Amazing grace

By JON GARELICK  |  May 4, 2010

Rustic-mundane lyrics at Jazz Fest hit that pitch where the ridiculous and the sublime merge. Septuagenarian Creole accordionist Goldman Thibodeaux sang about his dog: “Watch that dog/That dog is mad/His tail hangin’ low/He gonna bite/I feed him powdered milk/He wants T-bone steak/I can’t afford that.” D.L. Menard, “The Cajun Hank Williams,” was a bit more somber introducing his song about Paradise: “C’est la place que je vas rester” — “It’s not where you’re going; it’s where you’re going to stay.” And added, “Sung in Cajun French, of course.”

Various Mardi Gras Indian tribes invoked the mysterious ancestor Indian Red, sang tales of the parade battleground in “Iko Iko,” or chanted about escaping an ambiguous fate across “Shallow Water.” Over the decades, many of the Mardi Gras Indians have become more theatrical, outfitted with trap-drum kits and electric rhythm sections, but my favorites are still those accompanied by nothing more than tambourines and parade drums. Big Chief Larry Bannock’s venerable Golden Star Hunters were especially mesmerizing this year, one gang member banging syncopated 16th notes on a cowbell in cross-rhythms with bass drum, snare, and popping African djembe.

What else? The Allman Brothers Band, Simon & Garfunkel, Joe Lovano’s Us Five, My Morning Jacket, and George Clinton. On Bourbon Street, deep-trad players like trumpeter Charlie Fardella and clarinettist Tim Laughlin performing for no cover at “European jazz pub” Fritzel’s, right down the block from the strip clubs and all-night souvenir and dirty-T-shirt stores.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, the correct name is: New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell.

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