When rock ’n’ roll legend Stevie Nicks played at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on May 7, she repeatedly spoke of how it was the first time she had performed live onstage in nearly three years.
Two weeks shy of her 74th birthday, Nicks exuded a vibe that was vibrant yet vulnerable. The nationwide pandemic cancellations, including two regularly scheduled Jazz Fests and two abandoned attempts at autumn makeup Fests, threw performers and fans alike “off their games,” unsure of when or even if they would have a chance to let loose again.
As Nicks interspersed Fleetwood Mac hits such as “Rhiannon,” “Dreams,” and “Landslide” with solo hits such as “Edge of Seventeen,” she also paid homage several times to her late rocker friend Tom Petty (not just their co-releases such as “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” but also the Petty solo “Free Fallin’”) and to Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, who died March 25.
The tributes seemed cathartic to many in the teeming crowd of well over 50,000, including several men over 50 shown on the Jumbotron wiping away tears. The lady next to me, about Nicks’s age, was all but weeping, explaining that she had just struggled to beat cancer. Hearing Nicks live, which she had never done, had been on her “bucket list,” but it had seemed unachievable because the coronavirus kept performers away from the stage.
Nicks, though, found the energy to put forth a boffo performance through 14 songs. And when she returned to the stage for two encore pieces, she had a surprise. First, she did the song “New Orleans” that she wrote as she watched the news coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — and then, in a major switch of genres, she finished with a song by rock band Led Zeppelin.
It wasn’t the sound she was pushing but the lyrics, referring to all the COVID exiles: “It’s been a long time since I rock and rolled … been a long time, been a long time, been a lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time.”
When even pandemic moderates had long noted that outdoor events after vaccine availability should have been allowed, one wonders how many bucket lists unnecessarily failed to get filled because of all the cancellations. The next time authorities float the possibility of over-prophylactic measures, here’s hoping the idea flies no better than a lead zeppelin.