New Orleans Jazz Festival 2013 celebrates music diversity

Better Than Ezra lead singer Kevin Griffin performs during the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival May 4, 2007, in New Orleans.

Better Than Ezra knows New Orleans well. The band formed in the city in 1988 and has had roots there ever since. Now the rockers are gearing up to play the first weekend of the 2013 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which kicks off Friday.

"We always have a horn section to take the normal Better Than Ezra show to another level. It's such a fine day," singer Kevin Griffin told on Thursday in the midst of rehearsals for the annual music festival. "It's a one-of-a-kind city. It has amazing atmosphere."

Griffin, who now calls Nashville home, added, "It's always great to go back to New Orleans. It really has a real celebratory kind of vibe. People don't need an excuse to throw a party...and now is no exception. There's amazing shows all around the city that run the gamut from traditional New Orleans jazz, to rock and avant-garde."

And at the festival itself this year, there's a star-studded bill of performers that includes B.B. King, Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, Earth Wind & Fire, Hall and Oates, Fleetwood Mac, The Black Keys, Maroon 5, Kem, Jill Scott, Jimmy Cliff, Dave Matthews Band and Frank Ocean, who grew up in New Orleans. Another New Orleans native -- Aaron Neville -- is featured on this year's official Jazz Fest poster. He's also performing at the Gentilly stage, playing songs off his latest album, "My True Story," with a new band on the festival's closing night, May 4.

R&B singer Kem also has a soft spot for New Orleans, telling The Associated Press, "The hospitality is tremendous. The food is unbelievable. But one thing that resonates with me also is that the city is so resilient. I take inspiration from that, that you all are not just standing, but thriving. I know there are places where people are still dealing with the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina, but what greater life message is there than to move and push forward. I identify with that."

Festival-goers will see a lot of talent from Louisiana, including appearances by Irma Thomas and jazz singer Allen Toussaint. In all, there's an estimated 5,000 entertainers performing throughout the festival's 12 stages. The second Jazz Fest weekend begins May 2 and wraps on May 5.