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A Handful of JazzFest: 5 Acts to Watch on April 28, 2012

Now that we're all settled in, JazzFest returns to the Fair Grounds Sunday with some super collaborations in the jazz and wetlands genres, a first-time appearance from one of the best running acts in old-time music today and, as ever, a well-dressed bluesman. Don't let the cubists confuddle you . Click through to see five of today's highlights.


Carolina Chocolate Drops

4:20 p.m., Zydeco Stage


The African-American invention of the banjo often goes ignored, but not among the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Its origin lies at the band’s foundation. Rhiannon Giddens, Dom Flemons and former member Justin Robinson formed the band in 2005 after the Black Banjo Gathering and named it in homage to the Tennessee Chocolate Drops of the 1920s. They disassemble the false stereotype of the instrument and old-time music as the territory of rural white Americans to the exclusion of African-Americans. They also pave a path for estranged African-Americans to return to the music they helped create.


The music is great, too. They all sing, Giddens with a voice trained at the Oberlin Conservatory. She combines it with fiddle, 5-string banjo and her Carolina upbringing. Modern songster Flemons contributes considerable skills on bones, snare, guitar, 4 string banjo, harmonica and the nearly lost quills, or pentatonic pan pipes. They recently added  Hubby Jenkins on mandolin, banjo and guitar and human beatboxer Adam Matta. The current touring line up also features New Orleans based cellist Leyla McCalla.


Nobody should mistake them for mere folk revivalists. They stand as a link in a chain of tradition while adding their own touches. Their sound is vibrantly African-American and more Piedmont than Appalachian. Recently deceased fiddler Joe Thompson tutored them in regular Thursday sessions in Mebane, North Carolina. They draw broadly, ranging from 1930s throat singing cowboy Arthur Miles’ “Lonely Cowboy” to R&B singer-songwriter Blu Cantrell’s “Hit 'Em Up Style (Oops!).” The Drops also venture fearlessly onto the uncertain ground of medicine shows and minstrelsy, taking “Dixie” composer Dan Emmett’s work and drilling down to the musical Snowden family, his African-American neighbors.


Their fusion approach has brought success rarely seen in old-time music. 2010’s Genuine Negro Jig won the Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album. They are darlings of public broadcasting. The Hunger Games soundtrack features their “Daughter’s Lament.” Now they are set to add new flavors to the JazzFest gumbo. -Michael Morgan



Bobby Rush

4:25 p.m., Blues Tent

When it comes to Mississippi bluesmen, some come from the dusty crossroads of the rural Delta, while others grind it out in the big city.  Bobby Rush moved to Jackson, Mississippi, in the early 1980s, a time when urban blues began absorbing the sounds of funk and disco, and Malaco Records and recording studio was beginning to hit its stride.  Claiming the title “King of the Chitlin Circuit,” Rush brings the down home sound of Jackson to the Blues Tent on Saturday afternoon.


Even though blues wasn’t breaking the Billboard charts in the 80s, Malaco Records found an audience for their artists, proving that their brand of grown-folks blues could still sell records.  Bobby Rush, along with artists like Z.Z. Hill (“Down Home Blues”), Little Milton (“The Blues is Alright”), and Denise LaSalle (“My Toot Toot”), favored a style that moved away from broken and weary blues stereotypes to a high-energy, sexed-up sound.  


While the music is a little more polished, the themes are familiar to blues fans.  Rush’s catalog includes not-so-subtle songs about stepping out (“Night Fishin’), betrayal and heartbreak (“Tough Titty”), and the occupational hazards that come from being a ladies’ man (“Lovin’ a Big Fat Woman”).  And though the songs have a healthy sense of humor, Rush is no joke.  The 77-year-old native of Homer, Louisiana, is a sharp dresser, a slick dancer, and usually employs a cadre of backup dancers that would make Big Freedia proud. -Brad Rhines




Kristin Diable and the City

4:40 p.m., Lagnaippe Stage

With Acura and Gentilly the province of big headliners and acts that only come to town during Mardi Gras and JazzFest, the Lagniappe Stage dobules as a showcase of what you could see in New Orleans on any given night. Kristin Diable is one of the primary flag wavers of this vanguard. The singer-songwriter provides a fresh update to the swing and old-time jazz popular in downtown New Orleans. As her new CD was being released, NOLA Defender's Aura Fedora caught up with Diable. Read and listen to the interview here.


Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars

3:15 p.m., Acura Stage

When it comes to the overused saying about New Orleans music and mixtures, there's no better proof than the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars. The group is made up of a wide variety of South Louisiana musicians, covering blues guitar (Tab Benoit), Blues harp (Johnny Sansone), Mardi Gras Indian (Monk Boudreaux), funk-soul dynamo (Cyril Neville), bonafide rock star (Anders Osborne) and of course, the timekeeper (Johnny Vidacovich).  By their powers combined, Jazzfest will come alive with this high-energy mid-afternoon set that's likely to be anchored by Cajun blues. The group is also united in their message to raise awareness about the Louisiana wetlands, which are disappearing faster everyday. If you want the science of it, read this. But if you want the party, head to the Acura Stage this afternoon. 


The Gospel According to Jazz featuring BJ Crosby, Danon Smith, Yolanda Windsay, and Judy Davis

Jazz Tent, 6:00 PM


For the adventurous, this is the kind of lineup that's worth stopping in to see, even if it's just for a few minutes before one of the headliners takes the stage. You may not know the singers on the bill, but their renditions of some classic jazz tunes will take them to a new level. Plus, they're all local. Who said there wasn't any jazz at Jazz Fest? 








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