Every year all the finest musicians in the world find themselves inextricably drawn to New Orleans for Jazz Fest and the opportunities for rare side projects like Billy & The Kids become a reality for those lucky enough to be there, like the audience at Thursday night’s sold out show at the Saenger Theatre. Bill Kreutzmann has all the bona fides and accolades anyone in the music industry could ever possibly earn from his time with the Grateful Dead. His amazing act of gathering together Aron Magner, keyboardist from The Disco Biscuits, Reed Mathis bassist extraordinaire from such varied projects as Kreutzmann’s 7 Walkers as well as Electric Beethoven and the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead guitarist Tom Hamilton and Trey Anastasio Band’s sax man James Casey surely earned him a few bonus points for his efforts.

With a tip of the hat, the elder statesman on drums planted himself behind the kit and, after a brief, Magner-led take on The Cars‘ classic “Let The Good Times Roll” that seemed more of a quick equipment check than an actual cover, Billy & The Kids settled into a “Truckin’” that gave the crowd the first taste of what the evening’s lineup had in store for them. Magner nailed the piano fills, Mathis grooved through the vocals, and Casey happily provided sax fills seemingly made of smiles. This positive energy carried straight through the “Scarlet Begonias” that followed and pert near overflowed when the first special guest, hometown legend and former Billy K bandmate from the all too brief 7 Walkers, legendary Meters bassist George Porter Jr.

Though Matthis was the original 7 Walkers bassist, when he was forced to bow out early in that project he personally recommended Porter and the match between the funk stylings of the scratchy-voiced bassman and Kreutzmann turned out some legendary shows. Porter led a dirty take on The Meters’ classic “Fire On The Bayou” before giving a pitch-perfect version of what became the 7 Walkers’ best-received mix, a Porter-sung “Sugaree” that, to some, rival any other version beyond the original.

Related: Daniel Donato Conjures 45-Minute “Dark Star” With Bill Kreutzmann In New Orleans [Watch]

The guests didn’t stop there with Porter as the newest “Kid”, Grammy-winning artist Molly Tuttle, came out and captivated with a breathy take on “China Doll” that morphed slowly into a rather unexpected cover of Harry Styles’ “Sunflower Vol. 6”. All this was aided by a sneaky arrival, Thievery Corporation drummer Jeff Franca. Though those previous tunes were impressive, it was Tuttle’s take on the Jerry Garcia classic “Bird Song ” and follow-up, Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” that proved to be the highlights of her induction to the lineup. A rollicking version of Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue ” closed the first set and featured some stellar work from band “glue,” Tom Hamilton on guitar and vocals

Tuttle and Franca joined the cast from the second set beginning as the all-star ensemble launched into a slow simmering take on The Beatles classic “Get Back” before Hamilton showed off the chops that years of time with JRAD have honed to razor sharpness on a righteous “Help On The Way” into Slipknot!” pairing that brought blissful smiles to many a face in the crowd. From there fans were treated to some stellar clarinet work by Casey on an emotional “Eyes of The Word” before Tuttle and the band found themselves metaphorically “Standing On The Moon”.

Related: Molly Tuttle, Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith Share “Standing On The Moon” Cover [Video]

After mixing things up with a rambunctious take on the Rolling Stones gem “Dead Flowers” it was time to truly soar. In a funky, Mathis-sung “Franklin’s Tower” fans got what was one of the finest moments of an already stellar show. That said, seeing cancer survivor James Casey take on Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young”, emoting himself to tears during his stellar vocal display, was both astonishing and unforgettable. From there it was a tumbling assortment of peaks and valleys from Al Green’s “Take Me To The River” on through a special Billy K/Jeff Franca explorative take on the Dead standard “Drums”.

Closing out the show with the always-welcome “Iko Iko” the entire crew was given one last chance to shine, and, as expected, they collectively raised the bar from what was an already impressive height to the best jam of the evening. Parting was bittersweet knowing how hard it is for Kreutzmann to gather these players together but it served as a lesson to those in attendance and any who read these words…when Kreutzmann does bring the band together you should move heaven and Earth to get there. You won’t be disappointed.

Billy & The Kids – “Let The Good Times Roll” (The Cars) > “Truckin'” [Pro-Shot] – 4/28/23

Billy & The Kids, Molly Tuttle – “Sunflower Vol. 6”, “Bird Song” [Pro-Shot] – 2/28/23

Billy & The Kids – “Eyes Of The World” – 4/28/23

[Video: Nunupics Zomot]

Billy & The Kids – “Dead Flowers” (Rolling Stones) – 4/28/23

[Video: Nunupics Zomot]

Setlist: Billy & The Kids | The Saenger Theater | New Orleans, LA | 4.27.23

Set 1: Let The Good Times Roll (The Cars) > Truckin’ > Scarlet Begonias, Fire On The Bayou [1] > Sugaree [1], China Doll [2] > Sunflower Vol 6 (Harry Styles) [2], Bird Song [2], White Rabbit [2] (Jefferson Airplane), Tangled Up In Blue (Bob Dylan)

Set Two: Get Back (The Beatles) > Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Eyes Of The World > Standing On The Moon [2], Dead Flowers (Rolling Stones), Franklin’s Tower, Forever Young (Bob Dylan), Take Me To The River (Al Green) > Drums, Iko Iko ( James “Sugar Boy” Crawford and his Cane Cutte)

[1] w/ George Porter Jr.
[2] w/ Molly Tuttle

jazz fest late night, fest by nite