NEW ORLEANS - As fans chanted her name Saturday in anticipation of her New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival debut, Mexican pop star Paulina Rubio strutted on stage wielding an electric guitar and sporting tight black shorts, tall black boots and red sunglasses.
"There are a lot of Latin American singers, but not many of this calibre are from Mexico," said Nancy Alonzo, a Mexican-born fan who moved to New Orleans five years ago. "It means a lot to us that she's here."
The massive crowd erupted as Rubio hit the stage and began to perform hit after hit in her native Spanish tongue. Some in the crowd wore sombreros and shook maracas. Many danced, gyrated and took pictures as Rubio sang various songs, the lyrics of which roughly translate to: "Give me another tequila," ''I will do it for you," and "I want you more each time."
In honour of Cinco de Mayo, which celebrates Mexican heritage and pride, the festival sought to book Rubio and other Latin acts, including Rumba Buena and The Pedrito Martinez Group.
A mariachi band performed in an area of the festival grounds where Latin American arts and crafts like handmade Brazilian drums, paintings and sculptures were on display. As Honduran-born New Orleans artist Scarlett Alamiz demonstrated how to make a piñata, she said she was excited that Rubio was at Jazz Fest.
"She's our Britney Spears," Alamiz gushed. "We're so happy she's here."
Eva Grant, a native of Mexico who now lives in Houston, came to the festival with her husband Don and some friends especially to hear Rubio.
"She's no Britney Spears, she's Madonna," Grant said with enthusiasm. "She's very connected to the Latinos. She pushes herself to be a good example for us. She's one of the most talented entertainers we have. I love her."
Jazz Fest-goers also got a taste Saturday of traditional music by Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Roland Guerin and John Boutte. The day's headliners also included the Eagles, My Morning Jacket and Ne-Yo.
A steady flow of people filled the Fair Grounds Race Course for the festival, whose main sponsor is Shell. An overcast sky and cool breezes provided reprieve from the heat and sun. The event runs through Sunday.
Toussaint, wearing a colorful red, yellow, green and black jacket, had the crowds in front of the Acura stage — the festival's largest — on their feet. Singer Theresa Andersson joined him for a funky duet of "Now You Know" and Cyril Neville made an appearance with him as well on "Old Treme."
The festival also continued to give fans a taste of the new with a first-time performance by New Orleans' own Tarriona "Tank" Ball and the BlackStar Bangas. Earlier Saturday, she had a sparse group in the field fronting Congo Square on their feet, waving their arms, cheering and dancing as she performed an eclectic show that included rap, poetry and singing.
New Orleans residents Susan Ranheim and her husband, Steve Salm, planned to spend the weekend moving around the festival grounds.
"Roaming is the best way to experience Jazz Fest," Ranheim said. "We just stop when we find something we like listening to."
The couple said they don't like bringing chairs or anything that will bog them down.
"We don't want to be stuck with anything except each other," Ranheim said.
Under one of the music tents, fest-goers hoisted colorful umbrellas up and down as a jazz band played "When the Saints Go Marching In." On a nearby stage with musical acts geared for children, a New Orleans school jazz ensemble performed "Soul Man" as kids in the audience danced and clapped to the beat of the music.
All weekend long, children will be able to participate in arts and crafts projects such as decorating hand-held fans and sashes with feathers, beads and sparkly sequins. Some also decorated picture frames with red beans and rice.
Associated Press writer Chevel Johnson contributed to this report.