Jazz fest’s last day finishes soggy, but strong

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Wind, rain and a lightning strike beside the stage where Bonnie Raitt was singing didn’t stop the soggy last day of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival from rollicking to a close.

Lightning hit the scaffolding for a giant TV screen showing fans the close-ups of Raitt and the band performing “Keep Your Mouth Shut.”

People nearby jumped backward at the bright flash at the screen’s top outer corner. Then came a thunderclap, sounding like a brief explosion. Raitt kept singing and her band played on. A day earlier, thunderstorms had canceled the headliners’ performances.

“I’m still wondering why the facilities manager hasn’t pulled them off,” said Christy Gross of New Orleans shortly after the lightning strike. “If that was my band, they would be in the trailer now.”

As the festival wound down, a standing-room-only jammed the Blues Tent to hear Arlo Guthrie, who’s on an “Alice’s Restaurant” 50th anniversary tour. Some members of the audience were old enough to have heard its first performance; others appeared to be in their 20s. They all sang heartily along to the chorus of “Alice’s Restaurant” and of “This Land is Your Land,” written by Guthrie’s father, folksinger Woodie Guthrie.

Outside, the rain had lightened but winds gusted hard enough to turn umbrellas inside-out. Neither wind nor rain nor heavy rubber boots could keep Margo Carey of Bethany Beach, Delaware, and Joe Robert of Baton Rouge from dancing to Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. and his Zydeco Twisters.

Earlier, thousands of umbrellas bobbed as their owners listened or danced in the mud to a 70-minute tribute to the late Allen Toussaint.

Leslie Goldberg, a Chicagoan living in New Orleans, swayed to strains played by Dr. John as a light rain fell earlier on what was the closing stretch of the seven-day celebration of food, art, crafts and music, of course.

“He was a legend,” she said. “I like to see how all the musicians who came to Jazz Fest interpret his music.”

Sunday’s deluge turned parts of the Fair Grounds Race Course into pools for geese. The rain also forced several of the last acts to end their sets early. Other performances in big tents were unaffected, festival spokesman Matthew Goldman said.

Ketha Page waded across calf-high water to help her husband pack up their folding chairs and get under the Blues Tent.

“Yesterday, it was up to my knees,” she noted.

Page said she stayed Saturday until 4:45 p.m. in hopes of hearing Stevie Wonder, who was supposed to close out one of the main stages. Instead, Wonder gave an impromptu performance at a nightclub hours later. On Sunday, Page hoped to hear Raitt and Neil Young.

Organizers let people who came Saturday use that same ticket Sunday rather than paying $75 at the gate.

At the General Store, owner Debby Shapiro said she couldn’t remember how many umbrellas they had sold. By Sunday afternoon, none were left.

Joe Thompson and fellow scuba diver Sebastian Boegershausen came clad in wetsuits and rubber boots. Thompson also wore a red plastic sou’wester, its long rear brim sheltering his neck from the rain.

As lightning flashed, Boergershausen noted, “We’re really well insulated — we’re surrounded by rubber. We’re not going to get electrocuted.”

Acts Sunday include jazz patriarch Ellis Marsalis; the Isley Brothers; gospel singer Mavis Staples; Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue; and singer Lena Prima.

She had a scheduled interview on one of the 12 stages and a performance 2 ½ hours later on another, with the Lena Prima Band.

Prima’s show includes both songs she’s written (mostly with her husband, bassist Tim Fahey, or with singer-songwriter Ingrid Lucia) and songs written or made popular by her father, whose many hits included “Sing, Sing, Sing,” ”Jump, Jive an’ Wail,” and “A Sunday Kind of Love.”

Her own songs embrace many genres, including reggae, country, rock, and New Orleans sound, sometimes with a gospel vibe.

Her father’s music is also hard to classify, she said in an interview ahead of the festival.

Louis Prima, who voiced the orangutan King Louie for the 1967 Disney animation of “The Jungle Book,” moved from New Orleans jazz to swing, big band, a Las Vegas lounge act, and a pop-rock band.

Prima grew up mostly in Las Vegas, with intermittent stints in New Orleans and in suburban Covington, where he owned a golf course. After working two or three day jobs while fronting a heavy metal band, she tried casino work.

That morphed into a tribute to her father.

Prima played the 2010 Jazz Fest and was entranced by the city’s passion for music and musicians’ support for each other.

“People go to New Orleans for music. They don’t do that in Vegas anymore,” she said.

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