Gray skies threaten start of 2016 Jazz Fest in New Orleans

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — 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 is likely Friday, but it shouldn't be much, and then sunshine is predicted 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.

"At this festival in the sunshine, it will be something really special that can go to another level."

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, runner-up on season five of the BET singing competition, "Sunday Best."

"What we strive to do each year," Davis said, "is to get the greatest living artists in each genre for every day. I think we've done that. We think we have something for everybody, but not just something, something big and good and fabulous."

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. "His influence is massive and goes far and wide. He helped usher in an entire period of R&B and a lot of us are still trying to wrap our heads around it."

Davis 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, Sunday, 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. "There's the pecan-bacon pie, which is supposed to be fantastic; the praline beignet, the crawfish strudel and don't forget the cracklins. I end up with multiple paper bags covered in oil spots as the festival gets in gear, I eat so many."

Other delights include classic shrimp and grits, catfish almondine, shrimp, sausage and okra gumbo, Cochon de Lait po-boy, boudin, alligator pie, crawfish etouffee, jambalaya, white chocolate bread pudding and fried sweet potato chips.

There are also food demonstrations held at the Food Heritage Stage by top chefs to highlight Louisiana's culinary traditions.

In addition the festival, this year celebrates Belize with performances by the Garifuna Collective, the Talla Walla Vibrations and TR Shine among others.

Advance tickets for the festival cost $65. The gate price is $75. Children's tickets, for those between the ages of 2 and 10, cost $5. Tickets are available at the Smoothie King Center box office and through Ticketmaster.



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