Aretha cancels Jazz Fest set; EWF steps in

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 1, 2010

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The elements took hold at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on Friday.

A gray sky, drizzle and high wind was the backdrop for a day that brought the cancellation of Aretha Franklin’s much-anticipated appearance and the announcement that Earth, Wind & Fire instead would close the festival’s largest stage.

‘‘There’s only one Aretha and she can’t really be replaced,’’ said Louis Edwards, a festival spokesman. ‘‘Our challenge was finding someone who would fit in her spot.’’

Edwards said Earth, Wind & Fire filled that void.

The festival received word Thursday that Franklin would be unable to perform. He said she was very apologetic to the festival and fans but did not give a reason for the cancellation.

‘‘We did everything in our power to get her to change her mind, but just couldn’t make that happen,’’ Edwards said.

Luckily, Earth, Wind & Fire was in the region. Edwards said the band has a gig Saturday in Biloxi, Miss., and was enthusiastic about accepting the festival’s invitation.

‘‘They’re back by popular demand,’’ he said. ‘‘They came last year and were huge. The audience had a great time. They had a great time. Earth, Wind & Fire is really cross-generational and their music crosses over to everyone. They’re one of the greatest bands of all times and they hit many of the high notes.’’

Daniel Wallace, of New Orleans, said Franklin was the reason he bought tickets for Friday’s festival.

‘‘Seeing her perform was on my ’bucket list,’’’ he said, using the term for a list of dreams to accomplish before one dies. ‘‘Earth, Wind and Fire is also, but I really wanted to see her.’’

His friend, Vadal Bolds agreed.

‘‘I thought I was going to be able to check her off my list of great performers I want to see in my lifetime. I guess I will have to try to see her another time.’’

Janaea Brown, of New Orleans, said she was very disappointed by the cancellation. ‘‘This might be the last chance to see her. She doesn’t travel much and I was really ready to sing R-E-S-P-E-C-T.’’

Ric Kerr, of Cleveland, Ohio, said the schedule changes wouldn’t affect him because there so much other talent to choose from. He said he would likely be listening to Stanley Clarke, closing out the Jazz Tent.

The festival also announced that Pearl Jam’s performance Saturday would be broadcast live to Louisiana National Guard troops serving in Iraq.

‘‘We’ve been working on the idea for a while now,’’ Edwards said. ‘‘A lot, technically, has to happen for this to come together. We needed permission from the band, from the military and everything aligned to make it happen.’’

Jazz Fest officials said the broadcast will have a two-way, live audio and video communication with members of the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat team. Details were being kept confidential because the troops are in a war zone, but the broadcast should begin live around 1 a.m. local time in Balad, Iraq. Plans call for a 20-minute video greeting for the troops with sights and sounds of Jazz Fest and well-wishes from concert fans.

In Iraq, there will be a camera and microphone for the soldiers to say hello to family and friends.

‘‘Technology is changing so fast, we have to keep up,’’ Edwards said.

Darcy Pulitzer Goldstein and her husband, Jeremy, applauded the festival’s efforts to send a slice of ‘‘home’’ to the Louisiana based troops.

‘‘Everyone loves Pearl Jam and it’s great that the festival is doing something nice for those overseas,’’ she said.

Darren Gouran, of Madison, Wis., said he wasn’t surprised that Pearl Jam agreed to the idea.

‘‘They’ve always been a very socially conscious band and the idea of letting the troops have a little bit of enjoyment from the festival fits in,’’ he said.

Cory Swaim, of Chicago, thanked the festival for putting the effort together for a group of men and women who deserve a little down time.

‘‘If it weren’t for them fighting over there, we wouldn’t be here listening and enjoying the music,’’ he said.