Gray skies threaten start of Jazz Fest in New Orleans

The 47th New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which opens at 11 a.m. Friday, features top artists covering many genres of music.

NEW ORLEANS — The producer of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival has been constantly looking at the sky and closely monitoring weather forecasts as Friday’s start of one of the city’s largest outdoor events looms.

Meteorologists say scattered rain likely will fall Friday, but it shouldn’t be much, and then predict sunshine through the rest of the weekend.

“I got my fingers, toes and eyes crossed,” said Quint Davis a few days ahead of the event, scheduled this weekend and next. “We’ve got everything down there organized, oiled up and ready to go. Whatever’s gonna come is gonna come, but it would be heaven on earth if we had 78-80 degree temperatures, clear skies and sunshine.”

The 47th annual festival features top artists covering many genres of music from jazz to rock to Zydeco to rap to pop to R&B and gospel. The gates to the Fair Grounds Race Track, where the festival is held, open at 11 a.m. The music on 11 stages starts shortly thereafter.

“We’ve got 13 bands playing every hour, plus parades and food and crafts until 7 p.m. Every hour you’re not there, you miss almost 30 bands,” Davis noted.

Friday’s headliners include singer Janelle Monae, ’70s rock band Steely Dan, with a lead-in set by former Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers frontman Michael McDonald, Southern rock jam band Gov’t Mule, funk/soul band Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, trumpeter Kermit Ruffins & the Barbeque Swingers, jazz drummer Jason Marsalis and gospel singer Alexis Spight.

This year’s festival is the first without New Orleans soul and R&B singer Allen Toussaint, who died in November.

“We haven’t really grasped not having him here, around, somewhere in this world,” Davis reflected.

He noted the music industry also lost blues legend B.B. King, who died last May. “These men were the deep heart and soul of what this festival is,” he said.

He said the festival plans to hold a jazz funeral for Toussaint and will unveil a statue of him Saturday. There also are tributes planned for both Toussaint and King, both on the closing day of the festival May 1.

Although it’s primarily a music festival, Davis notes it’s not just about that. “It’s also about the food,” he said.