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Aaron Neville headlines as LEAF trumpets lively Big Easy

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Aaron Neville headlines as LEAF trumpets lively Big Easy musical heritage Oct. 15-18

By Pete Zamplas- Rhythm and blues legend Aaron Neville headlines as LEAF is “Celebrating the Spirit of New Orleans” Oct. 15-18 in its 41st edition, and first after LEAF Downtown generated even more interest in the vast cultural, musical and healing arts extravaganza.

The New Orleans focus comes on this the 10th anniversary year of devastating Hurricane Katrina. The storm ravaged the Crescent City Aug. 23-29, 2005, as among five deadliest U.S. hurricanes ever. LEAF Executive Director Jennifer Pickering, the festival founder, has long showcased “NOLA” musicians and this year there is special commemoration.

Some LEAF single-day tickets remain, as of press time. LEAF started 20 years ago in 1995, and is twice a year. This is the 41st edition. The festival is at Lake Eden and Camp Rockmount, in Black Mountain.

LEAF Downtown debuted in Asheville Aug. 1, with much LEAF-like funk such as by Bootsy Collins and Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds. Many unfamiliar with LEAF told The Tribune at LEAF Downtown they would check out LEAF itself. They were impressed with the music, a quaint sectioned-off secondary stage by the Vance Monument, and plethora of visual and healing arts and fashion vendor booths.

Horns and bass rhythms surge on at LEAF. The earthy Bijou flavors top acts such as Aaron Neville, his soulful esteemed niece Charmaine Neville, Grammy-winning Rebirth Brass Band with funk and hip-hop, and Preservation Hall Jazz Band which improvises its traditional-styled N.O. jazz.

“We immerse into a full weekend packed with New Orleans funk, big time brass, bayou blues, swampy soul, Mardi Gras Indian traditions and all the sights, sounds, and smells of The Big Easy!,” LEAF Performing Arts Director Ehren Cruz proclaimed. He calls it time to “celebrate the art, spirit, and amazing traditions of one of the greatest cities in America. Ten-years post-Katrina, it is our deepest honor to share the beauty and power that lives on in the heart of New Orleans culture.”

Aaron Neville

Aaron Neville is proud of his Crescent City roots. He stated on his website “it’s been a long road to recovery after Hurricane Katrina. But the soul of New Orleans lives.” He hails “music’s role, in the resilience of New Orleans culture.” His music has Cajun and Creole influences.

The four-time Grammy-winner plays Saturday, Oct. 17, 8-9:30 p.m. He is among most decorated musicians to ever play LEAF. He has spanned the charts for nearly a half-century, from “Over You” in 1960 to “It’s All Right” in 2006.

The New Orleans native is known for emotionally-quivering vocals, such as on “Tell it Like It Is.” That R&B no. one hit catapulted his career, in 1966. The band Heart’s version hit in 1981. Neville topped adult contemporary charts with his cover of “Everybody Plays the Fool” in 1991, and two duets with Linda Ronstadt in 1989 — the gripping Grammy-winner “Don’t Know Much” and “All My Life.” His duet “That’s What My Love is For” with Anne Murray was a Canadian hit.

Neville’s CD entitled My True Story, from two years ago, has doo-wop classics. “Anything I do has got some doo-wop in it,” he stated on his website. “It’s just part of me — it’s the texture that I’m singing in. It’s the endings, it’s the harmonies. At 3 o’clock in the morning, I wake up with a doo-wop song going in my head. I can’t go back to sleep, because I’m singing it over and over.” The CD is co-produced by Keith Richards, who plays guitar on it.

Neville, 74, had soulful hits with The Neville Brothers from 1976-92 with brothers Art, Charles and Cyril. They often closed the N.O. Jazz and Heritage Festival. His sons include keyboardist Ivan Neville, and rapper Jason.

Aaron’s niece Charmaine Neville impressed “LEAFers” five years ago with spunky, soulful blues and stage charisma. She is described as a “frisky dynamo” live. She has a new CD, and ever-evolving style.

Rebirth Brass Band topped the CMJ Jazz charts with jazz-funky “Rebirth of New Orleans”, and earned a 2012 Grammy for Best Regional Roots Music Album.

Other NOLA-based acts at LEAF include seven-piece The Revivalists with rock, funky Dumpstaphunk X2, New Orleans Suspects with former Neville Bros. drummer “Mean” Willie Green, rising fiddler-accordionist Cedric Watson & Bijou Creole, blues-jazzy Roamin’ Jasmine from the French Quarter, saxophonist Khris Royal & Dark Matter, and gypsy-blues-rock Dirty Bourbon River Show.

Global sounds include from A Moving Sound, which aired on NPR and BBC radio, with Chinese fiddle and lute and soothing vocals.

Locally-based performers include soulful Lyric, daffy Resonant Rogues; and cosmic, rhythmic Leah Song of Rising Appalachia. Acts are on six stages, with some roaming artists.

LEAF day tickets are each $50 per adult or $40 per youth age 10-17 for Friday, Oct. 16 or Sunday, Oct. 18. Saturday and weekend tickets have sold out. A five-meal pass is $50.

Non-profit LEAF accepts tax-deductible donations in $10 increments, for its extensive cultural outreach. For tickets, the schedule and more, check

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