XPN Fest Recap: No amount of rain can stop the Preservation Hall Jazz Band

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Preservation Hall Jazz Band | Photo by Cameron Pollack for WXPN
Preservation Hall Jazz Band | Photo by Cameron Pollack for WXPN

You probably were looking to read this recap yesterday. I wanted to stay dry at the festival. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band would have loved to have been able to finish their set at the River Stage. Well, thanks to circumstances out of our control, none of those things were possible.

When the New Orleans jazz legends took to the River Stage on Saturday, it seemed like disaster was going to be avoided. Clouds were grey, but nowhere near apocalyptic. The light rain that was falling was a cooling drizzle, not an inundating monsoon. But I can’t stress enough that this was only what it seemed like — because an apocalyptic monsoon was exactly what was just moments away.

Mother Nature gave XPoNential Festival her final warning just a few minutes into the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s 4:55 p.m. set. As the band banged out some top-notch solos, a bright bolt of lighting lit up the backdrop over center city Philadelphia. XPN officials were then forced to make the unfortunate — but completely necessary — decision to postpone the rest of the show until safe conditions resumed. The crowd was encouraged to take shelter in a nearby parking garage, and I booked it over to the XPN staff tent just as the heavy rain entered the scene.

The storm hit hard and it hit quickly. In a matter of about 30 seconds, a drizzle had transformed into a downpour. Among the hectic rush for safety, two members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band ended up joining us in the XPN tent. “I get the blues when it rains,” sang trombonist Ronell Johnson with a laugh. Thanks to the wind direction and Johnson’s positioning at the edge of the tent, he still got absolutely soaked. Pianist Rickie Monie tried to heal his blues with some smooth improv on his melodica. Even though things could have been much dryer, it was an awesome moment.

But that’s just what we experienced in our tent. You, the loyal fan, were stuck elsewhere with a hunger for jazz that had gone unsatisfied. Luckily, all that changed when all of the bands performing at BB&T Pavilion were kind enough to make room on the bill for the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, who made their way to the new venue while playing “You Are My Sunshine.”

With the rescheduled set came a reinvigorated band. Their spirit bled into the much larger amphitheater crowd — even the guy selling cotton candy on the lawn was jiving to the jazzy jams. As the NOLA musicians blared the sounds of Bourbon Street for thousands of happy listeners, one thing had become apparent. Even though things didn’t go according to plan, it was hard to imagine a more memorable experience.

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