20 Best Things We Saw at New Orleans Jazz Fest 2014 – Rolling Stone
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20 Best Things We Saw at New Orleans Jazz Fest 2014

Arcade Fire’s second-line, John Fogerty’s Bruce Springsteen cameo and other memorable moments from New Orleans

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People in New Orleans say hello and goodbye with "Happy Jazz Fest!," as if the two-weekend festival is a holiday on par with Christmas — or Fat Tuesday, which isn't too far off, as local musicians and bartenders estimate that the tourist crowds brought in by the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival are second only to those of Mardi Gras. This year there was a lot to wade through, but over two weeks Rolling Stone found 20 highlights from Louisiana’s most essential music festival. By Paul de Revere

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Best Cover Song: The Pineleaf Boys’ Take on Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”

Deeply rooted in bayou tradition and driven by a sprightly accordion and bright, tight fiddle, French-language Cajun music is, despite its energy, often overlooked at Jazz Fest. That said, the Grammy-nominated Pine Leaf Boys turned some heads induced some two-stepping with a younger, fresher take on the sound doesn’t preclude English lyrics or unorthodox rock & roll covers like "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," the breakout hit of fellow Louisianan Jerry Lee Lewis, exchanging solos between fiddle and piano without falling behind the pace of the speedy song.

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Best Example of New New Orleans Music, Brass Division: Hot 8 Brass Band

On the fest's second Friday, Hot 8 Brass Band reconciled and melded the city's rap and brass band traditions, lacing funky grooves with hip-hop slang and braggadocio, even throwing in arrangements of outside rap classics like Outkast’s "So Fresh, So Clean." At best, the group represents a changing cultural landscape in New Orleans, one where the traditional are looking more to the modern and the modern are rewriting tradition.

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Best Example of New New Orleans Music, Singer-Songwriter Division: Hurray for the Riff Raff

A New York transplant who mines classic rock, folk and traditional Southern roots music with a small DIY folk-punk trowel, scooping out what she can, Segarra followed Hot 8 by playing songs off her latest, Small Town Heroes, including "The Body Electric," which she called her "response to murder ballads where women are so often being murdered." If Ani DiFranco were a 20-something moving to New Orleans early in life today, she might sound something like this.

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Best Jazz Fest First Timer: Laura Mvula

Before this year, Mvula had neither performed at the festival before nor been to New Orleans. The British singer made quite an impression, however, with a stage full of digital and quaint physical instruments (harp, numerous forms of African percussion) and a clarion voice evoking, at different turns, Nina Simone, Björk and Sade.

Paul De Revere

Best Instance of Cultural Exchange: Brazilian Bonecos Gigantes

The bonecos gigantes – Brazilian Portugese for giant paper mâché heads, usually crafted by hand – were perhaps the most eye-popping feature of this year’s Cultural Exchange Pavillion, in which a different culture contributing to New Orleans' rich ancestry is spotlighted each year. For 2014, the spot was renamed Casa do Brasil, and a series of Carnival-style parades involving the pictured bonecos – similar in spirit to the Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans, following the same Roman Catholic traditions – took place throughout the festival grounds.

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Best Example of Hip-Hop Growing Up: Public Enemy

Until fairly recently, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival has had an arms-length relationship with rap music, but as hip-hop gradually grows up, former standard bearers like Public Enemy become – dare to believe it – family friendly, so much so that at one point hypeman Flavor Flav endearingly apologized for accidentally yelling a curse word. Plenty about P.E. is still the same, though: Chuck D still gives rousing calls to political action, Terminator X can still cut up a record like nobody’s business, the militaristic step dancers are still out in force and almost 25 years later, "Fight the Power" can still raise chills on the back of your neck. Hopefully as rap acts continue to grow up and stick around, Jazz Fest will open its arms wider for a full embrace.

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Best Local Prodigy: Trombone Shorty

Trombone Shorty has played the instrument of his name since he before he was the size of it. Beyond his hometown cred, intense talent and crossover potential Shorty is remarkable for his ability to circle breathe, a technique that allows the 28 year-old to hold a note for an eerily long time. Closing out Jazz Fest’s main stage on its final day, Trombone Shorty held a majestic one – at times quiet, at times blaring – for at least 60 seconds. Oh, and he can also play trombone and trumpet from two different corners of his mouth. You know, no big deal.

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Best Encapsulation of the Entire Festival: The Dr. John Tribute Show

In a rare absence, New Orleans R&B legend Dr. John didn’t play this year’s Jazz Fest this year, but the Doctor more than made up for it with the lineup he and Keith Wortman – who has orchestrated all-star tributes to the likes of Johnny Cash, Levon Helm and Gregg Allman – got together Saturday night at New Orleans' Saenger Theatre. There, a who's who of New Orleans and American roots music toasted the elder statesman with a few hours of classic covers and collaborations.

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