Only something as completely cool as Jazz Fest in New Orleans could keep me away from the J.B. Scott’s Reunion Party on Saturday at Michael’s Banquet House (1019 New Loudon Road, Cohoes).
Every boomer-age rock fan has star-time stories about the Central Avenue venue that the Manhattan Transfer called “the classiest toilet we’ve every played.” Every other late-1970s/early 1980s act of consequence also rocked that house, from U2 to Captain Beefheart, from Count Basie to the Plasmatics. It’s where Bryan Adams played his first-ever U.S. show, where James Cotton taught me to drink tequila — a dangerous lesson! — and the only place where I saw two of the sharpest rock groups ever: big bands fronted by Leon Russell and Joe Ely. In one blurry stretch, I saw six shows there in eight loud nights.
The best local bands also played J.B. Scott’s, reaching for bigger audiences than they could entertain in smaller rooms. So it’s fitting that several of those same bands are returning for Saturday’s reunion.
The lineup for this 6 p.m. extravaganza is Blotto (who filmed live footage for their “I Wanna Be a Lifeguard” video at J.B. Scott’s), Fear of Strangers (who also played there as the Units), the Ernie Williams Band featuring Joe Mele (who probably played the room with more different bands than anyone this side of Michael Eck), the Penny Knight Band, the Last Conspirators, and Alison Jacobs with Matt Mirabile.
Jacobs is the daughter of Doug Jacobs, who ran J.B. Scott’s with the inimitable Vinnie Birbiglia. Both Jacobs, who lives in Ballston Spa, and Birbiglia, who lives now in Las Vegas, will attend — and those guys have better stories than any of us fans.
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Back to Big Easy
As for Jazz Fest, I’ll be there when the second weekend opens a few hours after you read this.
I’ve been trying to get back there since my first visit in 2008 when I (very belatedly) discovered it’s the coolest musico-cultural event I’ve seen since Monterey Pop in 1967, maybe the coolest ever.
Even just the math is overwhelming: Each day, five or six acts play on each of 11 stages. Some are known outside New Orleans; some, in fact, are known around the world.
The biggest names on the second weekend may be Saturday headliners the Eagles. Florence + the Machine plays on Thursday opposite Esperanza Spalding and James Cotton. No, I won’t be drinking any tequila with Cotton. And I’ll hotfoot it to one of those sets, already in progress, from seeing Cheik Hamala Diabate from Mali. Or at least, that’s the plan: Jazz Fest has a way of scrambling, canceling and overruling your plans.
On Friday, I’ll flip a coin between Bunny Wailer, Delfeayo Marsalis and the Hot 8 Brass Band late in the day and hopscotch, beer and po’boy in hand, among Zazou City, the Forgotten Souls Brass Band, Donald Harrison and Pedrito Martinez checking him out before he hits A Place for Jazz — this fall.
On Saturday, I’ll catch the Malone Brothers just a few weeks after they played The Egg here; they’re on right before Allen Toussaint, whose “The Bright Mississippi” is the best album of Louisiana music in years. But the hottest Saturday show might be Aaron Neville’s Gospel Experience in the Gospel Tent, before the Eagles hit on the (biggest) Acura stage. The Gospel Tent was too crowded for me to get in to see the best women Gospel singers in New Orleans there in 2008, and I won’t make that mistake again.
On Sunday, more Nevilles: Art, with the funky Meters, and Charmaine Neville play separate sets (Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk plays Thursday), and the Neville Brothers play last on Sunday, right after Foo Fighters on the Acura Stage.
In the unlikely event that Foo Fighters don’t do it for me, Bonnie Raitt, the Rebirth Brass Band, Terrance Simien, Asleep at the Wheel, Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias and five other acts are also playing, all at the same time.
OK, Jazz Fest can be crazy-making in the best possible way: so many good choices. But maybe the best ones won’t be the big names, or even choices I make in advance. In 2008, I often found myself exclaiming, “Who’s THAT!” as I discovered some really extraordinary artist while heading to see someone else. Maybe my favorite act at Jazz Fest this year will be someone else. I’ll tell you about it when I get back.
Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at firstname.lastname@example.org.