IOWA CITY — Blistering music and a cool breeze played perfect counterpoint for another first in the new Hancher history, as more than 1,000 people gathered on the green Friday to party New Orleans style.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which christened the former Hancher stage in 1972, returned with a hallelujah baptism on the lawn stretching between the old and new sites.
This venerable band also toured Iowa in 2013 with Hancher’s “Living With Floods” project, bringing music and healing to seven cities rebounding from devastating deluges.
Part 2 of Hancher’s rolling grand opening had the audience dancing, clapping and reveling in the revelry flowing seamlessly from Preservation Hall’s jaunty Dixieland jazz to wild cacophonies and gospel sounds dripping with fervor.
The musicians couldn’t stand still either, dancing behind their saxes, clarinet, trumpet, drums, keyboard and trombone, drawing circles in the air. Even the sound engineers were getting their groove on at the side of the stage.
The heartbeat of the band is creative director Ben Jaffe, whose parents founded the ensemble 50 years ago. His walking bass takes every song on a sassy strut, setting the tone for all that unfolds.
The hourlong set sent spirits soaring, spiraling through an amen chorus of “yeahs” before a gospel encore where the lyrics “I’ve played with fire” punctuated the sparks flying out of their blazing horns.
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After a short break, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue kept the party rolling, with a new spicy stew of styles, powered by sizzling sounds from call-and-response vocals to crashing drums and wild, blaring trumpet. The crowd was cheering as the band played into the night.
All ages flocked to this free event. A Hawkeye tailgate in the parking lot kicked it all off, full of games and good cheer — complete with the University of Iowa marching band, dance squad and the Golden Girl twirling more fun into the frolics.
The expansive site created plenty of room for the kids in the crowd to run off their boundless energy, while groups of friends perched on the low, curved walls complementing Hancher’s spectacular architecture.
As the sun slipped below the horizon, the building’s soaring glass walls, shimmering with rows of lights inside and out, created a stunning backdrop to the outdoor stage — and a much welcomed sight.
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