It was a gorgeous Saturday for Jazz Fest. Before heading to the stages, we passed through the craft area and saw creative shoebox floats and glittery Krewe of Muses shoes – a prized throw during Mardi Gras. There were also a few Mardi Gras Indians sewing beads and showing off this year’s suits. Big Chief FiYiYi, Victor Harris, showed us the incredibly detailed beadwork. Beautiful. We grabbed a requisite Panorama Fine Foods Crawfish Bread ($7) and Strawberry Lemonade ($5) then tried the refreshing Ajun Cajun Ninja Crab Sick & Cucumber Salad ($5) and Canseco’s Markets Cuban Sandwich ($8).
Mardi Gras Indians paraded past as we wandered through the artists’ tents past the evocative clay busts by Woodrow Nash of Akron, Ohio and local-favorite painter, Terrence Osborne. The legendary Allen Toussaint was checking out the goods as well and we stopped to say hello.
A mix of brass-jazz, Caribbean beats and Rap, The Soul Rebels took the Congo Square Stage and got the crowd dancing and singing with fun covers and beloved originals like 504. The band led everyone in making the hand gestures for our local area code over and over then ended the set with a rousing version of Uptown Funk.
We grabbed a tasty Cajun Jambalaya ($7) from Catering Unlimited then headed to the Gentilly Stage for Vintage Trouble. We’ve seen this band a lot. Not only have they played VooDoo Fest, the Madden Bowl and the NBA Final Four concerts here, but drummer Richard Danielson is an old friend from my years in L.A. The band’s high-energy rockabilly-infused songs took the young crowd waiting for Ed Sheeran from mildly interested to singing and swaying when they played Stand By Me in honor of Ben E. King who passed the night before.
Lead singer Ty Taylor has a habit of coming out into the crowd and this performance was no exception – much to the everyone’s delight. Midway through the show, the skywriter we’ve heard so much about appeared. Local Frank Scurlock sponsored the messages of love and hope throughout Jazz Fest in response to violence in our city and across the country. We got a smiley face, Hi!, Love and Joy. It was a great show and we had a blast…
But here’s the thing. It was WAY too crowded at Jazz Fest Saturday. Though we’d bought these tickets months in advance for $60 ($70 at the door), we left after the 3:30 show ended. Between Elton John, T.I. and Ed Sheeran, the crowds were physically uncomfortable and impossible to navigate. Honestly – by 4:30, it was just no fun. None of us could ever remember it being more crowded. The fest has a policy of not “selling out.” They sell tickets ad infinitum. With that policy, we rely on the organizers to use discretion in booking these bigger names.
For years, I’ve heard locals grumble about how Jazz Fest used to cost $6 and focus on preserving jazz and local music and culture and now it’s an expensive day of elbowing from visitors making their way to see bands that have nothing to do with our city and it’s music.
I always had a, “Yes, but…” at the ready. There were so many things to love about Jazz Fest that it was worth the hassle for me and I was never spoiled by those $6 days. Saturday, making our way through packed walkways of people pushing and shoving (even when an elderly woman on a walker was trying to pass) just did me in. We’ll be attending Sunday, when the focus is more on local musicians and some of the city’s visitors will have left, but I may have just become one of those grumblers who wishes for Jazz Fests gone by.