spun in circles touching elbows, Allen echoed, “I love you.”
Allen then turned to his latest album, “True Orleans 2”. He released a video for “Dance With Me”, in which he greets fellow musicians at familiar spots around town and dances with carnival marching bands and the high school band George Washington Carver. In the video, Allen’s voice leans into the soulful vocals. To do the show live, he brought in a crowd of New Orleans Baby Dolls and members of the Pussyfooters, and once again the set turned into a love fest.
Many people came to Jazz Fest to hear Stevie Nicks, and the crowd spilled onto the Festival Stage grounds and carried the racetrack back to the fences for his set.
Nicks said it was her first live show in three years, but some things never change. Sometimes the set was a single – for fans of all ages – for hits from “Rumors” and other Fleetwood Mac classics. And in addition to rocking her signature gypsy look (she sang “Gypsy,” of course), complete with flowing skirts, lace, and long sleeves, she showed off a few shawls and items. At one point, she identified a blue cape she was wearing as the “Bella Donna” cape, from her 1981 tour for her solo debut of the same name.
At 73, she has a slightly hoarse voice, but still the one everyone recognizes in “Dreams” and “Rhiannon”. She sang “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”, which she recorded with Tom Petty for “Bella Donna”. She also covered “Free Fallin'” by Petty.
Nicks called the late Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters a friend and dedicated “Landslide” to him.
She complained of sound issues on several occasions and her version of “Stand Back” sounded a bit off. During “Gold Dust Woman”, she went into a long interlude that seemed to spiral down.
The set resumed with “Edge of Seventeen”, and the singing continued.
After wishing everyone in the audience well and walking backstage with the group, it was unclear if she was done early. But they returned to the stage and Nicks shared that she had been very busy watching the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She recorded a song called “New Orleans”, although she doesn’t perform it very often. She has already sung it in New Orleans, and did it again on Saturday as an encore. He talks squarely about wanting to come to town and sing in the French Quarter, and he also mentions Anne Rice and vampires. But his serious version was charming.
But that wasn’t the end. Nicks concluded by singing “Rock and Roll” by Led Zeppelin. It may have been a long time since she rock and roll, and a long period of loneliness. But she’s back, and that was another song the crowd could sing along to.