Monday, September 2, 2013
New Orleans Jazz Festival 2013
It is the last weekend of the jazz festival and New Orleans is rocking. Since the first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 1970, the city brims with more music, food, and fun of all kinds than usual. The festival, which typically occurs over the course of two weekends during April to May rivals Mardi Gras, attracts over 650,000 attendees. Back in 1970 that first Jazz Fest was not so well-attended. The inaugural festival began with a midnight concert by Pete Fountain on a riverboat, and only 350 people bought tickets (which cost $3) for the festival days which back then were held in Congo Square. This was roughly half the number of musicians and production staff who actually put the festival on! In spite of the low attendance, that first Jazz Fest was an artistic and critical success. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation secured more funding, so a second festival could be held in 1971. Working with money from a loan the second festival in Congo Square, expanded to also use the adjacent Municipal Auditorium and was a huge success, attracting so much larger crowds that it was clear that they would need a larger venue for the third year. It was negotiated to move the Jazz Fest to the infield of the Fair Grounds racetrack, where it has been ever since. As Jazz Fest continued to grow in popularity in the 1980s and 1990s, one of the biggest challenges facing the production staff was attracting interesting and diverse artists. While locals occasionally long for the days when “big-name” acts didn’t play Jazz Fest, those acts serve as a draw to enable lesser-known local bands to get an audience. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Foundation reached out to Royal Dutch Shell, and the oil company became the primary sponsor of Jazz Fest 2006, and each festival since. While it began as a showcase for nothing but local acts, the festival now attracts a number of well known American and international artists. The annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is a rite of spring for hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana, throughout the United States and around the world. It is, arguably, the biggest and best-attended multi-style music festival in the world and it is the place to hear and see the great names of Louisiana music. Those four original stages have grown to a combined 14 stages and tents, spread out over the Fair Grounds infield and grandstand. This weekend, thousands of locals and visitors will converge on the Fair Grounds Racecourse for the 44th Annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and we will be among them. We all met up at the ticket booth in town and although there were crowds of people, the organization was great and we quickly had our bus and entrance tickets. Those $3.00 dollar days are long gone and the cost of both bus and entry tickets were $75.00 per person per day. Fortunately, there had been no more rain and the mud is not as bad as Erin had told us it was the day before. The sheer size of the fairgrounds took me by surprise. This is a huge affair. Featuring an endless amount of music, succulent local and regional delicacies, one-of-a-kind handmade arts and crafts, second line parades and so much more, there is something for everyone at Jazz Fest! There are 12 stages scattered at intervals throughout the grounds with music playing jazz, gospel, Cajun, blues, R&B, rock, funk, African, Latin, Caribbean, folk, and much more, it is a feast for the ears. Our first stop was, of course the booth selling beer and wine. Need libation for an event like this but we were also eyeing the food booths. And the food is something else. The official food policy of the Festival is "no carnival food” so all food vendors are small, locally owned businesses and there are more than seventy food booths, all with unique Cajun and Louisiana specialties. In addition, most of the foods are made with fresh, local ingredients, and are prepared by hand. There are also craft booths dispersed throughout the grounds in three areas containing pieces from local, national, and international artisans, and have the atmosphere of a true marketplace. Many of the artisans utilize ancient crafting techniques and visitors can watch demonstrations of metal, painting, pottery, and fiber works. There are naturally all kinds of shirts, t-shirts, hats and other articles of clothing which advertize the fact that yes, you have attended the Jazz Festival, so yes, being tourists we purchased shirts for everyone plus Danny and Nicole. Erin did not want to miss seeing the band “The Black Keys”, so after wandering around the various stages, we made our way to where they were performing in order to get, at least a view. Fortunately monstrous monitors are set up so that we can get close ups and the music is definitely loud enough to hear. By the time the band started, we were all working on our second and in Tom’s case, third drink of the afternoon which combined with the heat made it quite heady. From there, I wanted to see Aaron Neville and the Neville Brothers which because it is later in the afternoon was not quite as crowded. In addition, parades are held throughout the duration of the day by the Mardi Gras Indians, as well as by marching and brass bands from various social aid and pleasure clubs. There was so much to see and do and eat and drink, that by the time we left, we were all exhausted. Now all we have to do is stay awake until Danny flies in. Maybe take a nap since he will probably want to see a little of the night life.