After a one year hiatus, Chaz Fest is back. Named for Washboard Chaz who joins every group, the festival was formed a decade ago when members of The Tin Men (and Alex McMurray’s wife) came up with the backyard festival as a reaction to being rejected by Jazz Fest. Held at the Truck Farm, an artists haven, the 2 stages (one in the yard and one in the woods) rotate so that the music is nonstop – 14 bands in under 10 hours. With its rustic porches, patios, enclaves and hideaways – all festooned with whimsically painted signs – the Truck Farm always reminds me of my childhood at Lemonade Farm, the subject of my novel by the same name. The food feels homegrown and the people are dressed like Dead Heads and flower children. It’s 1976 again with peace in the air.
Lonely Lonely Knights were winding the crowd up while we settled into a spot under a low hanging shade tree. There were only 2 other people under the tree’s canopy so we picked the spot closest to the stage and got our annual Watermelon Agua Fresca – fresh watermelon juice over ice. Then we wandered through the maze of sheds and walkways to The Joint‘s spot for a Beef Brisket ($7). Love that spicy cole slaw on top of the poboy. Greg Schatz and the Friggin Geniuses were playing on the 2nd stage and I stopped to enjoy watching toddlers dancing in adorable little Chaz Fest t-shirts.
I already knew TBC Brass Band was going to be my favorite act of the day. I’m a sucker for a good brass band and TBC is way past good. Their funky take on The Beatles’ Come Together was awesome and they wisely followed it with Sly & the Family Stone’s Everyday People. Their originals are great but it’s their original take on covers that really sets them apart. I’ve been listening to this band long enough that a few of them have had children in that time who now cheer them on from in front of the stage. Two of the daughters climbed onto the stage and joined their daddies. It was pretty freakin’ adorable to see a local version of “take your daughter to work day.”
We asked the group that had recently joined us under the tree to watch our spot and took off to celebrate photographer Louis Sahuc being honored at Tujague’s, the 2nd oldest restaurant in New Orleans. After the last owner died, it looked like the restaurant was going to be taken over by someone wanting to open up another chicken and t-shirt shop. The family called Sahuc, a local king of cantankerousness – the squeakiest of wheels, and Louis went to work saving the restaurant. He called in VCPORA Executive Director Meg Lousteau, and the historical preservationist gave him the help he needed to get the job done.
After a beautiful renovation, the restaurant honored Louis by naming the front dining room for him. Several of his beautiful photos hung on the walls. Official “Louis Sahuc Room” signs are forthcoming. Louis and I have been friends for years and I couldn’t have been more proud of him and his passion for preserving the French Quarter. He received a well-deserved standing ovation.
Then we ran back to Chaz Fest in time for King James & the Special Men. Our blanket-neighbors preserved our spot and we ended up really enjoying spending our day with them. They were in from Colorado for Jazz Fest and this was their first Chaz Fest. There were actually a lot of first-timers and out-of-towners. What was once a backyard party for locals has grown into a destination moment. The crowd was thicker than ever and our wonderful shaded view deteriorated to a wall of asses. But the weather was great, the music was wonderful and the food was tasty. We got Spicy Asian Peanut Slaw ($3) and Crawfish Bread ($6).
I didn’t visit the 2nd stage that much during the day, preferring to spend the breaks trying food and enjoying music behind conversations. I met a guy from Georgia and a guy from San Francisco. They originally met when San Francisco watched Georgia’s blanket at Jazz Fest. The year before, Georgia met his wife at Jazz Fest. She and their 10 year old daughter fly in today. The guy from Georgia said he NEEDS to come here, that it, “Restores his faith in humanity.” Indeed. This is his 14th year for Jazz Fest.
During the break, we had Soylent Green Gumbo ($5) and an amazing Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream ($4). It was all I could do to not go back for the Peach and Praline Bacon, Salted Caramel Chocolate Brownie Crisp and Strawberry Honey Goat Cheese ice creams. Four Calendar Cafe had an awesome menu but sold out of things very quickly. Maybe next year.
The Tin Men took the stage and the crowd got uncomfortably thick as the band got everyone singing along. The ridiculously large and mustachioed Valparaiso Men’s Chorus joined the band onstage and belted sea shanties. It was at least as fun as it sounds.
As dark descended, the kids cleared out and food consumption switched to more cocktail consumption. MC Sweet Tea & the Charming Prixs were getting the crowd into a nighttime mood when we called it. All of our new Jazz-Festing friends were shocked we were leaving before Rory Danger and the Danger Dangers, but we reminded them that they were on vacation – this is our regular life. People who live here learn to pace themselves in order to handle all the normal obligations of work and life as well as a constant onslaught of parades, festivals and free music. On our way out, we found they’d set up a 3rd stage on a patio. Was that Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue’s Dan Oestreicher I saw in the mix?