Monday, June 19, 2000

Fans soak up music at Indy JazzFest

By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        INDIANAPOLIS — Indy JazzFest organizers might have picked a less moist role model. Taking its inspiration from New Orleans' Jazz & Heritage Festival, the second annual music event held in Indianapolis' Military Park was flooded by Mississippi-sized rains.

        Because of severe lightning storms, Friday's evening concerts were canceled, including highly anticipated appearances by young jazz lion Josh Redman, teen-age blues guitar whiz Jonny Lang and the classic soul instrumental group Booker T. & the MGs.

        Saturday, the rains held off for most of the day, and the festival went on as scheduled. By then, though, the storms had done their damage, turning Military Park into a muddy swamp. Work crews spread mulch and wood shavings over the wettest areas, and the crowds, including large contingents from Cincinnati, St. Louis and other regional cities, began arriving.

        By mid-afternoon, the park was comfortably full, as a couple thousand jazz fans sat on lawn chairs at the Jazz Heritage stage, where Indianapolis musician Slide Hampton led a young band of beboppers. It was a diverse crowd, a mix of middle-aged whites and African-Americans, along with several generations of tie-dyed hippies, all applauding the soloists and enjoying the laid-back festival mood.

        Over at the Oldsmobile American Music Stage, the largest of the three main venues, Roger McGuinn got the day started with gently folk-styled arrangements of his old hits with the Byrds.

        It was a well-organized festival, providing a healthy mix of performers and styles. Stages were far enough away from one another to avoid “bleed over.” And along with the national acts, locals performed at several stages, including a free stage outside the park, as well as two intimate, club-styled stages under a tent in the Ameritech Jazz Village.

        About 4 p.m. Saturday, the park began to seriously fill up, in anticipation of performances by jazz great Dave Brubeck, bluesman Robert Cray, cutting-edge organ trio Meski Martin & Wood and progressive Cajun band Beausoleil.

        But the day's biggest back-to-back booking was at the Oldsmobile Stage, where Indianapolis native John Hiatt and soul master Al Green would close the day's music.

        Mr. Hiatt, who performs July 4 at Bogart's, has reunited his best touring band for the summer. The Goners, a Louisiana trio featuring the distinctive slide guitar of Sonny Landreth, backed the singer/songwriter on his 1988 album, Slow Turning.Their 100-minute set focused on that CD and its equally fine predecessor, Bring the Family. His voice was hoarse and missed his trademark falsetto leaps, but Mr. Hiatt gamely led the Goners through “Memphis in the Meantime,” “Drive South,” “Paper Thin,” “Tennessee Plates,” “Slow Turning” and, as an encore, the hit he wrote for Bonnie Raitt, “Thing Called Love.”

        Al Green followed, and the rains began just as the white-suited soulman/preacher walked onstage. The baptism was fitting, as Rev. Green opened the show with 20 minutes of Southern gospel music, before settling into his string of '70s classics.

        He remains the premier living soul singer, able to levitate neck hairs with a single, falsetto “Ahhhhhhhhhhh.”

        Backed by a skintight R&B band, he brought that magnificent voice to “Here I Am (Come and Take Me),” “Love and Happiness” and “Take Me to the River.” The only annoying part of the performance was his tendency to stop singing and let the crowd take over. In “Let's Stay Together,” he barely sang a line himself, content to conduct the crowd and toss roses to female fans.

        But by the end of his 55-minute performance, the storm had stolen the show, and the drenched crowd headed out of the park. With more rain forecast for Sunday, it was a disappointing end to the biggest night of what had been shaping up as the region's outdoor musical event of the year.


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