Jazz fest gets going in the Big Easy

NEW ORLEANS — The Big Easy’s 36th Jazz & Heritage Festival kicked off April 21 with a gala dinner at the Fairmont Hotel where Natalie Cole was both honored and made her only fest performance.

“Natalie represents a broadening of the festival’s spectrum,” said fest prexy David Oestreicher. “She’s a mainstream, high-end act that represents how the fest is becoming more world-class rather than just regional. We want to touch as many bases as we can.”

The fest’s opening weekend was blessed by some of the best weather that devotees had seen in years for acts that included Steve Winwood, the Black Crowes, Brian Wilson and Charlie Musselwhite.

This was also the first year for the fest’s Jazz & Heritage stage featuring the “second-line” traditions of brass bands, social aid and pleasure clubs and Mardi Gras Indians.

“This stage gives people a chance to experience more New Orleans culture,” said fest associate producer Nancy Ochsenschlager. “It’s a chance to see a second-line parade that you might not get on a visit here.”

Fest capped off on May 1 with perfs from Dave Matthews, Elvis Costello, the Neville Brothers and Los Lonely Boys.

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