Jazz Fest Lineup Includes Nelly, Dave Matthews, Roots, Wilco, Anastasio

Festival bounces back from rough 2004 with strong lineup.

Nelly, the Dave Matthews Band, the Roots, Wilco, Trey Anastasio, B.B. King, Los Lonely Boys and Elvis Costello are among the hundreds of acts booked for the 2005 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Scheduled to take place from April 22 to May 1 at the New Orleans Fair Grounds Race Course, the 36th annual music celebration will kick off on April 21 with a fundraising gala (benefiting the charitable and educational purposes of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation) that features singer Natalie Cole.

The 2005 Jazz Fest bill also boasts blues giant Buddy Guy, reggae groups Steel Pulse and Toots & the Maytals, and roots-influenced acts such as Widespread Panic, Nickel Creek, and the North Mississippi Allstars' Hill Country Revue. Other notable acts include Steve Winwood, Ike Turner & the Kings of Rhythm, Fishbone, Randy Newman, Jack Johnson, and G. Love & Special Sauce. New Orleans staples such as Galactic, the Radiators, the Neville Brothers, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band will keep their usual slots on the bill.

This year's lineup emerges during a turbulent cycle for Jazz Fest and its organizers. The festival's future was thrown into doubt after its 2004 installment, when sluggish attendance (partly due to poor weather) left its finances in the red for the first time since 1972. Last summer, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, the nonprofit organization that owns the festival, considered firing Festival Productions, Inc., the company that has produced Jazz Fest since the event took its current format in 1970.

After a lengthy bidding process, the Foundation decided to retain Festival Productions in a co-production deal with prominent West Coast-based promoter AEG Live. The three parties reached an agreement on January 27, nearly four months after they began negotiations. The new deal combines AEG's financial strength, marketing muscle, and industry connections with Festival Productions' intimate knowledge of the festival's logistics and the Louisiana traditions it celebrates.

Despite internal changes, Jazz Fest organizers insist that the festival's original purpose and nature has not changed. Quint Davis, longtime producer and director of Jazz Fest, said, "Think of New Orleans and New Orleans music as the center of the music universe.  Any music you can trace to or from that hub is music we've worked with renewed vigor to infuse into the party. Gospel, jazz, blues, funk, rock, Cajun, zydeco, Latin, R&B, jam, Mardi Gras, hip-hop, African — and a whole lotta music you can't put into any one category — will be presented in a powerful way."

In addition to a stronger pop lineup, the revamped festival is dedicating a new stage to the New Orleans traditions that Jazz Fest was formed to celebrate, namely brass-band music, parades and Mardi Gras Indian performances. Other new features include El Dia Latino (Latin Day), to be held on April 24, and a premium ticket package called the Big Chief VIP Experience.