NEW ORLEANS – Janelle Monae stormed the Congo Square stage amid blaring guitars, pounding drums and a screaming crowd that grew even louder when she announced to a New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival crowd that she intended to pay tribute to Prince.
Monae launched into "Givin'Em What They Love," music she co-wrote with Prince, her former mentor, whose death a day earlier was on the minds of artists and fans alike on Friday's opening day of Jazz Fest.
She peppered her set with praise of, and anecdotes about, the man she said "was always fighting for creativity and honesty." Monae's was among Friday's final acts at the multi-stage festival and it ended an opening day punctuated with references to the late star.
"Don't party for yourselves. Party for Prince," rocker Grace Potter told the crowd at the Gentilly stage before launching into her own musical tribute.
It had been like that all day.
Strains of his "Let's Go Crazy" filled the air near one stage as thousands streamed onto the festival site and fans said they had been shocked upon hearing of his passing a day earlier.
"The news of Prince yesterday — that's a harsh one," said Duane Pitre of New Orleans. "It's another artist this year, similar to (David) Bowie that everybody can relate to on some level or liked his music on some level. Growing up, my mom had Prince going on in the house all the time."
"I was really hoping it wasn't true," said Lauren Cecil, also of New Orleans. "I told some of my co-workers when it happened and people started crying at work."
Prince never played at Jazz Fest and, with a schedule that was planned well ahead of the opening, no formal tributes were on the festival agenda. But there were impromptu ones.
Local favorite Wanda Rouzan noted the star's Thursday death, and that of New Orleans song writer, performer and record producer Allen Toussaint, who died in November.
On another stage, Cowboy Mouth lead singer Fred Leblanc, acknowledged Prince before launching into the band's popular "l Believe," a song about the power of love and rock 'n' roll.
The Southern Rock band Gov't Mule, one of Friday evening's closing acts, tweeted praise for Prince on Thursday and was expected to pay homage during its performance on the festival's Gentilly stage.
"I'm sure it's going to be something that reverberates through here all day — all weekend," Robert Kelly of Daytona Beach, Florida, a festival regular since 1988, said as he entered the grounds with his wife, Roxanne.
"We were shocked when we heard it," Roxanne Kelly said. "It just doesn't seem possible."
Festival goers were greeted by sunny skies at the Fair Grounds Race Course, the horse racing track where the festival unfolds over two weekends.
Crowds are drawn to hear music covering a wide variety of musical genres performed by scores of acts — some nationally known, some regionally and locally — who take their turns on close to a dozen stages spread over the track's infield.
There's also a variety of food — local and ethnic cuisines at booths on the festival site and at restaurants catering to the crowds.
"It's beautiful chaos," said Eric James, manager of Santa Fe, a Latin American restaurant close to the track, who says the crowds are a boon to business.
Friday's best known acts also included Steely Dan and Michael McDonald.