The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival kicked off just three days ago, but this year’s impressive roster has already graced attendees with a handful of thrilling performances in the form of career-spanning setlists, heart-wrenching tributes and one-off supergroups.
The news of Prince’s recent death loomed large over Friday’s lineup, with Janelle Monae dedicating her 90-minute to the set to her friend and mentor, proudly declaring “I am because he was.” She mesmerized the crowd with “Givin’ Em What They Love”–a song they collaborated on for her 2013 album The Electric Lady—as well as covers of Purple Rain tracks “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Take Me With U.”
She certainly wasn’t alone in her grieving—Sharon Jones recounted a story during her set about her “little brother” Prince joining her onstage in Paris in 2011, and the festivities also saw Grace Potter, Gov’t Mule and NOLA native Kermit Ruffins among those who used the opportunity to try their hand at covering the Purple One’s hits. The homages continued well into the next day, with a skywriter spelling out his name and drawing his unpronounceable love symbol above the fair grounds.
Despite this, there was still plenty of room for good vibes all around, and no one proved that better than Pearl Jam, who arguably made the biggest splash of the weekend even as the more seasoned Boz Scaggs and Van Morrison headlined different stages that evening at the same time. The band closed out its set on Saturday by once again jamming out to Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World,” this time joined by Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer and drummer Chad Smith, plus Kings of Leon drummer Nathan Followill standing in on tambourine.
As if that didn’t provide enough excitement, the Peppers played their own high-energy set the following night, tearing through live staples like “Can’t Stop,” “Dani California” and “Under the Bridge” with unyielding enthusiasm before inviting some of their heroes, members of New Orleans’ own the Meters—bassist George Porter, Jr., drummer Zigaboo Modeliste and keyboardist Ivan Neville—onstage for an extra funky rendition of “Give it Away.”
Jazz Fest is set to resume on Thursday and will conclude its 10-day run on Sunday.