NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- A steady, sometimes heavy rain pelted fans Sunday at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, but the music flowed on.
A soaked Dave Matthews and his band played through a strong downpour at the tail end of the closing weekend, much to the fans' delight as they danced along with him and cheered him through the bad weather.
Matthews ended his performance just before a flash of lightning and strong thunder echoed his goodbyes to the crowd, which stretched to the back track and beyond despite the weather, as is usual for that stage.
Umbrellas, rain boots and plastic ponchos were out in abundance early as fans stood among the puddles and water-soaked grass, awaiting clearer skies. The rain had stopped for a time in the afternoon, but came back in time to drench the evening crowd.
Paul Rother, of Venice Beach, Calif., said he and his friend, Mark Sender, of Hollywood, drove 2,300 miles to attend this year's festival, and a little rain wasn't going to make them stay inside.
"The bands go on, rain or shine. I was at Woodstock. It rained there, too," he said, laughing.
Rother, a first-timer to the festival, said he decided to attend after Sender spoke so highly of the city and the event.
"New Orleans is the best city in America," Sender said. "And since Katrina, I've wanted to contribute to the economy as much as I can."
As Steven and Jessica Kennedy pushed their 2 ½-year-old daughter, Miriam, in a stroller, the New Orleans residents said weather wouldn't deter them from getting out to hear the likes of the Nevilles, the Dave Matthews Band and B.B. King.
"She wanted to come more than we did," Jessica Kennedy said of the toddler. "We're prepared. We have a lot of rain gear."
"There are 600 bands here," added Steven Kennedy. "You can't beat the price of the ticket for that kind of talent and you get a good mix of national and local artists."
A torrential downpour blew through about 5 p.m. CDT, shortly before the day's final artists would take the stage, sending fans inside any shelter they could find, including covered tents, such as the one where jazz songstress Dianne Reeves entertained a standing-room-only crowd. Reeves canceled last year's scheduled appearance after her mother died.
Fans enthusiastically embraced her when she took the stage and sang her rendition of Lena Horne's "Stormy Weather" and Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams."
"It's such a pleasure and honor to be here with you tonight," Reeves told the crowd, who cheered in response. "We made it through the rain and storm clouds now sit back and relax and enjoy the music."
Calvin Cherry, of Newport News, Va., said when he saw Reeves was on this year's lineup, he knew instantly that he'd be in the house. Cherry, a professional dancer, said Reeves' voice is like "poetry in motion."
"It's so mysterious, so haunting and has such a deep and guttural quality that it's just phenomenal. There are spaces in her voice that just resonate with me and for me to use my body to interpret her music, it's just kismet," he said.
The downpour stopped the music shortly on at least one stage, as crews rushed to cover equipment at the height of the storm. But the sweet sounds of the Gipsy Kings — a group from Arles and Montpellier in the south of France who perform in Spanish — quickly returned when the rain slowed to a drizzle.
Just before 7 p.m., another line of severe weather dumped rain on the remaining fans, who stuck it out with Matthews until the end of his set.
Festival producer Quint Davis thanked Matthews for his effort and encouraged fans to return on Thursday when the festival resumes.
New Orleans artists Khris Royal & Dark Matter played the Gentilly Stage early Sunday as pockets of fest-faithfuls grooved and danced to his funky saxophone opening instrumental. Keith Frank & the Soileau Zydeco Band also enticed fans to the front of the nearby Fais Do-Do stage, where couples rocked a two-step to the band's steady beat.
The Nevilles, without brother Aaron, performed just before the Dave Matthews Band, which closed the fest's first weekend and largest stage.
"We almost didn't come," said Sandy Diaz, of Ocean Springs, Miss., after singing along and dancing with the Nevilles on "Meet de Boys on the Battlefront."
"It's a little disappointing that Aaron's not up there with him, but I'm excited about seeing Trombone Shorty next weekend," she said.
Trombone Shorty, whose real name is Troy Andrews, will close the largest stage May 5, the final day of the festival, which is held over two weekends annually.
Associated Press writer Stacey Plaisance contributed to this report.