Finally made it to my first ever Jazz Fest. The festival was something I’d heard about my whole life, something I missed every year as it conflicted with “pilot season” in L.A., the time of year when most new television shows are cast – those that will make it onto the air and those who will only shoot a “pilot” episode (a first episode, often a test episode to show the networks) and disappear forever. I can now say with authority that Jazz Fest may not lead to a career in television, but it’s WAY more fun.
As someone new to the festival, the first thing I noticed was how it all lays out. This map is worth a thousand words.
But, for those of you who don’t click links, the whole festival is on a horse racing track with 11 stages, some tented. It’s like a multiplex movie theatre only each show only runs once. That means that at any given time, at least 11 concerts are happening and that means you can’t possibly see all there is to see at Jazz Fest without a time machine or clones. Though it’s too early to take full advantage, eventually, this link will have some recordings done live at the festival:
When 2 or more artists I wanted to see were playing at the same time, I hoped it was being recorded for my later listening pleasure as I have not yet figured out cloning and time travel.
There’s also a ton of stuff to do everyday without ever going to a concert. As with every local festival, the restaurants provide $4-$6 dishes of fabulous local cuisine. I had at least as many conversations about which food was best as I did about which concerts were best. And, as at every festival, artisans had booths displaying their amazing artwork and crafts. There were also parades, lectures, learning centers and I heard a rumor about a manually operated merry-go-round. I ignored all of this the first day and just ate myself silly and saw band after band after band.
First up was Jockimo’s Groove featuring War Chief Juan and Billy Iuso. I’m now fully and deeply hooked on the Mardi Gras Indians and relish any opportunity to see them in costume and enjoy all that the culture has to offer. The band was great and I hope they’ll forgive those of us who ran off to catch the last of the Mohawk Hunters, Wild Red Flame, and Cherokee Hunters Mardi Gras Indians parading as the concert was entering its big finish. The wind was insane all day and all of these feathered people had a hard time just staying upright with gusts whipping their headdresses and giant plumage. They continue to amaze.
Next up was The Dirty Dozen Brass Band formed in 1977, a band so awesome the city even has a Dirty Dozen Brass Band Day. For more history and information, go to:
Listen to their stuff at:
I’ve always responded to brass bands, but they are fast becoming some of my favorite local music. There was a guy there dancing with 3 different colored fly swatters tucked into his pants. I can only describe his movements as probably drug-induced and resembling someone being attacked by bees. I also had my first encounter with “Fess head,” a spinning bust of the late Professor Longhair, a local legend leading us all to the promised land of jazz and blues. The spinning Fess head has marked it’s owner’s spot in the crowd (most people use flags) for around 20 years according to locals.
Next up was a snack of creole stuffed bread (a ball of bread with seasoned meat inside, and an outstanding shrimp flauta. Then it was off to see the beginning of the Anders Osborne concert. He may not be a native, but he’s certainly one of the city’s favorite sons. For music and more:
Though I love him, I’d already seen him twice for free this year so off we went to Band of Horses.
http://www.myspace.com/bandofhorses (I recommend listening to The Funeral, a big crowd favorite)
Sounds easy enough to get from one stage to another but the Acura stage and the Gentilly stage are the 2 most popular and are placed at opposite ends of the track so much of the day is spent walking the LONG track from one end to the other. Horses can do this in seconds flat but they don’t have to negotiate beer lines and portalets.
After Band of Horses, we stayed at the Gentilly Stage for Sonny Landreth, a slide guitarist out of Lafayette. Wow. I found an Eric Clapton quote on Wikipedia that sums the performance up. He is “probably the most underestimated musician on the planet and also probably one of the most advanced, and it puts me to shame.” Yeah, I could see that.
For music and more, visit:
I recommend Ay Ai Ai from the “Down in Louisiana” album for a fun sing-along song or Storm of Worry from his album, “From the Reach” for a small taste of his guitar.
The last shows of the day are usually the biggest names, though not necessarily by local standards. There’s a lot of frustration, debate and even boycotting about the festival ending daily with big names. Many locals perceive that it’s these big names, especially the non-local acts, that have led to the gigantic increase in ticket prices recently. Apparently, it used to be $18 a day to attend, now, it’s $40 in advance and $60 after the cutoff date or at the door.
Saturday’s biggest act on the Acura stage was Pearl Jam so we made our way back to meet more friends. Turned off by the size of the crowd once we got there, we went all the way back to Gentilly Stage for Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Jeff Beck (formerly of The Yardbirds), my first choice from the start.
Though I’d seen him around many times in L.A., I’d never had the pleasure of hearing him play. Another wow. And then there was his bass player, Rhonda Smith. WOW.
Formerly with Prince’s band, she’s like a mighty goddess warrior whose weapon of choice is the bass. Sexy, strong and stiletto’ed, she all but stole the show with Beck’s blessing. It was definitely a you-had-to-be-there day all day, but never more so than when a sprawling lawn full of people fell in love with a bass wielding, beautiful bad ass.
Afterward, we all met up to go to a 2 am showing of Toubab Krewe on Frenchman’s Street.
Though all of us had been up for hours, walked miles and ingested too many versions of poison, the upbeat music got us on our feet again. A fusion of southern beats and the music of Mali, it’s nearly as fascinating to watch them play a wide variety of the odd and beautiful instruments of Mali as it is to follow along with their ever shifting rhythms.
Enjoy the photos and more later about Sunday, the last day of this year’s festival. Yes, we woke up and did it again the next day (day 4 in a row for some).