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New Orleans honored at Beantown Jazz Festival

3/22/2011, 7:29 a.m.
Columbus Avenue was packed on Saturday for the 10th annual Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival. The Festival spanned six blocks of Columbus Avenue starting at Massachusetts Avenue. Tony Irving

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Columbus Avenue was packed on Saturday for the 10th annual Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival. The Festival spanned six blocks of Columbus Avenue starting at Massachusetts Avenue.


As street festivals go, this one was particularly exciting.

In its 10th year, the 10-day Beantown Jazz Festival honored the great jazz traditions of the “Big Easy” by inviting musicians who specialized in the styles of New Orleans and the “Crescent City”: jazz, zydeco, Dixieland and Mardis Gras Indian music.

With as many as 75,000 in attendance and more than 100 booths of food and art, the festival was full of partying and fun, but most of all respect and honor to the traditions and culture of New Orleans.

Just ask Nona Hendryx, the lead songwriter and backup singer for the LaBelles. “I think with music you can say things, move people to take action in a cognitive way, even if it is just awareness that has gotten buried over time by just living,” Hendryx said before the concert.

Hendryx is no stranger to making a statement through music, and she explained the importance of paying tribute to New Orleans five years after Hurricane Katrina. She said that she hoped the festival would “bring back feelings to heal hurt, or increase the joy and the gratitude for those who survived.”

She performed on the Target Stage in the late afternoon to a crowd of thousands of dancing fans. During a performance of “Winds of Change,” a love song she wrote for Nelson Mandela and his wife, she had the entire crowd singing in repetition, “To be free!”

‘“Winds of Change’ has become a song that can always be focused on something else that has happened in life that was very traumatic, dramatic and a difficult period,” said Hendryx.

Opening for Hendryx was Gabrielle Goodman, a Berklee professor, author and award-winning songstress. With her band of mostly students, Goodman performed songs from her album “Angel Eyes.”

“We wanted to make everything inclusive of the students,” Goodman said. “We wanted to introduce them to live performances where you have large audiences.”

Keeping with the New Orleans theme, the open-air portion of the Festival opened at noon with a parade of musicians down Columbus Avenue. Natives of New Orleans, Jon Batiste as well as the Wild Magnolias performed on outdoor stages during the day.  

On Saturday night, Terrance Blanchard closed out the Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival at Scullers Jazz Club with his song cycle “A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina).”