Almanac Flashback – Jazzfest New Orleans 2019: Johnny Rivers


I should be enjoying the great music being played at the  New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2020 at this moment but it’s not to be. It was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. I’m over my disappointment, and I look forward to  attending the festival next year. Johnny Rivers was one of the highlights of Jazz Fest for me last year so I’m reprising the article I wrote after I returned home. I hope you enjoy it.




Johnny Rivers, Van Morrison, or Al Green? What a dilemma!


Jazzfest, New Orleans 2019, and these three greats are all performing at the same time, on different stages. Do I start at one, slip out after a while and try and catch part of the other two acts?


Too hard!


The crowds can be horrific at Jazzfest and this is no exception, pick one, hope it’s ok, and the others are not as sensational as you know they will be.


Saw Van the Man in London in 1974, saw Al Green at his church in Memphis first time to Jazzfest in 2014 but I’d never seen one of my all time favourites Johnny Rivers play live. In the end there was no dilemma, it had to be Johnny Rivers.


I got to the Blues Tent early, sat through a couple of other acts I was not really interested in but that’s what I had to do to ensure myself a seat, and fortunately I got a good one.


A mass exodus occurred at the end of the act before JR, everyone in search of a space for VM obviously, no seats at one of the main outdoor stages just a squash, and to be expected. 


I was able to find my self an even better seat. 


I was watching Johnny’s gear being set up with the organising being done by a short guy, his cap pulled down low, with large aviator sunnies sitting low on his nose, and  shirt and waistcoat. Everything he was wearing seemed oversized except for his tight black jeans. He was very particular about the placement of the equipment. Guitars were brought out and tuned. Other players wandered onto stage, picked up their instruments and did their sound check. 


Soon everything was in readiness for the show to begin, what does he look like these days I thought to myself, as I remembered him from the 60s and 70s, or had he changed into something different. I’d soon find out.


He has been very quiet on the scene for many, many years, and at 76 years of age one may well expect him to have retired but no he’s still performing.


Introductions are made by the MC, the band walks on stage, pick up their gear and wait in readiness for Johnny.


Then on walks the little guy who I presumed was the stage manager, plugs in and starts playing  and singing The Midnight Special to great applause. 


Photo by Colin Ritchie


That voice is so distinctive and spot on and he didn’t once miss a beat, nor did his recognisable guitar playing. But I could not get over the noticeable fact how small in stature he is, and my 5 foot 3 inch self would probably look him straight in the eye.


No messy around though, no introductions to songs, just straight into it, and anyway, the faithful in the audience  knew  the words to all the songs, and we waited in awe for the next favourite to come along.


He had a hot band supporting him, the sound was crisp and clear and fabulous to listen to. I really enjoyed the B3 Hammond organ and keyboard playing from a rather elderly looking band member, but forget about age, boy could he play, and the notes he wrenched out of his instrument had to be heard to be believed. I just love the sound of the Hammond organ, it’s such a magnificent and majestic instrument. 


And when Johnny went into Summer Rain I was over the moon. It is one of my all time favourite songs, and the organ interludes in the song were played to perfection, a moving occasion for me as it brought back so many wonderful memories.



I’d forgotten how many hits Johnny had recorded over a stellar career beginning in 1964, he just kept churning them out one after another, and the surprising thing was everyone around  me was singing out as loud as I was. We all had smiles and benign looks on our faces as we wallowed in the goodwill of the concert, we were one big family celebrating together as one. It was a great feeling!


Back at the hotel that night I was pleasantly surprised by the number of fellow travellers who had gone to Johnny Rivers rather than the other big name acts performing at the same time. As we chatted we were united in our opinion of his outstanding performance and the good vibes we all felt from being a part of the concert.


I shot this clip on my phone during the concert.


I wrote a story for Stereo Stories a few years ago about Summer Rain and a summer long ago. Check out the story HERE.


This is the first of an occasional series of stories about my trip to New Orleans for Jazzfest this year.


Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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About Colin Ritchie

Retired teacher who enjoys following the Bombers, listening to music especially Bob Dylan, reading, and swimming.


  1. Les Everett says

    Thanks Colin. I love Johnny Rivers… Realization would be in my top five LPs of all time. Had front row seats to see him in Perth a few years ago but the show got cancelled. Glad he’s still going strong… might get to see him one day.

  2. Rick Kane says

    Great review Colin and yes, count me jealous. From first time I heard Secret Agent Man I was hooked. Cranks out a ripper Rockin’ Pneumonia as well. So many good tunes.


  3. Earl O'Neill says

    Too cool, Col.

  4. Envious Col. Adds to bucket list. Onya Johnny.

  5. That jazz fest sounds very cool, Col.
    New Orleans sure is a great place to visit.

  6. Luke Reynolds says

    Great read Col, envious of your experiences. Hope you get back there in 2021!

  7. Jude Booth says

    You will get back to New Orleans next year Col, Great story.

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