NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Mixed in among the jazz, Cajun, blues and zydeco flowing from the stages here are the singing, chanting and drumming of Native American acts featuring dancers donned in colorful feathers and fringe.
Louisiana Native Americans have long been represented at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, but this is the first year the focus on the culture has been expanded to include tribal nations from elsewhere in the United States, as well as Canada and Latin America.
At the center of the festival is a makeshift "village" with a tepee, a thatched hut made of palmetto branches and an open fire where demonstrators cook traditional Native American dishes such as squash with wild rice and hominy with black walnuts.
The village is also filled with music and festive drum and hoop dances, and features music sets by singer Pura Fe, flutist Robert Mirabel, and others.
Roughly 50 nations are represented at the 2013 festival, which continues through Sunday.
"The main purpose is to show the diversity of the Native American culture," said Gray Hawk Perkins, a New Orleans native of Choctaw and Houmas tribal descent. "That's what this is giving us a chance to do, to see how much sometimes we're alike but often see how much we are different."
On Thursday, crowds braved scattered showers. Through a short downpour, New Orleans singer Mia Borders sang "Mississippi Rising."
"I'm a child of the bayou, Southern through and through ... The tide is rising. Don't wash us away," she sang, wielding an electric guitar before a crowd thinned by the rain.
Borders dedicated the song to her hometown and professed her excitement at her Jazz Fest debut, even if it was in the rain.
"I made it, Momma!" she shouted to the crowd.
Southern rock jam band Widespread Panic played throughout another sudden downpour as the festival neared its close Thursday. The group drew a dense crowd despite the weather. Most were in rain gear and some hoisted umbrellas as they defied the wind, rain and cool temperatures to dance and sing along with the band.
Several Native American acts are playing the festival's big stages as well as in the village area.
It's also an opportunity to show that Native American music still has a place in mainstream music, Perkins said.
"Here at Jazz Fest, it's a chance to hear the Native Americans and then walk over to another stage and go, wow, I heard that over at the Native American area. I heard that same rhythm," said Perkins, whose band will perform Sunday.
Last weekend's featured performers were the Stoney Creek Singers and A Tribe Called Red, a trio of DJs from Canada who incorporate Native American singing and drumming in their electronic music.
"We like to describe it as a cultural continuance," said Ian Campeau, whose stage name is DJ NDN. "We're just continuing a certain powwow culture that's always been around. It's still happening, so it's a very vibrant culture. We're just putting our urban spin on it."
Mirabel and Pura Fe will perform on the main stages this weekend.
On the festival's other stages were brass bands, Mardi Gras Indians, Latin groups and gospel singers.
R&B singer, songwriter and producer Kem, in his festival debut, closed one of the 12 stages set up throughout the Fair Grounds.
"Anytime we have an opportunity to play here we jump at it," said Kem in an interview before his set.
Kem said there's a different dynamic when performing outside. "It's not as intimate, but over the last couple of years we've tapered the show to fit the outside elements. We just try to have fun and the weather plays into it."
His fans withstood the rain to see him perform hits including "Share My Life," ''Find Your Way (Back in My Life)," ''I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Love Calls."
Kecia L. Wright and her friend, Herlanius Tate, both of New Orleans, were among them.
"We saw him 10 years ago at the House of Blues and he was awesome. I love him. He's easy on the eyes too," Wright said laughing.
Earlier Thursday, Sandra Hughes, wearing a bright orange poncho and flip-flops, sipped a margarita as she listened to The Honeypots, a group of all-female New Orleans singers.
"We're loving it," said Hughes, of Cincinnati, Ohio, who's taking in her 14th Jazz Fest with her husband, Bart Hughes. "That's the beauty of this festival. Whatever your mood, you can find something to match it here."
Associated Press writer Chevel Johnson contributed to this report.
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