April 28, 2006

Dylan leads off post-Katrina Jazz Fest

By Jeffrey Jones

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Bob Dylan treated thousands of
sun-baked fans to a rocking set of classics like "All Along the
Watchtower" and "Like a Rolling Stone" to open New Orleans'
first post-Katrina music festival, one the city hopes will
kick-start its recovery.

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival started on Friday
with a gravel-voiced Dylan leading his sextet on organ through
reworked versions of the tunes that defined his early career.

Other big names like New Orleans' own Dr. John as well as
Ani DiFranco and local jazz, blues and gospel groups shifted
the two-weekend festival into gear at a racetrack on the north
side of town that was underwater eight months ago.

After the hurricane, which killed 1,300 people along the
U.S. Gulf Coast and devastated much of New Orleans, organizers
worried the festival would have to be scaled back or canceled.

Even now, the city's population is less than half of what
it was before the hurricane and flooding it triggered. The
city's pre-Katrina population was about 470,000.

"With Dylan, and to have this happen again means everything
to us," Julie Becker, a native New Orleanian, said while
waiting for an encore from the folk-rock pioneer and his band
in the blazing afternoon sun.

"It is what this city is about, it's what carries the city,
it's the soul of the city," said Becker, 42.

More than 4,000 musicians are slated to perform at this
year's Jazz Fest, which runs through Sunday, then continues the
following weekend. On tap are Bruce Springsteen, Elvis
Costello, the Dave Matthews Band, and New Orleans luminaries
like Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, and the Meters.

Organizers did not have attendance figures for the first
day, but said numbers were easily in the tens of thousands and
on par with other years, despite limitations on numbers of
visitors to the city by a tourist trade still recovering from
the August 29 storm.

The festival has been compressed, but only slightly, with
12 stages being reduced to 10.

An event official said this week that advance ticket sales
were about 75 percent of previous years before the first day.


Dr. John, aka Mac Rebennack, charmed a huge main-stage
audience with his rollicking N'awlins piano style and funky,
horn-driven band to end the night with personalized versions of
"Blues in the Night" and Sly and the Family Stone's "Thank You
(Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)."

Like countless festival-goers from around the world, Garry
Stevens, a nurse from Maine, returns every year. This is his
16th Jazz Fest.

"The music, the people, the culture and just being here in
New Orleans is just a feeling in itself," said Stevens, 53.
"For it to come back after the devastating blow that Katrina
put to it is a tribute to the people who live here, and I'm
here to support them."