NEW ORLEANS, La. (May 2, 2014) — Warm, balmy sunshine over the Big Easy, muddy river flowing tamely past the levee, flowers, palm trees, streetcars, painted shotgun houses and wide mansions with high verandahs for long evenings and a cigar, the drawl sweet as sugah — a sprawling city lush and elegant, but with menace and heartache lurking just below the surface, so good to be back.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival PosterAround the racetrack they’ve erected stages and tents and midways selling trinkets and teeshirts and food — po’boy sandwiches and crawfish bread and trout with lemon butter and crab and barbecue — but it’s the music, such deep and soulful music!

Oh, the music, the great swelling song of America, ever new, ever the same, roots reaching into the rich black soil of the continent, drawing its sustenance from deep wells of human misery and pain, yet spring out now and blooming in the warm summer air with a blossoms of freedom that are triumphant and rhythmic and happy and fun!

Sing! Sing! Sing! Don’t dwell on those Tennessee Williams melodramas of the twilight hours. Turn that doubt and pain into lively tunes for zydeco and trumpet, tuba and fiddle. A sample yesterday –

The Heavenly Melodies in the Gospel Tent, white suits, subtle dance moves and lovely harmonies singing of Jesus and being saved.

Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires, holding notes for a dozen bars, sweating, feeling like Percy Sledge, dancing like James Brown, and he’s in his late 70s. Soul that reaches down into your gut and shakes it with a claw.

Water Wolfman Washington and The Road Masters – Funk – betcha can’t stand still!

Alejandro Escovedo and the Sensitive Boys, dark minor-keyed melodies with solos like Carols Santana and lyrics penetrating as a switchblade.

That was four hours yesterday, and I gotta split now for today’s incredible card: Savoy Family Cajun Band, the Pine Leaf Boys and Dwane Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers.

– Jack Casey

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