Thousands jammed the Jazz Fest to hear groups like Pearl Jam




NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Thousands packed the grassy field in front of the largest stage at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on Saturday to hear Pearl Jam run through some of their biggest hits.

Former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason, who is suffering with ALS, was wheeled onto the stage accompanied by members of his family to introduce the band amid a cacophony of cheers. Lead singer Eddie Vedder leaned down toward Gleason to acknowledge his presence before launching into the set's first song. Later in the show, Vedder commented on his love and respect for Gleason.

"Just to have him here with us is an honor," Vedder said amid cheers and screams. "Thank you, Steve."

Vedder and the band opened with "State of Love and Trust" before going into "Arms Aloft" as several in the audience waved their arms in the air, bobbed their heads and sang along. Other tunes getting rousing applause included "Corduroy," ''Nothingman," and "Even Flow."

The set also included "Real Me," which featured area artists including "Big" Sam Williams on trombone. Williams and his band, Big Sam's Funky Nation," played one of the other stages earlier Saturday.

As Pearl Jam closed the Acura Stage, R&B crooner Maxwell set hearts afire at the Congo Square Stage and Boz Scaggs closed out the Blues Tent.

Both Acura and Congo had the new seating bleachers erected to give fans a better view of each stage and help with pedestrian traffic flow.

In addition to music from Louisiana artists and national groups, the festival put the spotlight on the Central American country of Belize this year to help share their cultural secrets with fest fans.

At one point Saturday afternoon, about 100 fans jammed the Belize Pavilion of the Fair Grounds Race Course to hear the music of The Garifuna Collective, which was created to preserve the musical traditions of the community of Garifuna. The soulful, Latin rhythms rocked the crowd, many of whom spontaneously broke out in dance as the band's tunes carried outside the tent to the delight of those soaking in the sun. The Garifuna Collective is among several Belizean acts scheduled to perform throughout the seven days of the festival.

Dorian Pakeman and Bianca Dujon, who live in Belize, flew in for Jazz Fest after learning their country would be celebrated.

"It's great that our country is being internationally recognized," said Pakeman, who was wearing a blue-and-red shirt with Belize emblazoned on the back. "The Collective is a top-of-the-line group that always gives a good show."

Dujon, who is attending her first Jazz Fest, said she was impressed by how organized the festival was. "I'm enjoying just everything, all the performances," she said. "I'm on my way to try some of the food."

The pavilion also highlights some of the country's craftsmen, who are showcasing their talents in basket-weaving and drum making.

Sean McGuire, of New Orleans, said it was his first time hearing the group and he was impressed.

"They sounded really authentic," he said.

His friend, Emily Miranda also from New Orleans but has family from Central America, said she was thrilled the festival decided to pump up the Latin culture.

"There are a lot of people from Central America in New Orleans and it's great for us to be represented in such an awesome fashion," she said.

Keith Anderson and his wife, Cindy, came over to New Orleans from Houston for the festival. He said he's been here before, but it was his wife's first time.

Cindy Anderson, originally from Colombia, said she really enjoyed the Collective's set. "They were very good and the sounds, the rhythms ... I think that's what drew people in," she said.

She said she also looked forward to performances in the gospel tent, Pearl Jam and Sunday's set by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Keith Anderson said he was just glad there was no rain. "I haven't been here in a few years and it stormed. This year I come and there's this," he said gesturing to the sunshine.

Perfect weather — temperatures in the high 70s, blue skies and a cool breeze — greeted music lovers attending the festival's second day, which featured a jazz funeral in honor of New Orleans' R&B singer-songwriter and producer Allen Toussaint, who died last year. The festival continues Sunday.

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