In the “city that care forgot,” (or that forgot to care?), the best time of the year is Jazz Fest. It’s the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May, and we all pile in our cars or get on our bicycles and head for the Fair Grounds to indulge ourselves in all that Jazz Fest is. It’s the sum of the whole that makes it an experience to anticipate excitedly every year.
You walk in the gate at whatever entrance you choose, and hear the familiar deep tones of the Jazz Fest announcer coming over the loudspeakers. You smear yourself with suntan lotion and get ready for the sun to begin warming your sandaled toes. You feel the breeze wafting the smell of barbecue from one of the food booths, but you’re not going there. No, you’re standing in line at the soft-shell crab poboy booth because before you go to hear any music, you’ve GOT to have that rare New Orleans treat . Or maybe for you it’s the strawberry mint iced tea booth you hit first. Or maybe you immediately go the biggest stage with your friends and set up your encampment, complete with the artistically decorated flag you carry around every year to mark your spot.
Then you’re ready to check out your “cube” to see what musical act you should hit first. There’s so much to choose from it takes a strategy equal to Napoleon’s to make sure you don’t miss that set by Trombone Shorty, or Dwayne Dopsie on his accordion at the Fais Do Do tent. And of course you’ve got to get lined up to get somewhere to stand, or sit if you’re lucky, for one of the headliners-Bruce Springsteen, or Dr. John, or whoever the festival has laid out for your pleasure that day. Or maybe you’re one of the legions of fans of the Gospel Tent, where all day long you can stay in relatively cool comfort and hear the best spirituals and gospel music out there, getting some of that old-time religion. Or grab an umbrella and second-line in the Economy Hall tent to Tim Laughlin’s wailing clarinet.
Actually, it’s not a bad idea just to wander around. Randomness really works best at Jazz Fest. You can hear some unexpectedly beautiful sounds that way, making memories for the rest of your life.
Maybe you like to shop? The crafts are so well-curated and beautiful that you might as well be in a museum—but you’re not. You’re at Jazz Fest, and you can buy a handmade straw hat from Tracy Thomson at Kabuki Hats to wear immediately, if you need instant gratification . Or a pair of gorgeous earrings, or carved African sculptures. Who knows what you’ll see this year—maybe one of your favorites from past years, or maybe something entirely new to show off to your friends.
If you’re really tired, and savvy, you know that you can always go to the Grandstand for the bathrooms and the air-conditioning; and catch an up-and-coming or quirky act at the Lagniappe Stage. In the past, New Orleans favorite Teresa Andersson played there; this year it’s Kristin Diable, another talented and lovely songstress, and always the irrepressibly weird Bobby Lounge, the Mississippi piano player known for his surreal stage act. It’s hard to go wrong. Wait, did somebody just walk by with Crawfish Monica? Better head back to the food booths! It’s Jazz Fest, and it’ll be another year before you get to eat that again.
Jazz Fest is an amazing expereince, hope this entry gave you some insight to how special this event is. It does belong on your bucket list.