When the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival announced that The Rolling Stones would play the festival for the first time as part of the 50th anniversary - excitement over this year’s fest exploded! But not long after the tickets were all sold for that special day, it was announced that The Stones were cancelling because Mick Jagger had to undergo a heart procedure. That led to widespread disappointment, and many felt that the big 50th anniversary celebration would lack something truly special.
The announcement that Fleetwood Mac would replace The Rolling Stones was met with a general malaise. Sure, Fleetwood Mac is great; but they have played Jazz Fest and lost was the idea that an iconic band, like The Stones, playing the fest for the first time for the 50th anniversary.
Ultimately, it was Widespread Panic that filled the time originally set for The Stones. Widespread Panic has one of the most loyal fan bases in the world of rock, but they are not for everyone. Widespread Panic has no recognizable national hits, which is of no consequence to their nomad fans who follow the band from city to city.
Since Widespread Panic and arguably Fleetwood Mac were never equal emotional replacements for the legendary Rolling Stones, the Jazz Fest offered ticket refunds for that day.
With anticipation for Jazz Fest 2019 marred by the cancellation of The Stones and Fleetwood Mac, there was some concern that the 50th anniversary of the fest would not live up to expectations.
Was the 50th anniversary of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival a disappointment? From my perspective as a Jazz Fest-goer from the beginning 50 years ago, I didn’t see or sense any disappointment. It was an awesome fest – even without The Rolling Stones.
One of my producers is a huge fan of Alanis Morissette, who played on the day it rained, and he dressed for the rain and absolutely loved being there. Perhaps when we see our favorites in concert in the rain, we feel like we are showing them how dedicated we are to their music. Fans get a sense of paying tribute to their favorite artists when they endure a hardship attending their concert.
The 50th anniversary of Jazz Fest included the many favorites, like Cowboy Mouth, Irma Thomas, Rockin’ Doopsie, Jr., Better Than Ezra and country/rock fiddle star Amanda Shaw, who at the age of 28 celebrated her 20th year of playing Jazz Fest! It’s hard to believe that someone who is 28 can say they have been part of the same profession for 20 years!
The headliners this year met the high standards the fest has set for itself over the past 50 years. Iconic legends Van Morrison, Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight and The O’Jays did not disappoint the tens of thousands of fans that molded into one mass spectacle of humanity in front of their stages. Country music star Chris Stapleton, The Dave Matthews Band, John Fogerty and Jimmy Buffett looked out over massive crowds that savored every note of every song.
But Katy Perry, who was not on tour and did Jazz Fest as a stand- alone event, did something that I have never seen. Maybe others have done it and I missed their performances, but Katy Perry had as close to a full stage production as I have seen at the fest. A pink backdrop with pink panels covering stage right and stage left and pink steps that added dimension to Perry, and her dancers gave the luster of a full stage show. With the exception of lights, which would prove moot during a show in the sunshine, Katy Perry put on a full stage production. A Jazz Fest first for me.
Fred LeBlanc, drummer and energized front man for the band Cowboy Mouth, plays Jazz Fest every year. Cowboy Mouth was set to open the day of music that would lead to The Rolling Stones performance. I asked Fred for his perspective on the 50th anniversary of Jazz Fest following the disappointment over the cancellation of The Stones:
We do have a way of putting our best foot forward regardless of the challenges we face. And it has been wonderful to witness so many people coming from across the country and around the world to make New Orleans a destination during Jazz Fest.
Maybe the 50th anniversary of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest was special because we proved that we know how to party and have fun even when everything doesn’t go our way!