“We’d like to send this out to our brother Richie,” Jon Bon Jovi announced during the encore of Bon Jovi’s Saturday set at New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. It was the first and only time Bon Jovi acknowledged the absence of guitarist Richie Sambora, who recently entered rehab. Otherwise, it was business as usual, with Sambora’s fill-in, Phil X (Xenidis, an L.A. session guitarist) subbing in admirably, picking up Sambora’s talk box parts and adding muscle to a show that only got better and better, especially in its last hour.
Openers “Blood on Blood” and “You Give Love a Bad Name” aside, the first half of the show leaned heavily on recent material, leaving the crowd a little restless. But Bon Jovi’s showmanship kicked in as the band worked parts of “Dancing in the Streets,” “Start Me Up” and “Oh Pretty Woman” into other songs, complete with a faux-Jagger strut during the Stones classic.
Earlier in the day, New Orleans jazz vocalist John Boutte — best known for singing the theme song to Treme — performed an emotional set that included a mesmerizing version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” At the other end of the spectrum, rapper Big Freedia, the self-proclaimed “queen diva,” walked on the Congo Square Stage with “Excuse / I don’t mean to be rude / Get out my way and let me do what I do.” The biggest name in what’s come to be known as “sissy bounce” — a sub-genre of New Orleans bounce — proudly shook her ass with her onstage dancers.
Like much of the music at Jazz Fest, bounce makes more sense performed at night and in a bar, but Big Freedia kicked an element of danger into her music. “I got gin in my system,” she rapped. “Somebody’s gonna be my victim.”