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Fats, food and fun: 1st weekend of Jazz Fest kicks off


NEW ORLEANS — Thousands of people are converging on the Crescent City this week for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. The festival takes place over two weekends at the city's Fair Grounds Race Course and features out-of-town artists such as Rod Stewart as well as performers from across New Orleans and Louisiana. It's also a celebration of Louisiana culture and food with vendors selling everything from cochon de lait po-boys to praline-stuffed beignets. Here's a look at some things to expect during the festival:

FATS DOMINO

This is the first jazz fest since New Orleans musical legend Fats Domino died in October. Festival producer Quint Davis said the festival will remember Domino in a number of ways, including a traditional jazz funeral and a tribute concert featuring such special guests as Bonnie Raitt, Jon Batiste, and Irma Thomas. Both of those are on Saturday, April 28. Domino is also featured on this year's festival poster. The purpose of the Domino-related events is to both celebrate him and "this music that he made that helped change the music of the world," Davis said.

THE NEW ORLEANS TRICENTENNIAL: Celebrating New Orleans' history and culture has always been an integral part of the jazz festival. It will receive extra special attention this year, the 300th anniversary of the city's founding. Bands slated to perform at the pavilion focusing on the city's cultural heritage include the Honduran group La Banda Blanca; Sidi Toure of Mali; and Kod Kreyol and the Creole Dance Ensemble of Haiti.

The festival also has commissioned various musical compositions to commemorate the anniversary, including a tribute from Kermit Ruffins to Louis Armstrong. Lena Prima will perform a tribute to her father, jazz trumpeter, singer and songwriter Louis Prima; and Cynthia Girtley will present a tribute to gospel singer and civil rights activist Mahalia Jackson.

COMING TO AMERICA

A featured performer of the festival's first weekend is artist Sona Jobarteh, whose music reverberates with the sounds of her native Gambia. Jobarteh plays the kora, a 21-stringed harp that is part of the traditional music of West Africa. "She's a world artist. She's incredible," Davis said. Jobarteh has two performances Saturday and also will be interviewed Saturday on the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage. In addition to her appearance at the jazz fest, she will perform in Lafayette at the Festival International de Louisiane. The performances are her first in the U.S.

HEADLINERS

Friday's headliners include Sting; Leslie Odom Jr., one of the stars of the hit Broadway musical Hamilton; and Sturgill Simpson. On Saturday, Rod Stewart closes the Acura Stage, Jack Johnson closes the Gentilly Stage and Khalid closes the Congo Square Stage. On Sunday, festivalgoers will have to choose between Jimmy Buffett and his Acoustic Airmen and David Byrne of Talking Heads fame, both of whom will close out their respective stages.

BECAUSE THE NAME

Band names can run from the serious to the quirky: Among the latter are Ten Strings and a Goat Skin, a folk/fusion trio from Prince Edward Island, Canada; a folk/rock band called Trout Fishing in America; and Socks in the Frying Pan, a trio from Ireland. "I think you'd have to have them just for the name," Davis said of the Irish trio.

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This story has been edited to correct AP style on the Fair Grounds Race Course.

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Follow Santana on Twitter @ruskygal.

Rebecca Santana, The Associated Press

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