While it was certainly great to be back at the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival last summer, the experience wasn’t exactly what local jazz fans have come to expect from the uber-popular annual event. For one, the festival, which had skipped a year due to COVID, had a much smaller lineup than in previous years, and was also tainted by the fact that attendees were confined to their “pods”—socially distanced circles painted right on the SPAC lawn. Jazz Fest was back, but it wasn’t quite the same.
This year, however, Jazz Fest as we know it returns, and it’s going to be even bigger and better than ever. “The 45th Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival will be a grand reunion and a big party all weekend long,” says festival producer Danny Melnick. “Fun, funky, groovy groups”—a whopping 24 of them—”will keep the audience moving day and night.” One such group is New Orleans–based funk and jazz collective Galactic, which will be performing with frontwoman Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph. After getting its start in The Big Easy in 1994, Galactic dropped its first funk album in 1996 and hit the road. The core five members—Ben Ellman, Robert Mercurio, Stanton Moore, Jeffrey Raines and Richard Vogal—have been touring with a rotating cast of vocalists, including David Shaw of The Revivalists and Grammy-winning R&B artist Macy Gray, ever since. It was with the latter that the band was introduced to New Orleans native Joseph, who sang backup for Gray when Galactic was on tour in Japan several years ago. “We totally fell in love with her voice and personality,” says Mercurio, the band’s bassist.
“They asked me to lead a song,” Joseph says of the Japan performance. “I studied the song the entire flight because I was so scared—I cannot mess this up. I led the song and a few years after that they asked me to sing lead, and I was so shocked and of course super-excited, so I jumped on the opportunity to do so.” Up until that point, Joseph had been performing mainly backups, which she continues to do with another New Orleans–based band, Tank and the Bangas.
Obviously, it’s incredibly difficult to explain a band’s sound in words, so if you want a sneak peek at what’s in store for Galactic’s Saratoga Jazz Fest performance, Joseph recommends listening to songs “Dolla Diva” (“It’s like a party,” she says) or “Does It Really Make A Difference” (“funky, but so soulful”). Mercurio concurs. But, if words were all we had, Joseph would describe Galactic this way: “It’s definitely New Orleans,” she says. “It’s New Orleans to the core.”