For the 12th consecutive year, Papa Grows Funk will perform at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell on Saturday, April 28th on the Gentilly Stage. Always a festival highlight. look for the boys to dish out a heavy dose of funk from their new CD, Needle in the Groove.
The Eagles will land at the New Orleans Jazz Fest in 2012. So will Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, the Foo Fighters, Jill Scott, My Morning Jacket, the Zac Brown Band, John Mayer, Ne-Yo, Florence + the Machine, Bon Iver, Herbie Hancock, Al Green, Yolanda Adams, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly and hundreds of Louisiana-based acts.
All are bound for the Fair Grounds for the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell, April 27-29 and May 3-6, 2012.
“It’s piled-up high, in every direction — depth, width, height,” Jazz Fest producer/director Quint Davis said. “It’s the most stuff we’ve had, combined with the earliest we’ve gotten it out. The festival is growing artistically. It’s growing talent-wise. It’s bursting at the seams.”
Two more major artists are confirmed, but cannot be announced before those artists reveal their own touring plans in the coming weeks.
More marquee acts translates to higher costs; Jazz Fest’s talent budget runs into the millions of dollars, an expenditure that must be approved by the nonprofit New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, which owns the festival.
The challenge facing the fest’s co-producers — Davis’ Festival Productions Inc.-New Orleans and international entertainment conglomerate AEG Live — was, “How do we generate more ticket income without raising the price?”
The solution was a “discretionary increase.” Advance tickets bought before March 1 are the same price as the past two years: $40 a day when purchased as part of a limited number of weekend ticket blocks, or $45 for an individual ticket. Children’s tickets remain $5.
This year, after March 1, advance single tickets will be $50. Tickets purchased at the gate will be $65, a $5 increase from last year.
“If you want to pay $5 more, you can,” Davis said. “If you don’t, you don’t have to.”
Many veteran Jazz Fest fans have wondered who would close out the Gentilly Stage in place of the now-disbanded Radiators. In 2012, it will be a one-off celebration of Preservation Hall’s 50th anniversary with a parade of special guests.
“It wasn’t just about the last set. It was about the whole day there,” Davis said. “It was important to be deep New Orleans, and also not to initially tie (the closing slot) to one thing or one group. How can you get more heart and soul, hardcore New Orleans than Pres Hall?”
Less hardcore New Orleans, but long sought for Jazz Fest, were Petty and the Eagles.
“We never were able to get one of them,” Davis said. “To get both in the same year is a watershed. It was not easy. There were a lot of moving parts. The bottom line, beyond the money, beyond the availability and all the variables that go into booking somebody, is they wanted to do it.”
The Eagles nearly committed to the 2011 festival, but ultimately passed. Bon Jovi filled that slot instead.
This time around, Eagles manager Irving Azoff greased the wheels. “If he had not gotten involved and moved this along,” Davis said, “it wouldn’t have happened.”
So far, the Eagles have announced no other performances for 2012.
After the Eagles and Petty were confirmed, the festival received a call from the Foo Fighters camp. Ten years ago, Davis likely would not have considered a raucous arena rock band of such recent vintage. Pearl Jam’s well-received set at the 2010 Jazz Fest paved the way.
“Pearl Jam opened that window,” Davis said. “That was the first time we got on that ledge.
“We look at icons, people that are, besides talented and brilliant, important in a whole genre. We’ve always looked at it in the Santana sense, or the Al Green sense, or the Allen Toussaint sense. We saw that in (Pearl Jam’s) Eddie Vedder. And you have to see that in (Foo Fighters frontman) Dave Grohl. He is a seminal figure in a few decades of American rock.”
Indicative of the festival’s drive to feature fresh talent, the roster includes Feist, Gomez, Iron and Wine, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, Janelle Monae, fast-rising Texas blues guitarist Gary Clark Jr. and jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding, the surprise winner of the 2011 Grammy for best new artist.
Local heavyweights include Dr. John, the Funky Meters, Pete Fountain, Irma Thomas, the Neville Brothers and Allen Toussaint. Long-running local hard rock trio Zebra will make its Jazz Fest debut.
“All I can say is, ‘Finally!'” Davis said of Zebra. “It’s embarrassing that it took us this long.”
Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, the breakout local star of the past year, is featured for the Jazz & Heritage Foundation Gala on April 26 at the Hilton. The gala, which benefits the foundation’s Don Jamison Heritage School of Music, also features Big Sam’s Funky Nation, James Andrews and Glen David Andrews.
Expect more high-profile acts on the Fais Do-Do Stage this year. Steve Earle, Iron and Wine, Asleep at the Wheel, the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Ani Difranco are likely candidates.
“The Fais Do-Do has grown itself up,” Davis said. “It’s another evolution of a whole stage.”
Also at the Fair Grounds, Levon Helm is slated to perform with special guest vocalist Mavis Staples. Saxophonist David Sanborn is paired with organist Joey DeFrancesco. Latin music star Paulina Rubio is slotted for May 5, aka Cinco de Mayo.
A tribute to the late Wardell Quezergue includes the Dixie Cups and Jean Knight, for whom he arranged classic singles.
Alex Chilton, the former Box Tops and Big Star frontman who lived quietly in the Treme neighborhood until his sudden death in 2010, is the subject of a tribute featuring Soul Asylum frontman Dave Pirner, Susan Cowsill, Alex McMurray and Iguanas bassist Rene Coman, a long-time Chilton sideman.
The “cubes” with the stage-by-stage, hour-by-hour schedule, won’t be released until spring. As Davis tinkers with the giant puzzle, he hopes to alleviate the sort of scheduling conflicts that inevitably vex fest-goers.
“We can’t keep having so many people that last hour,” he said. “You’ll see us break that up this year. We’re going to play around with that and let more people see more people.”
For the past few months, Davis and his team built the Jazz Fest schedule in secret, with no feedback from fans. He admits to a bit of trepidation just before their handiwork is revealed to the world.
But he’s also confident fans will embrace the packed 2012 roster.
“This is not my first rodeo,” he said. “I think they will like it.”
Keith Spera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.826.3470. Read more music news at nola.com/music. Follow him at twitter.com/KeithSperaTP. Comment and read more at nola.com/jazzfest