Fun for Free
As springtime warms up the city, the music scene is livelier than ever. This month, the annual French Quarter Fest, which has grown tremendously over the years, takes place on April 12-15. More than 800 musicians are slated to perform, including Rebirth Brass Band, New Orleans Moonshiners, the Lost Bayou Ramblers and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. As usual, the festival charges no admission fees; food and drinks are available from more than 65 vendors situated throughout downtown. Information, fqfi.org.
The Opera’s Double Feature
The New Orleans Opera Association welcomes two back-to-back productions at the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts on April 27 and 29: Pagliacci, composed by Ruggero Leonvacallo, features an Italian clown named Tonio, who’s jokingly accused of being in love with a visiting actor’s wife. Trouble ensues as jealousy, mix-ups and a lot of melodrama occur, leading several of the actors to go “off-script.” True intentions and love triangles are revealed; audiences will take delight in the realism of the performance of this 19th-century favorite, set in Southern Italy.
Carmina Burana, the following performance, features lyric poetry with sensual content. Four basic categories of poems include: satirical lyrics; songs that celebrate the arrival of spring and love; gambling and drinking songs; and poems with religious content. This performance will feature the New Orleans Opera Chorus as well as the New Orleans Ballet Theatre. Information, NewOrleansOpera.org.
On Saturday, April 21, the Mahalia Jackson Theater hosts Complexions Contemporary Ballet, a multicultural modern dance troupe that incorporates worldly influences with traditional elements revamped and doing away with boundaries. Boundlessly energetic, the group is led by Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden, who are well-established in the dance world and famed for their artistic innovation. Information, NobaDance.com.
The 43rd annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, April 27-29 and May 3-6, has become a world-famous event, despite humble beginnings. Quint Davis, the founding father of the fest, discusses its growth, fond memories and what he’s looking forward to the most at the Fair Grounds.
What’s your favorite memory of Jazz Fest? There’s a multitude. During the first two years of the festival, it was at Congo Square. It would have been marching down through the French Quarter with the Indians on the way to the festival. Then there was Mahalia Jackson, standing next to Duke Ellington. We had the Eureka Brass Band playing, we handed her a microphone off the stage and she sang, confirming our whole premise for the festival – jazz and heritage. Those are the two that stick out before the Fair Grounds. There were lots of great Professor Longhair moments. And for about 30 years we did nighttime shows with artists such as Santana, Aretha Franklin and Fats Domino. To jump forward, the greatest recent memory was the day we reopened after (Hurricane) Katrina and seeing all the people lined up at the festival. The first opening of the gate stands out to me.
What are you looking forward to the most this year? Sunshine. This is a mostly outdoor festival; last year was the first year we had not one day of rain. You can’t get to the full vibe and the musical greatness if you’re hunched down under an umbrella. Last year spoiled me. I’m looking forward to another year of sunshine. For musicians, the list is long. Bombino from Niger; The Pedrito Martinez Group; Bunny Wailer from Jamaica; Cee-Lo; Trombone Shorty; The Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s 50th anniversary jam, which is going to have all kinds of musicians, local and national. And of course the obvious big headliners. The Blues Tent has Levon Helm Band with Mavis Staples as a guest vocalist … Ani DiFranco and Asleep at the Wheel. This is kind of a good cross-section of the things I’m looking forward to without naming all the biggest acts.
What are your favorite festival foods and drinks? Crawfish strudel; iced coffee; definitely the pheasant, quail and andouille gumbo. They have the best cracklins in the world at the festival. It’s the only time of year I eat cracklins. And there’s a booth by the Fais Do-Do stage; bar none, they have the best macaroons in the world. They also have a great chocolate eclair, that’s a biggie. One you might not think about is crawfish Monica. It’s unbelievable. You take it for granted because it’s so popular, but it’s popular for a reason.
What do you hope people gain from the Jazz Fest experience? The sum is greater than the parts. For hundreds of years, people have gathered together for some kind of annual celebration or gathering; then they go back to their lives. There’s a quality out there of shared human existence. Music has a great inspirational and healing power. It’s the engine that’s running it and the food – and maybe the beverages – is the fuel. You’ve got this great music that’s driving this thing like an engine, food is the fuel and it makes, particularly on a sunny day, a vibe at the festival. That is the ultimate thing that we strive for. It’s a higher order than any individual band. We strive for the perfect vibe.
Through May 20. “Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial”; New Orleans Museum of Art. Information, noma.org.
April 1-15 (select dates) Disney’s The Lion King; Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts. Information, MahaliaJacksonTheater.com.
April 4, 11, 18, 25. Wednesdays at the Square; Lafayette Square. Information, WednesdayAtTheSquare.com.
April 5. Yonder Mountain String Band plus Brown Bird; House of Blues. Information, HouseOfBlues.com.
April 5-29. “NOLA NOW, Part II: Abstraction in Louisiana (1980 & 2012);” Contemporary Arts Center. Information, cacno.org.
April 5-12, 21-24, 26-29. New Orleans Zephyrs home games; Zephyr Field. Information, milb.com.
April 11. An Evening with the Red Elvises; One Eyed Jacks. Information, OneEyedJacks.net.
April 12-15. French Quarter Festival; throughout downtown. Information, fqfi.org.
April 13. New Edition in concert; UNO Lakefront Arena. Information, arena.uno.edu.
April 18-July 8. “Turning Point: The Doolittle Raid, the Battle of Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway;” The National World War II Museum. Information, NationalWW2Museum.org.
April 21. Complexions Contemporary Ballet; Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts. Information, MahaliaJacksonTheater.com.
April 23-29. Zurich Classic; TPC of Louisiana, Avondale. Information, ZurichGolfClassic.com.
April 27. Zoo-To-Do for Kids; Audubon Zoo. Information, AudubonInstitute.org.
April 28. Rebirth Brass Band; Republic. Information, RepublicNola.com.
April 28. Loyola Ballet Spring Recital; Marquette Theater. Information, loyno.montage.edu.