Stevie Wonder has not performed at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 35 years, and has never headlined the event. Organizers want to change that this year. Wonder was scheduled to headline the second weekend of the 2008 Jazz Fest along with Billy Joel, Sheryl Crow and Louisiana native and country music star Tim McGraw, festival promoter Quint Davis said Thursday in announcing the lineup. Joel, Crow and McGraw are all festival first-timers.
The last time Wonder took the stage at Jazz Fest was in 1973, when he participated in an impromptu jam session with The Meters, the New Orleans group founded by Art Neville, the eldest of the Neville Brothers.
“Stevie was a Meters fan … he got on stage and started playing the keyboard, then he got on drums. He’s so talented it’s beyond comprehension,” Davis said.
The outdoor festival spans seven days over two weekends – April 25-27 and May 1-4. Wonder is slated to perform May 2. His hits include “My Cherie Amour,” “Superstition,” “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)” and “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life.”
Davis said he could not be more excited that Wonder is one of this year’s main acts.
“Over the past 20 years, he hasn’t really been touring, so we feel really fortunate,” Davis said.
The death of Wonder’s mother in 2006 may have prompted Wonder’s recent return to the touring circuit, he said. “His mother always told him ‘You should get back up there and do what you do,'” Davis said.
Jazz Fest is held at a horse racing track where organizers will set up 11 stages and tents for the more than 1,000 musicians slated to perform, including festival veterans Jimmy Buffett, Santana and Dr. John.
This is the first year since Hurricane Katrina that organizers have restored Thursday to the festival’s second weekend, making the event a total of seven days. Jazz Fest was scaled back to six days the past two years because of the storm and subsequent recovery.
Davis said the extra day will mean an addition of more than 50 acts.
Headliners for April 25, the festival’s opening day, are Crow, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. Also performing that weekend are Dr. John, Joel, Al Green, Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint.
The second weekend will highlight performances by Randy Newman and the rock group Widespread Panic, Trombone Shorty, Marcia Ball, Buffett, Aaron Neville, Santana and Maze featuring Frankie Beverly.
The Neville Brothers are scheduled to close the festival on May 4 for the first time since before Katrina struck in August 2005. The group had been the festival’s closing act for more than a decade prior to Katrina.
Davis said this year’s lineup features “one of the greatest collection of jazz singers in one place.” On tap to perform are Patti Austin, Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves, Diana Krall and Ruby Wilson.
The festival also features food, arts and crafts and other cultural exhibits unique to South Louisiana.