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Jazz Fest ends on a high note

Fats Domino doesn't play, but his appearance buoys a grateful crowd

Fats Domino tipped his hat to thousands of cheering fans, briefly appearing on stage during the final day of Jazz Fest. But the headliner did not perform.

“He wasn’t feeling well, so we took him to the doctor. He’s OK, but he doesn’t feel up to performing,” longtime friend Haydee Ellis said Sunday.

Domino lost his home, his pianos, his gold and platinum records, and much of the city he loves during Hurricane Katrina.

His scheduled performance at the 37th annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was to be his first since he was rescued by boat from his flooded home in the Ninth Ward after Katrina struck Aug. 29.

Last week, Domino, 78, canceled an autograph session for his latest album “Alive and Kickin’,” saying he was fatigued and wanted to rest up for the Sunday performance.

Heinz Tumeltshamer flew from Austria to see the Hall of Fame performer. The 63-year-old Tumeltshamer, wearing a T-shirt that read “Fats Forever,” first saw Domino as a teenager and was disappointed Domino did not perform.

Still, he was grateful for the appearance.

“It was a pleasure just to see him,” Tumeltshamer said.

Local musicians and others including Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Buffett and Paul Simon performed at the six-day event that spanned two weekends. Organizers declined to say how many people attended the event, which typically draws about 500,000 people, but as in past years the lawns and sidewalks were crammed every day.

Many performers said the festival was part of rebuilding the city, which suffered devastating flooding and the loss of neighborhoods.

“We’ve gotta get this town back together, and this is one way to do it,” said jazz clarinetist Pete Fountain before taking the stage Sunday.

The 75-year-old was saddened to learn that Domino canceled his performance.

“When you’ve been through a lot like he’s been through ... it’s just a shame,” said Fountain, who also lost a home in the storm and then had quadruple bypass heart surgery in March.

Fountain’s home in Bay St. Louis, Miss., was wiped out, along with his gold records, memorabilia and 10 musical instruments. His New Orleans home has been repaired.

Jazz Fest was held at the New Orleans Fair Grounds Race Course, which was under 5 feet of water at the height of the flooding.

“This has been a Jazz Fest like no other,” said Barbara Martin, whose New Orleans home took in 8 feet of water. “So many artists have come down for us. They’re trying to inspire us to restore and rebuild New Orleans, both musically and emotionally.”

Soul singer Irma Thomas played before a rain-soaked crowd in the afternoon, opening her act with, appropriately, “It’s Raining.”

Her tone became more somber for “In the Middle of it All,” which she said represents the state of the city and its people right now.

“I sang this song to let you know that we’re all hurting, but we have hope,” Thomas said.

Many musicians returned to New Orleans for the festival, some for the first time since Katrina.

Others, however, were unable to make the trip, including Aaron Neville, who for more than a decade had performed with his brothers Art, Cyril and Charles on the festival’s closing day.

Art, who played the festival last weekend with his New Orleans-based band The Meters, is the only Neville brother living in New Orleans since the storm.