Exit 0 Jazz Festival brings a taste of New Orleans to the Jersey Shore
Rebirth Brass Band at Exit o Jazz Fest | Photo by Roger La May

The amazing Exit 0 Jazz Festival, held this past weekend along the well kept beaches of Cape May, is one of this region’s best kept secrets. At least it was to me and almost all of the folks I have been telling about it. Who would have thought that a little taste of New Orleans, both in music and vibe, could be found at the very southern tip of the Garden State Parkway (thus “Exit 0”) with Atlantic breezes on a beautiful weekend?

I attended at the last minute to catch Paul Jost’s ambitious jazz take on the 40th anniversary of Springsteen’s Born to Run. (see Shaun Brady’s earlier report). As I drove the parkway, I listened to a story on “The World” about the 11 year old Indonesian jazz prodigy Joey Alexander, now being mentored by Herbie Hancock and Wynton Marsalis. Walking into the convention center, I was stunned, even confused, to find Joey on stage. He definitely looks 11 but plays with the flair and chops of a seasoned musician. After listening to Jost’s fine band, I wandered to the short strip of music bars along the water and was delighted to find a trio of great bands.

Not only did it feel like N’awlins in that you could bounce from one bar to the next and find an incredible range of artistry but two of my choices were New Orleans stalwarts. John “Papa” Gros plays a funky swamp organ and offered up a great version of “Junko Partner”. Next door you couldn’t get more Big Easy than the infectious ReBirth Brass Band. I confess I caught three sets of theirs over the weekend and was hungry for more. I also sandwiched in a enchanting set by Cuban singer Gato Gatell with Sin Frontera in a tiny upstairs dining room. That was just Friday and I didn’t catch several acclaimed jazz artists playing in walking distance.

Given that Friday, I was back for Saturday kicking off outdoors at the Physick estate with compelling vocalist Charenee Wade and more ReBirth. Then one of the highlights of the weekend, Cuban singer and engaging showman Pepito Gomez, played an oceanfront hotel deck. It was idyllic and made me long for Havana’s Malecon. The headliner of the weekend took the New Orleans theme over the top. Dr John and the Nite Trippers started at the wrong time (about an hour late) but their funk was in the right place. For those who waited, the nearly two hour set just kept getting stronger as it went on. The good 74-year-old Dr’s voice is strong and his playing is the real thing. Then it was back to the bars for gypsy jazz violinist Daisy Castro. She may be just 18 but plays with soul and grace. A good way to end the night was the driving blues guitar of Selwyn Birchwood, someone I have been trying to see for some time.

On my way out of town Sunday, I grabbed a set of upcoming XPoNential Festival artist The Lost Bayou Ramblers. XPN fans are in for a treat when they see the Michot brothers brand of Louisiana “Cajun punk.” Wow! It was an unanticipated weekend of discovery.

Hats off to Michael Klein and all the folks in Cape May that make this jewel of a festival happen. Apparently they do it twice a year and I don’t plan to miss it.

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