There are certain moments in New Orleans, particularly during New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, that seem entirely surreal. One of these magical Jazz Fest nights came during the “Nevilles Forever” show: a farewell tribute to the Neville Brothers honoring NOLA’s most influential musical family at the historic Saenger Theater on May 2, 2015. Brothers Art Neville, Cyril Neville, Charles Neville, and Aaron Neville shared a stage for what is said to be the last time ever, joined by family members Ivan Neville, Ian Neville, Omari Neville, Arthel Neville, Jason Neville and Aaron Neville Jr. for an emotional and special evening.
As if this giant family reunion wasn’t enough, the caliber of the rest of the lineup and its once-in-a-lifetime collaborations surely beat out any other event that occured during Jazz Fest. Backed by a house band consisting of Ivan Neville, Tony Hall, Raymond Weber, Brian Stoltz, John “Papa” Gros, Mark Mullins, Jason Mingledorff, Bobby Campo, Omari Neville and the McCrary Sisters, New Orleans legends took the stage for one powerful and moving performance after the next.
George Porter Jr. tackled “Fire and Brimstone” along with Bonerama, Anders Osborne covered “Meet Da Boys on the Battlefront” and John Boutte brought it home with “Bird on a Wire”. Irma Thomas brought the house down with “Ain’t No Sunshine”, frequently covered by the Nevilles, Dr. John took it away with “Valence Street” and “Big Chief” and Allen Toussaint gave a beautiful rendition of “The Greatest Love”. Finally, Trombone Shorty closed out first set with the Neville Brothers classic “Hey Pocky Way”.
Mid-show, Jazz Fest owner Quint Davis and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landreau took the stage to wholeheartedly express their appreciation for the Neville Family, even declaring that day henceforth be known as “Neville Brothers Day”.
Second set opened with Widespread Panic jamming on “Hercules” and “Voodoo”, leading into Vintage Trouble‘s oldschool vibe on “My Brother’s Keeper”. Longtime Nevilles collaborator “Mean” Willie Green joined on for much of second set. Cyril, Charles, Ian and Omari joined the Royal Southern Brotherhood on “Big Chief Jolly”, just prior to Galactic taking on “River of Life” with Cyril and frequent collaborator Erika Falls. Dumpstaphunk, which already contains cousins Ivan and Ian Neville, were joined by Uncle Charles and cousin Omari on “Healing Chant” and “Junkman.” Trombone Shorty again returned to the stage to tackle the Meters classic “Fire on the Bayou”.
Finally, the big moment arrived when all four Neville brothers took the stage for their big farewell finale and their first time performing together since 2012. After opening with “Yellow Moon” they delved into “Indian Red,” before performing a medley of “Jockamo” / “Brother John Is Gone” / “Iko-Iko” along with Iko Iko’s original writers, the Dixie Cups. The finale concluded with “Brother Jake,” “Sister Rosa” (with Charles’ children Lyrica and Khalif rapping) and finally “Shake Your Tambourine.” The evening came to a close with a special moment shared amongst brothers as they received a bouquet of roses and gracefully thanked their audience.
Arthel Neville, sister of Ian and daughter of Art, hosted the evening’s activities. She never failed to profess her extreme love for her family, making for a very heart warming occasion. “They say you can pick you friends, but you can’t pick your family,” she expressed while fighting back tears towards the end of the night. “I’d pick my family.” (We’d all pick your family).
Famous New Orleans R&B singer Ernie K. Doe said it best: “I’m not sure, but I’m almost positive, that all music came from New Orleans.” If that’s true, than the Neville family are the embodiment of New Orleans music today and have been responsible fostering it around the world. Saying goodbye to the Neville Brothers was bittersweet for some, but this event was truly a proper send off.
Photos by Jeffrey Dupuis. Full gallery below