NEW ORLEANS (AP) — For more than two decades, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival has closed with a performance by the city’s own Neville Brothers.
On Sunday, that tradition changed. Aaron Neville performed on a stage with his new band while young brass band frontman Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews closed the festival’s biggest stage — where the Neville Brothers once held court the last day.
Andrews and his band, Orleans Avenue, entertained a jam-packed crowd as the festival ended its 2013 run. A sea of faces stretched to the track’s back fence.
Neville said he views the closing lineup change as kind of a “passing of the guard.
“Trombone Slim, as I call him, will do a great job,” Neville said of Andrews. “I remember when it was Professor Longhair out there and then we did it for a long time. It’s time. Slim is a big musician and I’m proud of the way he’s handled himself.”
Neville is promoting his new album, “My True Story,” released earlier this year. At 72, he says it’s the right time to focus on a solo project.
“My brothers and I have been performing together like 35 years,” Neville said. “I wanted to do some other things and I couldn’t do both because of my age and my health, so I decided to back off the Brothers and focus on what I wanted to do. I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be here and I would be mad at myself if I didn’t take the time to do me.”
His brothers — Art, Cyril and Charles — performed during the festival’s first weekend under a new name, The Nevilles.
Still, he wasn’t completely without family on stage. Charles Neville plays saxophone in his quintet. Aaron Neville gave fest-goers a good sampling of the new music which covers a musical genre close to his heart — doo-wop.
“If you listen to any of my music, there’s a doo-wop essence to it,” he said. “Since I was a little boy, I’ve listened to people like Clyde McPhatter and the like. Everything I’ve ever done has some doo-wop in it. It’s innocent music. Music that tells the story of boy meets girl. Music I can listen to with my granddaughter and my grandmother and nobody gets offended.”
Another closing day act was Hall & Oates, who made their Jazz Fest debut Sunday under sunny skies and a cool breeze that the crowd reveled in after several days of rain and muddy ground conditions.
John Oates said he and his longtime musical partner, Darryl Hall, have always wondered why this festival was never on their schedule.
“I can tell you, both Darryl and I haven’t been more excited about a gig in about 20 to 30 years,” Oates said. “We’re really psyched and excited about the opportunity.”
Adam Butler, of Lisle, Ill., said he came a long way for his first Jazz Fest, and Hall & Oates delivered. Their set included old favorites such as “Out of Touch,” ”Method of Love,” ”Maneater,” and “Say It Isn’t So.” They closed the set with “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do),” but came back for encore performances of “Rich Girl,” ”Kiss On My List,” and “Private Eyes.”
“Their music is timeless,” said Butler, who sipped a margarita as he took in the music with friends from California, Indiana and Nevada.
Other closing day acts included Irma Thomas, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, The Black Keys, Taj Mahal and Pete Fountain.
Fans cheered and stretched their hands to the sky as Thomas sang bluesy numbers such as “Let’s Stay Together,” ”It’s Raining,” ”Forever Young” and “Let It Be Me.”
During her upbeat medley of New Orleans favorites such as “Iko Iko” and “Hey Pocky Way,” Thomas asked the thousands packed before the stage to wave a towel or handkerchief in a New Orleans tradition known as a second-line.
“We’re so happy to see the sun, we don’t know what to do,” she said.
Many in the crowd were on their feet dancing.
“You can’t sit still when you listen to Irma,” said Cecelia Wright of San Diego, Calif., who has attended Jazz Fest every year for the past 30 years. “This festival has so many wonderful types of music. I don’t come for the big names. I come for the jazz, the blues and the funk.”
Among the music was a touch of romance as festival spokesman Matthew Goldman exchanged vows with Elise Gallinot on the front porch of a shotgun house on the festival grounds. The wedding party later second-lined to one of the music stages where a crawfish boil reception was held as the day closed.
Weddings are not uncommon at Jazz Fest, where couples in years past have gotten married between sets in the Gospel tent and other locations around the grounds.