Jazz Fest: Opening joy tempered by the loss of a Neville

NEW ORLEANS — The 49th annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival opened Friday — a sun-drenched affair where the joy was tempered only by news of the death of a New Orleans music idol.

Charles Neville, a saxophone player since the 1950s and a stalwart for three decades with the Neville Brothers Band, died Thursday.

“He was a huge part of the New Orleans music scene and really important to all of us” said Amanda McFillen as she showed off a picture of Neville posing with a young Harry Connick Jr., at the 1989 Jazz Fest. The image was on sale at a booth for the Historic New Orleans Collection museum, where McFillen is an associate director.

“I definitely think there’ll be some tributes here over the next few days,” McFillen said as a Cajun band tuned up on a nearby stage.

The Nevilles were for years a traditional closing act at the popular festival that caters to a wide variety of tastes in food, music and art.

Sting was set to close out opening day Friday evening. But even his performance was scheduled simultaneously with a variety of other acts — including rock, blues, brass, and gospel — the culmination of a day that would see well over 60 acts perform on more than a dozen stages.

The festival takes place at the Fair Grounds Race Course, a venerable New Orleans horse track. Most of the action takes place on the large infield, but there are also exhibits and food in the grandstand building.

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