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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — With thousands of people packing the infield at the Fair Grounds Race Track, hundreds more ignored "No Chair Zone" and "Standing Room Only" signs, setting up chairs 15 and 20 deep on the dirt track to hear Jerry Lee Lewis and Elton John on Saturday at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
Others sat or stood along the chain-link fence between the track and parking lot while incessant streams of people pushed through the 8 feet or so of track that was empty.
"It's Jazz Fest. Elbows are OK," said Vanessa Koller of The Woodlands, Texas, one of those standing next to the fence Saturday evening.
Newlyweds Laura and Randy Lamb, both 34, of Matagorda, Texas, were also among the standees. "People watching is always fun," Laura Lamb said.
As Lewis, 79, took the stage in a white suit jacket, Laura Lamb said, "Wow. He's old. Bless his heart. He's up there anyhow."
He swung into "Down the Line," and people — including those trying to get somewhere else — yelped, "Woo! Woo!" to his "do right all the time."
While he was playing, so was a New Orleans brass band created nearly 25 years ago to help students pay tuition at a Catholic high school for girls. The Original Pinettes Brass Band is still apparently the only all-female group in a jazz-laced tradition dating back to the decades after Emancipation.
"They were certainly the first. And as far as I know, they're the only one," said clarinetist and music historian Michael White.
The Pinettes' stage was about 200 to 300 yards from the one where Lewis and John closed the day. Lewis played for about 45 minutes, John for more than two hours. Sunday will be the final day of the two-weekend, seven-day festival.
White and his Original Liberty Jazz band played on yet another of the festival's 10 performance stages at the same time as Lewis' midafternoon set.
"That's very unfortunate, because I would have loved to go see him," White said.
English pop singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran was the closer at the other end of the half-mile-long infield from Elton John. At the same time, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the Terence Blanchard E-Collective, and Greg Stafford and his Young Tuxedo Jazz Band were on other stages. So were rapper T.I.; Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers, the Wimberly Family Gospel Singers, instrumental rock band Woodenhead, and Cha Wa, a Mardi Gras Indian funk band.
When Elton John played "Tiny Dancer," most of the crowd — the tattooed, the sunburned, the white-haired and a few with improbably colored hair — sang along. In some spots, it was hard to hear him over the sing-alongs.
At the far left edge of the crowd, the thumping grooves of T.I's rapping — on a stage about a quarter-mile from the piano legends' stage — were taking over.
"We came here for Elton but I was also sad because I was going to miss T.I.," said Jessica Crotzer of St. Louis.
Mary Caraveo of Alexandria, Louisiana, and her daughter Marcela Caraveo, a freshman at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, put up their chairs on the track behind a big refrigerator truck, where the blocked view meant space to spread out.
"Just hearing it is wonderful," Mary Caraveo said.
Before the Pinettes went on stage, they led one of the five daily parades through the infield.
They have a good, tight ensemble, said Jason Berry, whose book "Up from the Cradle of Jazz" has an extensive section about brass bands. He heard them at a previous Jazz Fest. "They played with a nice, rolling cohesion. They have a strong sense of melody. They swung at the right places," he said.
When the group won the Red Bull Street Kings brass band competition in 2013, judges said that cohesion was a big part of their reason, said drummer Christie Jourdain, who was an alternate for the group in high school, rejoined in 2000 and became the leader sometime after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.
"We're not here to blow out each other. We are playing together," she said. "It's an individual effort for the team."
The group was created in 1991, when Jeffery Herbert was band director at St. Mary's Academy and a member of the Pinstripes Brass Band.
The Pinstripes were being offered more gigs than they could play and some band members' parents were having trouble paying tuition, he said. He figured that a students' brass band might be able to make some of the dates, and could certainly earn money playing on French Quarter streets for tips. Some also got music scholarships to the school, he said.
The Pinettes were named after the Pinstripes.
Herbert said some paying customers wouldn't take a girls' band, but they got jobs at conventions and festivals.
When the members graduated, they wanted to keep the band. They had his blessing. Like many bands, membership has changed over the years; the 10 current members graduated from high schools all around the city.
"I just wanted to help some young ladies stay in St. Mary's Academy," Herbert said. "God had a bigger picture."
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