The Petty Archives

Tom Petty fills Fair Grounds with classic songs at Jazz Fest
By John Wirt
Baton Rouge Advocate - April 30, 2012

One of the largest audiences ever seen in front of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival's Acura Stage gathered to see and hear Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Saturday's headlining act.

Three songs into a two-hour-plus show, classic-rocker Petty echoed the words of the many stars who've played in the same racetrack field through the decades.

"For years and years we've wanted to come here to the Jazz Fest," he said. "We've got a lot of songs to play for you, so we're gonna get right on it."

Petty and the Heartbreakers mixed surefire audience-pleasers with deep album tracks. Along with much-loved love songs "Listen To Her Heart" and "Here Comes My Girl," the crowd-rousing anthem "Free Fallin' " and scorching performances of "Runnin' Down A Dream" and "American Girl," the set contained the relatively obscure "Something Big" and, a personal favorite of Petty's, "My Love Will Travel With You Everywhere."

Petty and the Heartbreakers also played a perfect rendition of "Handle With Care," a hit for the Traveling Wilburys. Petty was a member of that '80s supergroup with Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynn and the late George Harrison and Roy Orbison.

"We're gonna dedicate it to all the Wilbury guys, wherever they're traveling," he said.

In "Handle With Care," Heartbreakers guitarist Tom Campbell played the slide guitar parts that Harrison finessed so beautifully in the original recording.

"Oh," Petty said afterward, "there is a mojo in this place. Can you feel it?"

Petty introduced Campbell as his best friend and co-captain. Throughout the show Campbell and Petty played a succession of classic Rickenbacker, Gibson, Fender and Gretsch guitars. The Rickenbackers and Petty's Fender Telecaster were bright and trebly. Campbell's Gretsch and the Gibson guitars he and Petty played were on the sweet and smooth side.

While Petty and the Heartbreakers played for the vast crowd at the Acura Stage, Feist, a talented and, in her alternative way, popular Canadian singer-songwriter performed at the other side of the Fair Grounds Race Course for a respectably sized but far smaller audience. Even so, Feist and her band and singers gave it their all.

"You're making me feel Tom Petty," she told the people who showed up for her.

Saturday's other national names included rhythm-and-blues star Cee Lo Green. The bulky singer known for fanciful costumes got down to a white T-shirt and black high-water pants in the heat.

He has many aliases, Green said, "but when I sing this song right here, they call me Gnarls Barkley." The song, of course, is his 2006 hit, "Crazy," released by the duo called Gnarls Barkley that consists of himself and producer Danger Mouse. People sang along with "Crazy" and another of Green's hits, a fun, effortlessly infectious song, the radio version of which is called "Forget You."

Friday's Jazz Fest headliner, the Beach Boys, aren't the only festival act noting a 50th anniversary this year. D.L. Menard, the Cajun singer, songwriter and chair-builder who played Saturday afternoon at the Fais Do-Do Stage, recorded his best-known song, "The Back Door," 50 years ago this July.

Fiddler Terry Huval, on stage with Menard and a band that included the 80-year-old singer's guitar-strumming granddaughter, Nelda, announced the anniversary. Huval also noted that "The Back Door" is the most re-recorded song in Cajun music history.

Menard and his Louisiana Aces band played a set of graceful Cajun-country waltzes and livelier songs made for dancing. He sang lyrics in his native French but introduced songs in the richest of Cajun accents.

"Oh my, God, I'm hoarse as hell," Menard said after one song. "Y'all have to forgive me, I guess."

Despite being hoarse, Menard sang with the piercing, nasal tone that earned him the name the Cajun Hank Williams.

The festival continues Sunday with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, soul star Al Green, Pete Fountain, Dr. John and many more. It resumes Thursday and runs through May 6.