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New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival kicks off

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) - He danced, drink in hand, to the music of British rhythm and blues artist Jon Cleary, but there was no one act that drew Ray Ladonceur to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on Friday's opening day.

"It really doesn't matter who is on stage," said Ladonceur, a New Orleans attorney and accountant. "If you can't find a genre of music you're interested in at this festival then you don't like music. It's a beautiful, gorgeous day. There's great food, great people and great music. What more can you ask for?"

Festival producer Quint Davis stressed variety going into the 2011 festival, calling the lineup one of the broadest in the event's history.

It was evident from the sounds wafting through the air as lines formed early at booths offering everything from cold beer and crawfish to ice cream and jambalaya.

There were some of the state's greats: George Porter Jr., John Mooney and Bluesiana, Lil Nathan and the Zydeco Big Timers and Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk.

And there were the visitors.

On one stage: English folk rock band Mumford and Sons drew thousands. The group, fronted by Marcus Mumford on guitar, got rousing applause, pumping the crowd with such hits as "Little Lion Man" and "The Cave," from their debut album "Sigh No More."

"I actually love them," said Lisa Podzinger, of Savannah, Ga. "I love their whole melody thing they've got going on."

On another stage, Jeff Beck entertained thousands more while, in the Blues Tent, Keb' Mo' belted out down home blues.

Janneka Scherrenberg of Holland said this was her first time at the festival and she plans to return.

"Our friends live here and they kept telling us, 'You have to go to the jazz fest.' We finally got here," she said, swaying to Cleary. "Everything is just great. New Orleans, the people, the food. We'll be back."

Robert Plant, Wyclef Jean and The Avett Brothers were among nationally known acts closing the first day of the festival, which runs for seven days over two weekends at the Fair Grounds Race Course.

Gabi Baigel, a South African native now living in New York, danced along with the crowd packed in front of the stage to hear Jean. "I love the rhythm of him," she said, "and his third world sentiment."

Baigel said this was her first visit to the festival and was surprised at how organized everything was.

"It's a really great atmosphere. The people here and the city have a really great personality."

Jean entertained the crowd with Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie," his own take on Bob Dylan's "Knocking' on Heaven's Door," as well as a bit of freestyle. He also revved up the fans when he spontaneously jumped into the midst of them. As they bounced to his beats and screamed his name, he shook hands while cameras clicked and roars of approval hummed in the air.

"I've never seen him live before, but he's so connected to his audience. He's so full of positive energy," said Kelly Ketner, who was at the festival with her boyfriend, Alex Perk, on a visit to New Orleans from Ottawa, Canada.

Perk said Jean "puts on a great show," but his draw was Mumford and Sons. "It's all about the music, the instrumental interludes for them. They were amazing."

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