The British Are Coming: Elton, Ed, The Who To Play Jazz Fest
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A British invasion of sorts is headed to New Orleans.
The 2015 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival's two Saturday lineups are anchored by British rock legends. The Who, which is amid its 50th anniversary tour, on Saturday performs for the first time and will close the festival's Acura Stage, the largest at the Fair Grounds Race Course.
Next Saturday, Elton John — also making his festival debut — will close the same stage.
In addition, British pop singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran — another first-timer — closes another stage on the fest's final weekend, April 30-May 3.
Festival producer Quint Davis said just about everyone he wished for this year is playing at the festival, which opens Friday — rain or shine.
"It all starts with a wish list," Davis said. "I never know if I'm going to get any of them. At best, I might get one or two. This year, more than any other, everyone said yes. The response was so favorable I think because they know the festival's reputation and because they want to play here."
Davis said he's been asking John to play the festival for years and, this year, everything fell into place.
"His hands and piano playing, man, are just great. He's got a great song book and his voice is just incredible," Davis said.
"You're in for a rare and rich time and that's Jazz Fest," he said.
On Saturday, May 2, John's closing set will follow piano performances by Marcia Ball, Davell Crawford — who's doing a tribute to Fats Domino — and the renowned Jerry Lee Lewis, who at 79 continues to celebrate the music, this time with his latest effort, "Rock & Roll Time."
Davis said John's appearance wouldn't have happened without the festival's partnership with AEG Live, one of the largest producers of live entertainment in the world.
"The talent this year, Jimmy Cliff, John Legend, Pitbull, Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga, Chicago, T.I., Jimmy Buffett, and the hundreds of indigenous Louisiana acts, they're taking the festival to another level. The strata of acts across the board is just phenomenal," he said.
Davis noted the festival opens with country superstar Keith Urban, who last played the event in 2006 — the year after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city.
Urban is one of the world's "monster rock-blues-country guitar players" on the level with Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, Davis said.
"He helps set the tone for the festival," he added.
The festival lineup also includes performances Saturday by Legend, Ellis Marsalis, The Robert Cray Band and Cassandra Wilson, who will celebrate the music of Billie Holiday.
R&B heartthrob and New Orleans native Luke James, another first-timer, performs Saturday for his hometown.
"This festival was definitely on my bucket list," James said. "I'm pretty excited about performing there. Jazz Fest is just amazing. I don't usually get that excited about any performance, but this one is different."
He said festival-goers can expect a youthful, energetic and electrifying performance as he introduces himself and his music. "I believe in divine intervention and I definitely thought this into fruition."
His self-titled debut album, "Luke James," was released last year.
On Sunday, New Orleans' musical icons Irma Thomas and Allen Toussaint will perform as will Buffett, a perennial favorite, and legendary singer Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga will entertain with songs from their collaborative album, "Cheek to Cheek."
"Jazz Fest is not just for entertainment, it's a medium used to feed the soul," Davis said. "The festival energy is driven by the music but people who come here also get very spiritual about the food. When the music and the food get boiling that's just something to see.
"The basic goal of any musical show is to rock the house and that's what we do."
– by AP Reporter Chevel Johnson