If you had told us six months ago that significant chunk of our Bonnaroo stokage would be devoted to a New Orleans jazz band playing first thing on Friday afternoon, we would have kindly asked you to put down the bong. But, sure enough, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue was roaming at the top of our list and we only have David Simon to blame.
If you haven’t been watching Treme, Simon’s follow-up to The Wire, you’re missing out on some quality tee-vee. The show takes place in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans, three months after Hurricane Katrina wrecked the joint like a Motley Crue hotel room. Ostensibly, it stars John Goodman, Steve Zahn, Kandi Alexander and some other righteous actors, but the real star of the show is the music. Every episode has at least one solid New Orleans jam, featuring a rotating cast of guest of locals like Kermit Ruffins, Galactic and, yes, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews.
Shorty broke a funky-ass bottle of champagne over the Which Stage on Friday, inaugurating the almost-main stage with a set juggling Orleans jazz standards, original tunes and an increasingly bizarre series of pop covers. Of course he played “When the Saints Go Marching In” (how could he not?), but he also threw in covers of “American Woman,” “Seven Nation Army” and the only performance of “Let’s Get It Started” by Black Eyed Peas that didn’t send us into a blind rage.
While Shorty’s a hell of a performer, his band makes the whole show work. Orleans Avenue deftly move from genre to genre without missing a beat. It was like jazz subterfuge, hooking us in with some funk before schooling us with an improv session. When the jazz tent disappeared from the festival grounds sometime between 2007 and now, we figured the only thing we’d miss about it was the air-conditioning.
Actually, that’s probably still true. We’re not even sure if we would have dragged our asses out of camp to see Shorty, had his performance at Rites of Spring in April not been rained out. But it wasn’t a bad way to start out Friday. We’re just glad that Jimmy Buffett didn’t make a surprise appearance again.