[Editor's Note: A crew of sonicnet.com writers and photographers
was in New Orleans to provide daily coverage of this year's Jazz &
Heritage Festival, which began April 28 and concluded May 7. Our staff was on the Fair Grounds, in the clubs and on the streets to capture what's unique about one of the world's great musical and cultural extravaganzas. Click here to access our complete coverage of the event.]
Contributing Editor Bob Margolis reports:
NEW ORLEANS Jazz Fest took to the Mississippi River on Wednesday night when the Cajun Queen shipped out with the String Cheese Incident and 600 passengers onboard seeking their jam-band fix.
And when members of the Rebirth Brass Band showed up to jam, the night really got buoyant.
Tickets for the jam cruise were some of the most sought-after at Jazz Fest because String Cheese Incident has tapped into that flowy-groovy scene that comprises former members of the Grateful Dead and the "tape heads" that follow them around.
Desperate fans thronged around the boat before it disembarked.
"Man, I came here from West Virginia to see them. I better get in or I'll be really bummed," Felix LoStracco, 31, said. "But, you know, there's always a way to get a ticket."
Some folks tried to bargain their way on the boat by offering to trade their tickets for Thursday night's Oysterhead show at the Saenger Theatre even more in-demand than the String Cheese Incident.
"I am looking to move one Oysterhead ticket for three SCI for tonight," bellowed Andrea Shatkin, 22, of Boulder, Colo., as the Cajun Queen took on passengers.
The boat could only fill to its legal capacity of 608 passengers, including staff, band and crew.
"We must be really strict on the number," said Carrie Lombardi, who manages the Colorado-based String Cheese Incident, comprising Michael Kang on violins, Bill Nershi on acoustic guitar, Keith Moseley on bass, Kyle Hollingsworth on piano and Michael Travis on drums.
Police Officer Charles Blanding was onboard for the night. When asked whether the assignment was a welcome one, he replied with a smile, "It's f--ing cake. Easiest thing in the week."
One fan worried about getting seasick.
"I am glad that I didn't eat the catfish being served up from the lower deck," Loreli Mucci, 30, of Boston said.
Mucci travels worldwide on the jam-band circuit selling crafts and clothing.
"It's a really cool family. We see each other at Phish, SCI, Medeski Martin & Wood and Phil and Friends," she said, referring to former Grateful Dead bassist's Phil Lesh's latter-day enterprise.
Members of the Rebirth Brass Band and a spin-off, the Little Rascals, opened up the show, hip and bursting with enthusiasm.
SCI came out to jam with the brassy locals and proceeded to get run over by the bumping and grooving horns. SCI was clearly out of its element, if not depth.
Decked out in tropical wear for its own set, SCI launched into a meandering suite of motifs that ran into each other. They played "Get Out of My Life, Woman," which originally was done by New Orleans' own Lee Dorsey. But SCI's cover was more in line with the Jerry Garcia Band's version.
It was hippie heaven, and the crowd loved it.
"Man, what a vacation!" said Eric Posternack, 26, of Chicago. "I go home Tuesday to a sales meeting of how to push roller blades on people. How can I deal with that?"
The night's real incident occurred when the Rebirth folks came back onstage to join SCI in a medley of "Mercy Mercy Mercy" and a collection of Parliament/Funkadelic tunes, climaxing with a screaming rendition of "Flashlight" that almost capsized the boat. SCI may consist of virtuosos, but they don't have the funk. The horn players, on the other hand, were drenched in it.
"Playing with those guys was great," SCI's Kang said afterward. "Took us a minute or 10 to figure out how to jump in, but once we did, all hell broke loose. We gotta do this again!"
"This is just the start," he continued. "We play with Bela Fleck on Friday night at the Saenger Theater and will be making a surprise appearance also over the weekend. I can't tell where or when."
Keep an eye out for Indian print dresses and your nose primed for the scent of patchouli, and you may get a good idea of where the mystery incident will take place.