Saturday, April 15, 2017

Jazz Fest 2017

The Spell of Jazz
Debbie Lindsey

Jazz Fest is that magical moment in time when fairy dust is scattered over the city and enchantment rules.  It is also a two week period when, as my friend Gallivan so keenly stated, “The collective IQ of the City is raised”.  Why this festival?  Is it because it’s grounded in the rich soil of New Orleans talent and creativity—thus a magnet for additional outside musical genius and creative souls to gravitate to?  Is it the festival or the city?   And more importantly, will the magic endure?
My first Jazz Fest was in 1989 and with each year that followed I became more and more captivated by this escape from the mundane.  As a person that rarely hits the late night (or early night) live music scene (shame on me) I am thrilled to fill my ears and eyes with so much local and international talent.  I delight in discovering new musicians each year and humbled and grateful to have been in the presence of such legendary luminaries as Dave Brubeck.  Or to witness the debut of young talents that as the years pass have grown into musical forces that are poised to carry the torch of jazz well into the future. 
Of course I speak of jazz, which is my favorite genre of music, yet every Jazz Fest I listen, learn, and develop love affairs with Blues, Zydeco, Gospel and more, much more.  Also, live music tends to train my ear, by way of watching, to identify the instrumentations and techniques that create the musical magic.   Now, that sound is a clarinet; that riff a saxophone, the flurry of notes a glissando, the rush of goose bumps up and down my spine is instigated by the slides and sweeps of a guitar, and the tears that fill my eyes are the result of bow to strings.   My musical skills are limited to tuning the radio and spinning some vinyl; my ears are basically illiterate to the “whats and hows” of crafting music. For me witnessing this art form in action imparts some knowledge that, for me enhances the nuances that only certain instruments, musicians and even vocalists can render.  Yet, to my delight, being a bit of a musical neophyte prevents me from becoming too analytical and it therefore remains a magical sound that defies description and logic.
Now, enough about the music.  “What? It’s Jazz Fest, what do ya mean?” Hold on, I am not making light of the central theme of this festival—but there is so much more…and for me this is where lurks the quirks, the enchantments.  Every year the spell of Jazz Fest envelopes me with the very first scaffold that is placed within the Fairgrounds.  I am one of those lucky folks that live within sight and sound of Jazz Fest and can witness it unfolding during the weeks leading up.  Without fail, every year when I spot that first tent being raised I am filled with euphoria like a kid waiting for Christmas.  And my Santa wears sunglasses and plays sax.
I live in a neighborhood that is ground zero for Jazz Fest and I am proud to report that most residing here feel lucky, even privileged (I know I do) to be able to partake, party, and play within the perimeters of this event.  The neighborhood gussies up with fresh mowed lawns, flower pots spilling forth added color, string lights glow from porches, and our freak flags fly.  In addition, the trash cans are adorned with yellow “caution” tape and double as guards protecting our driveways and parking spots.  Parking takes on the feel of a sporting event.  The world descends upon this otherwise laid back hamlet and while there is some needed territorialism to secure parking after a day at work I must say I find an overall spirit of courtesy among neighbors and visitors.
Living on the side-lines of the Fair Grounds allows the fest to continue even after you exit the gates.  And, gawd forbid, if you had to work and miss a day, you still have the stroll option for the ‘post game’ fest.  As always there are pop-up bands performing their own magic for the price of a tip.  Add to this various vendors selling cold beverages (some adult brews too), crafts, and food.  And Liuzza’s By The Track is a must!  Some of their signature culinary creations are available for carry out and the bar and libations are flowing with glee.  Prices are good, and please tip generously.  Heck, tip like a Rockefeller all during this extravaganza—from restroom attendants, food vendors, bartenders, to street musicians.  Hey while we’re at it—make sure you take care of that taxi driver and even your UBER guy (UBER works with a credit card billing thingy…but the drivers still need and appreciate tips.  The UBER corporation might be raking in the bucks but the drivers are like the rest of us—workin’ to make ends meet).

Magical Realism is definitely woven into Jazz Fest.  Perhaps it’s a frame of mind and if that’s the case, then you can bet I am defiantly forgoing the mundane and choosing to see every serendipitous moment, chance meetings of old friends (hoping to see ya Cathy in your usual spot at the Jazz Tent), rainy days when not a drop of water hits me, and the magic of an air-conditioned port-a-potty.  For me it has always been a matter of being at the right place at the right time.  This year I will secure new memories, witness fresh talent, explore the food, and savor the unexpected.   Yet all the while I will be hoping to find that certain things remain the same--the courtesies, enthusiasm, and of course the magic.

2017 Jazz Fest weekend 2

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Pete and Repeat
            So, is this your first weekend of the second week or the second weekend after your first? Are you walking in with your nose in the air like a bird dog, sniffing the wafting aromas of the hunka hunka burning love portions number nine, ten and eleven: “I smell ribs…gotta go!” Or have you arrived with your nose to the ground like a hound dog on the trail of beer, barbeque, buddies and blues. Who’s on first?
 Your look is familiar; don’t I know you from anywhere? Haven’t I seen your face before? I’m familiar with that wry swan smile, those Army scout eyes, that sunburned shoulder (you forgot your PF30 again), that hungry desperate surreptitious tuck and roll glance; that furtive insecurity, exhibiting the inner knowledge of one who is aware that it’s almost over!
I know that look of longing love at the end of an affair when you want to devour everything about your lover, the sights, smells, sounds and spice; the gaseous miasma of flirting food just beyond your reach; human smells in the air, sweaty pits, sun tan oils, hair goop, after shave lotion and all of it. That’s true for me also, so, I’m feelin’ ya; I want to be a sponge soaking everything up about the 2017 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (Jazz Fest) as well, for I have loved her and she has loved me back.
            Leapin’ Lizards! It’s the second weekend and I’ve got to take it all in, all that I can absorb! My bucket list: have I had my cochon de lait po-boy; soft shell crab; pheasant, quail, andouille gumbo; praline stuffed beignet and trout Baquet? Check list: I’ve had my oysters; at least a half a gallon of strawberry tea; a huckabuck, cafĂ© au lait, messy BBQ, spring rolls and Jama Jama; seen and hugged a dozen people. But it’s not sufficient for this heart of mine, I want more! What haven’t I had, tried, tasted, begged, borrowed or browsed upon? What’s goin’ on? Who’s holding out?
            I liken it to an affaire de Coeur; even when strorm clouds roll in, you’re gonna give it your best shot. Word to your mother: “the worst day at Jazz Fest is better than the best day any other time of year!” The anticipation of its (Jazz Fest’s) arrival is like an incoming train bringing you your lost love; this year I even brought flowers for my first date, I mean, first day. I live close, so I hear them, see them, setting up the Fest and it’s music to my ears; the roustabouts and the tent slingers, beer trucks, sound checks, ice men, Indians and buses bringing bands.
            They open the gates and I’m standing there early, music fills the air, cooking fires are lit and the grand march and linger begins; seats are filled, lines are formed, blankets laid and golly, if someone hasn’t brought a beach ball to bat around! It’s a sensation candy store and the kids are in charge; there is no sorrow, no grief or pain: it’s Christmas and the medics have aspirins, Band Aids and armchairs!
            I thirst, that’s why I’m here; I’m a wanderer; a high relater radiator, sweet potato commentator, instigator investigator, nirvana spectator see ya later alligator man about this ad hoc al fresco percolator, drinking it all in! Elusive at best; appearing and disappearing, here and there and hear and left wondering if I was ever here at all. Who did you see? I don’t know, I saw them all, heard them all, ate and tasted it all and had a ball, seeing and sawing as much of all as y’all standing tall. Mama, I’m home!
            I wax prolific and expansive about my love of this venue, this time in my life and yours where and when we could come apart together in peace, music, food and the facilitation of our own standing sitting walking talking singing quietude of mutual atmospheric melodic meditation, protected witnesses all.
Sure, the weather has been hot cold dry wet dusty and muddy; there’s nothing unexpected in that, I’m down with that, ready Teddy. The mister has sprung a leak above my head in the Jazz Tent; so, why do you think I brought this here folding umbrella, just to keep the sun off me? Well, that too. I’ve also brought cash in small untraceable bills so that when I get to the front of the line and have exact money (plus tip); I can hit it with hot sauce and saunter smartly back into the stream of strangers somehow symbiotically connected to me.
There are those that think that the tariff it’s too steep; the crowds are at best congestive, the toilets are an olfactory mugging, the price of the food is up and the portions are too small. I’m not sure if we’re at the same festival. Like Arthur Dent, I’ve brought is my towel and openness to whatever will happen. I shy away from whatever doesn’t suit me at the moment, ready to split on or stick out the experience coming at me. Whatever, I’m here for the joy of it all, smiling because it’s happening again for the first time. I’m at the Jazz Fest again; let me wallow in the wonder, for this too shall pass leaving another notch on my memory wall.
It’s the second and final weekend this season and it will soon be over until, if the universe is willing, next year; there will be so much that will happen to each of us in the interval until next time, we’ll be older and perhaps wiser when we meet the Jazz Fest again. May we all take with us the serenity and tranquility that we’ve had with this uplifting and exciting time. After while, crocodile.


2017 Jazz Fest weekend 1

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Jazz Fest Week One
Into the Belly of the Beast

Okay, Cats and Hats off we go like a herd of turtles to The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, hereafter referred to as simply ‘Jazz Fest’. I personally welcome you to the first weekend of Jazz Fest, our roads have been paved and sidewalks straightened like you’re off to see the wizard on the Yellow Brick Road; yes, you’re headed straight into the virtually fabled city of music, food and gaiety. We’ve sprayed the trees so that those nasty caterpillars that sting like acid don’t drop from the trees like armed commandos and whelp your delicate epidermis (also knocking off butterflies, bees, and the occasional humming bird). All quiet on the western front anticipating the arrival of the festivity famished friendly festival family of multiple thousands (and den some).
Understand that your safety is paramount to us and we want you to feel as safe as Tite Poulet in Madame John’s bathrobe; we’ve charged a sizeable ransom from your hard earned for tickets (certainly not couch cushion coin) in order to keep the riff raff away. We’ve also upped the price of alcohol to where if you’re gonna get in your cups, you’ll have just enough cheddar for the Uber chariot that you’re relying on to take you safely back to your AIRBNB where your bedmates (and buddies) await like bears in a den, insulated from the elements and weighted down with beers iced like sticks of firewood in their cooler uterus while their emptied brethren sit discarded like fallen soldiers having given their lives in the service of their inebriation Czar.
            Being Spring and all, I find myself congested with a case of similes, you might say that my analogies are acting up. Personally, after all of my jingles are jingled all the way (Christmas music) and my Hey pockeys are all pockeed away (Carnival music), the lull since Easter has expended my musical capital to the point of Rock an Droll; needing a shot of rhythm for the Jazz Fest fever blues. I’m as ready for my dose as a hippie on a high mountain seeking the guru sounds of musical nirvana awaiting my arrival. Mama, I’m home.
Be that as it may, might I point out for you newbies that at first it can be a little overwhelming, all the sounds and sights might sound like noise, the attendees might look like crowds; it can cloud your imagination, flummox your judgment, boggle your mind; you might get as nervous as a virgin at a prison rodeo. First, rein in your hearing ability to about sixty feet in front of you; that will have the other locomotion commotions sound less like cosmic debris, cacophonically speaking. Stop, breathe, find your inner Conan, you can do this; go with the flow, make believe that you (and everybody else) is high on something and that everything is a show put on for just you, because it is (and they probably are).
            Preparation is good, as good as a compass in a dust storm. The weather is gonna be sunny, overcast, dusty, rainy, muddy and above all erratic; try as you may, you will not be prepared for all of its idiosyncrasies.  Wear a hat, scarf, sunglasses, sandals, boots, overalls and shorts, long and short sleeve shirts; or screw it and just put on something comfortable and figure it will get ruined and you will get wind, dust and sun burned. You can’t bar the doors if the walls are gonna cave in. Take cash and maybe one credit card and leave all other paper and plastic at home; electronic devices and extraneous jewelry are like Jazz Fest masturbation, nobody needs to know where you are and those selfies just make you look like an escapee from a batty bin. Basically, if you’re playing with yourself, you’re not playing with us. You’re at the Jazz Fest to have a good time not to make a friggin documentary. Relax, it’s just music, food and fun; and if you don’t like the fun you’re having where you’re standing… go make some of your own six feet, ten feet or even a hundred feet away.
            Allen Toussaint recommends that you “eat everything” at the Jazz Fest; Debbie Lindsey reminds us to tip like someone’s watching you (they are), I do both. I trapes the Fest dervishly, both new words for my personal dictionary, kinda like tripping the lights fantastic only it’s something that I do out of doors and performed with alacrity and a certain amount of youthful subjective objectivity. In other words, I’m in love with the whole scene. I even dig waiting in lines.
            I look over people’s shoulder to see what they’re eating and not shy about asking them how they like it and where they purchased it. I’ve been attending for decades and I still cannot find my way from one end to the other without getting lost at least twice, and I love that too! I’ve purchased my tickets well in advance and never buy from someone out on the street after my friend got burned with bogus tickets from a seemingly honest pedestrian; literally scalped she was.
            Generally I can tell the newer members of the audience because they haven’t yet learned that rude and crude don’t work here, they don’t use the litter barrels much less the recycle bins, they act like the Fest is a meat market and also tap into their negative energies by mocking the afflicted: silly dancers, weird dressers, flag wavers and other people that happen to be ignoring how similar to a rube the mocker happens to be. Hopefully they’ll learn before the second day.

            Some don’ts: do not unfurl a towel, blanket, whatever and expect that it will hold your place in the middle of an audience; don’t unnecessarily save a seat in a tent for more than a portion of a performance and deprive another of a place to comfortably sit; don’t block aisles or other walkways; and don’t you ever pass up the festivities outside of the race track!