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George Porter Jr. on New Orleans JazzFest, Mardi Gras, and more

George Porter Jr. New Orleans
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

George Porter Jr., who is arguably one of the best Funk bass players in the world, was back on stage to celebrate the return of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Jazzfest.

He played several sets over the first weekend during the day and into the evenings. He sat in with a fellow founding member of The Meters, Leo Nocentelli. He also jammed with The Voice of the Wetlands featuring Cyril Neville, Tab Benoit and Anders Osbourne.

Jazzfest triumphantly returned this year after almost a three-year hiatus. It has been a New Orleans spring tradition for over 50 years. I have been lucky enough to cover the festival for over a decade as a freelance photojournalist.

For local musicians, Jazz Fest is one of the busiest weeks of the year. Bands play during the day at the fairgrounds during the festival and then head out at night to play shows at the world-famous live music venues across Crescent City.

Check out our interview with born and bred New Orleans musician George Porter Jr. in the first of our three-part series.

George Porter Jr. New Orleans Interview
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

Do you have any favorite JazzFest memories?

If I do have a favorite, I have two of them. One was the first year JazzFest, at the fairgrounds when Stevie Wonder came out and played with the original Meters. Then when we celebrated our 50th Anniversary a couple of years ago at the fairgrounds. That would probably be my two favorites. Personally, I have done Widespread Panic out at the fairgrounds. I have done Red Hot Chili Peppers, I have sat in with them twice I believe.

Note: The Red Hot Chili Peppers returned to the festival this year to replace the Foo Fighters after the tragic loss of Taylor Hawkins. Flea called out the influences of New Orleans music in his life and greats like George Porter Jr.

Another staple of New Orleans is Mardi Gras. Do you have a favorite Mardi Gras moment?

I got crowned King Robustus 36 – he is the King of Krewe Oak. The people at the Maple Leaf have a Krewe called Krewe of Oak. This year, I was their 36th King. I got crowned and we did our own little uptown parade. It was the Saturday before Mardi Gras day. We did a little uptown route that was Oak Street all the way to the Steak ‘n’ Shake. We made a circle and came back toward the Maple Leaf on a side street. Then the Running Partners played the gig that night.

Every time I am in New Orleans I feel like I see you playing at Tipitina’s. Do you have any favorite memories of Tipitina’s?

I remember when Tipitina’s was 501 Napoleon Avenue. The fondest memories I have is when we were first allowed to go in there. They used to have a little window you could go up and buy, back then they used to sell liquor to underage people. We’d go up to the window and buy little quart bottles of beer. Me and the guys would go sit on the levee and drink beer.

Playing with Earl King was nice New Orleans music. The Meters, when Tipitina’s became Tipitina’s, that weekend three bands played, The Radiators, The Meters, and Professor Long Hair. We were part of the weekend that brought Tipitina’s to life.

Over the years you have impacted so many musicians, especially in New Orleans. What is the best piece of advice you give to younger musicians?

I think the best information I could pass on to any young player, outside of learning your instrument and really learning the instrument, is paying attention. I have a bunch of notes in my toolbox but it doesn’t make the groove finer or better, it just makes a bunch of notes. It is not what you play but what you don’t play that makes the groove happen. That’s what I live by.

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