Jazz Fest from the Beer Booth

Did you know you can attend Jazz Fest for free while helping your community? Turns out there are many ways to volunteer at Jazz Fest. When I found out that Raintree Children and Family Services would be working the Fireman’s beer booth 2 days this Fest, I was in! Raintree (founded in 1926) offers services for foster care children, children with disabilities and at-risk children. They also have a home for teenaged girls who were unable to find placement in the foster care system. The booth faced the Acura Stage, the largest stage at the Fest and host to the more popular bands, so though I couldn’t hop around, I was treated to fairly non-stop wonderful music.

Thursday was my first day. I learned about the money and filling the orders then spent an hour or so enjoying Lake Charles native Lucinda Williams while we worked. It wasn’t particularly hot so people weren’t dying of thirst but a party is a party. Many folks bought 6 to 10 beers at a time. We’d stack them in an empty beer box and throw some ice on top as makeshift coolers, then yell “Tip, tip, hooray!” when someone stuffed money in our big, rubber firefighter boot “tip jars.”

Galactic was up next with favorites Corey Henry on trombone and Stanton Moore on drums. I danced my way through the set while serving happy Fest-goers and was delighted when they ended with my favorite song, Heart of Steel. It was the first time I’d heard it with a male singer, and though I missed the beauty of Irma Thomas’ voice and the connection I felt with it being a woman’s story, it was just as powerful coming from a man.

I wasn’t very familiar with Chicago-based 90’s alternative rock band Wilco but the crowd seemed happy to see them, jumping up and down like they were spring-loaded. We finished the day with plenty of beer money to split with the firemen and boots stuffed with tips just for Raintree.

Jazz Fest isn’t just about the music on the racetrack grounds. Throughout the week, every venue in the city is booked with bands until the wee hours. Saturday, we made our way to the Blue Nile on Frenchman Street to see Connecticut band Wimbash featuring Corey Glover and bass player Doug Wimbish, both of Living Color. I’d been told that Wimbish was the finest bass player around but hearing is believing. I’m a sucker for anyone who can find new ways to play a traditional instrument and Wimbish has mastered his instrument to the point of reinvention. I’m loathe to compare anyone to Hendrix, but when the inventiveness and talent fits… He was truly remarkable and it was nothing less than an honor to witness his ability.

The band played many covers from Grandmaster Flash to James Brown but could never be confused with a cover band. They were able to roll seamlessly from a lyric-less version of The Treme Song into 80’s anthem White Lines. Speaking as a former nightclub DJ who understands beat-mixing, it was impressive. They invited trumpeter Maurice Brown to join the band onstage and we were treated to yet another virtuoso. I asked Maurice if he lived here, but now residing in New York, he was another wonderful thing lost in The Storm. Come back, Maurice!

Frenchman Street was packed when the show let out. Crowds spilled from sidewalks out onto the street and drivers could go no more than 2 miles per hour. A brass band with 2 sousaphones played on the corner, the first I’ve seen that late at night since the new police chief put an end to street bands after 8 pm. We stayed a moment, danced in the street, but had to rest up for the last day of Jazz Fest.

Our shift didn’t start until 2:30 so we took in the early show of Anders Osborne (again). Regulars Eric Bolivar (drums) and Carl Dufrene (bass) were joined by guitarists Pepper Keenan (who also owns local bar Le Bon Temps Roule) and Billy Iuso as well as drummer Stanton Moore. Sometimes more is better. The band, celebrating their 20th Jazz Fest in a row, honored Mother’s Day with an ode to Osborne’s wife, I’ve Got A Woman. It was a great show.

Before heading to the beer booth, we ate delicious Crawfish Monica from Kajun Kettle Foods then a King Cake flavored sno-ball from AJ’s, a Jazz Fest only sno-ball stand. The sno-ball was purple with a gold stripe down the center than turned a brownish color and it tasted like too-sweet cake icing but it was yummy and cold and the day was fairly hot. And it’s official – it didn’t rain once for Jazz Fest 2011, first time in 9 years.

While eating, we crossed paths with DancingMan504, the Original Lady (and Junior) Buckjumpers, the Prince of Wales Social Aid and Pleasure Club and T.B.C. Brass Band. The Buckjumpers went with  royal purple suits this year with fur trimmed hats in vibrant yellow, orange and pink. Don’t know how they took the heat, but they looked great.

Then came the Wild Tchoupitoulas Mardi Gras Indian Tribe. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know about my obsession with the beauty and craftsmanship of the Indians. I squealed like a kid at Christmas then followed them awhile as Cowboy Mouth played in the distance.

We reported for duty and did a swift business what with the heat. That said, there was a breeze nearly all day and occasional clouds supplied relief from the sun. And that said, I sold 24 beers to one customer at $5 a pop. Despite Mother’s Day (or maybe because of it – I had a hard time not thinking about what Mother’s Day means to a child in foster care) there were many more volunteers Sunday, so I was able to enjoy the music. Good thing, because I’ve been trying to see Kid Rock live for years. The 5 time Grammy nominated singer/songwriter is self-taught in everything from guitar, drums and keyboards to DJ scratching and demonstrated these talents and more during the hell-of-a-show. He even used the mouth piece made famous by Peter Frampton.

In honor of the day, he thanked the woman with whom he’d been staying, the maternal Mrs. T, and gave her a bouquet of flowers onstage. But the next guest was even more exciting – Trombone Shorty! I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised given that Kid Rock sat supportively and attentively on the side of the stage at Trombone Shorty’s Wednesday at the Square show in Lafayette Square a few weeks ago.

Kid Rock said it was his first Jazz Fest, though I’m thinking it may not be his last. It was just too good a time to not want to repeat it and he seems to enjoy the city enough to keep finding excuses to return. He managed to avoid cussing throughout the show until, in front of a giant American flag, he stated, “We got that Mother F*cker.” There was a short cheer but I’m proud to say this city seems not to want to publicly celebrate someone being killed. And trust me – we love any excuse to celebrate.

The last band to play on the last day is traditionally The Neville Brothers. I didn’t understand this last year and split my time between the Nevilles and B.B. King. But, this year, I’ve seen most of the Neville Brothers, cousins, sons, nephews and grandsons play in other bands. I know many of the words to the traditional songs they sing, like the always fun Pocky Way. This year, it was the perfect ending to a perfect day. In addition to the 3 generations of Nevilles that eventually ended up onstage (the youngest was Dumpstaphunk’s Ian at 29), they were joined by trumpeter Irvin Mayfield, who I’d just seen on day 1 of French Quarter Fest, and Trombone Shorty (Twice in one day!?! Lucky me!). I enjoyed Dr. John’s version of Indian Red last Thursday, but Aaron Neville took it to a whole ‘nother level. And his soul filled-and-filling version of Amazing Grace was a quiet and introspective ending to a raucous week of music. As we walked back through the stables toward the car, the sun set over the racetrack. God bless Jazz Fest.

Buy live recordings of the shows I saw at Jazz Fest and many more and check out the rest on iTunes!

Please excuse the photo quality as I wasn’t able to bring my camera with a good zoom.

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Filed under Concerts, decorations and costumes, festival, Local Cuisine, parade

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