MARY FOSTERNEW ORLEANS (AP) â¿¿ The Neville Brothers carried on the tradition of closing out the big stage at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. The Funky Meters, regulars at the fest since 1989, were back, too. And festival creator George Wein played with an all-star cast at the Preservation Hall and Friends 50th Anniversary Celebration. That was Sunday's big nod to tradition. The closing day lineup also included Bonnie Raitt, the Foo Fighters and the Rebirth Brass Band as part of the more than 60 groups performing on 11 stages. Clouds and brief showers rolled across the bright blue morning skies, providing fans with an occasional drop in temperature and a cooling breeze to offset the steamy humidity. It was the first rain during Jazz Fest, and never lasted long enough or came down hard enough to drive fans to take shelter. Although attendance would not be announced until later in the week, the festival was jammed throughout its 7-day run thanks to a combination of acts such as Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Jimmy Buffett, as well as more traditional jazz, blues and gospel performers. "It was the biggest crowd ever," said Wein, 86, who founded both the New Orleans and Newport jazz festivals. "I was told over 70,000 people went through gates just Saturday." Ron York, a 47-year-old salesman from Detroit, said he had attended both weekends of the festival and spent nights taking in music at the clubs around town. "It was just what I needed after a Detroit winter," he said as he feasted on boiled crawfish and alligator sauce picante. "I'm going to come 'till I die and it's in my will they have to bring my ashes every year after that." At the other end of the Fairgrounds race track, where the festival is held, the Neville Brothers â¿¿ Art, Cyril, Charles and Aaron â¿¿, blended their special combination of funk and heart-grabbing songs to a jam-packed crowd.
"I only get to see them once a year," said Sally Grant, 47, of New Orleans. "So I never miss this. It's their tradition to end things by playing, and mine by watching."Composer-musician-producer Allen Toussaint, who played Saturday, was back on Sunday for a guest appearance at the Preservation Hall show. He also sat in with Bonnie Raitt. The 74-year-old Toussaint has been performing at Jazz Fest since 1975 and said it was more than the size of the crowds that impressed him. "They have been such a good crowd, so appreciative of the music," Toussaint said. "It's a pleasure to perform for people like this." Jazz Fest caps a string of major tourist events in New Orleans since winter that included the BCS college football championship, the NCAA Final Four, Mardi Gras and the French Quarter Festival. All provided a huge economic boost for a city still recovering from Hurricane Katrina in many areas.