For a low-profile legend, Alex Chilton had a lot of friends. Many of them gathered Sunday (April 29) on the Gentilly Stage of the New Orleans Jazz Fest to remember him.
A Memphis native, Chilton moved to New Orleans in the early 1980s, hightailing it from pop fame (1967's "The Letter," as teenage lead singer of "The Box Tops) and cult-hero worship (as cofounder of Big Star) to make a home for himself in a small Treme apartment.
He emerged for occasional forays into the New Orleans music scene but mostly enjoyed living as "just another character in a city full of them," as the Times-Picayune's Keith Spera wrote in an April 2010 remembrance.
Chilton died of a heart attack at age 59 in March 2010, still enough of an enigmatic character that he got his own fascinating chapter in Spera's 2011 book, "Groove Interrupted: Loss, Renewal, and the Music of New Orleans."
Sunday's celebration was planned and performed by local folks who knew Chilton well. Bassist Rene Coman and drummer Doug Garrison backed Chilton in various musical settings
Guitarist Alex McMurray, who first met Chilton in a most New Orleans way -- at a crawfish boil - stood at center stage ripping out chiming solos throughout and singing lead vocals on several songs, including an irresistible "Hey! Little Child" and a stomping "Lies."
Rick Olivier of Creole String Beans fronted several other tunes, including an appropriately swampy "Alligator Man." He noted: "Alex would love the smell out here, I tell ya."
Dave Pirner sang a few, too, and Susan Cowsill delivered lovely renditions of "Soul Deep" and a show-closing "September Gurls." Among the other musical contributors were Davis Rogan and James Singleton, who helped the others build a great 18-song bash in their famous friend's memory.
"We love you, Alex," Cowsill said as they all left the stage. "See you round the bend."