Sunday, May 8, 2011

Jazz Fest first weekend

(me and Tom festing in our Fest Hats)

Well, Jazz Fest is (almost) over. I knew I'd need today to recover (based on my return to work last Monday) so I passed on the Brass Pass to a friend for Sunday's festivities. I am actually experiencing post-Jazz Fest ennui and withdrawal today. Blergh.


Friday was first day of Jazz Fest! I'd been pretty excited about it- I bought a WWOZ Brass Pass which is purchased from WWOZ, the nonprofit local music radio station that sponsors Jazz Fest.

Jazz Fest is a big thing here, for the locals and tourists. When the lineup came out back in January, my Facebook feed exploded with analysis and excitement. It is tough, though, because it's a lot pricier than it used to be and a lot of folks have trouble making the ticket prices.

The city explodes with Jazz Fest festivities. It's not just those days on the Fairgrounds, it's the music at night in the clubs - the artists in town do sets everywhere - and the New Orleans-loving Jezz Fest-going tourists eating, drinking, and clubbing all around town. Locals take time off of work (when possible) and not much gets done until after everyone packs up and leaves.

On Friday, a friend of mine had bought a ticket for the day to see Mumford & Sons. Tom dropped us off at what we soon discovered was the back entrance to the Fairgrounds (Desaix and Trafalgar) and we trudged through to come up at the back of the Acura Stage. Madness! Crowds, dust, food stands, vendors selling beer, Jumpin' Johnny Sandone doing his Cajun music thing up on the Acura stage. I wanted to find the Gentilly stage, because a musician named Mia Borders was going to be playing, so we wandered around, me trying to look at my JazzFest app map on my phone (tough to do in the blazing sun) and figure out where the hell we were.

Finally we found a large map posted and started to get our bearings. We listened to Mia Borders, drank some beer, ate some food (crawfish sack and crawfish beignets), and then set off to find the WWOZ Hospitality Tent, which is for Brass Pass holders (+ 1 guest). We first made our way to the WWOZ Jazz Tent, which is not the same thing- it's a regular music tent for jazz music just past the Gospel and Blues tents. After some aimless wandering (and finding the Abita vendor!) we finally got some help from one of the Information Stands and made our way there.

The Hospitality Tent is a nice little oasis to get away from the crowds and the heat. It has fans, water, iced coffee, and cold delicious fresh fruit. Also, "private" port-o-potties, which are no great shakes, but there's a handwashing apparatus outside of them, which is much better than one's hand washing options outside the regular port-o-potties.

Um, OK- so we wandered around a whole bunch - hung out in the jazz tent for a while and the People's Health Economy tent and the Jazz & Heritage Stage too - just for a few minutes at a time.

Then we wandered back for Mumford & Sons- ooh, Gentilly Stage area got mobbed! (though nothing compared to what the weekends would bring)

I had to bail on Connie and find a place in the shade, and I retreated to the giant ash tree in the Gentilly field. You couldn't see the stage or the video screen, but you could hear everything in the sweet, sweet shade. Even Connie had to come back there after a while dealing with the sun and the heat and the crowds.

Mumford & Sons were great- it was the first time I'd heard them - and then the Avett Brothers came on. We stayed to hear a few songs but then left to beat the rush out. We left the way we came - a long trudge out - and we could hear Robert Plant's set on the Acura Stage as we walked toward the streetcar. I got sunburned a bit on my chest and upper arms, and was exhausted - my first day of Jazz Fest!

Saturday Tom and I strapped both bikes to the car and drove out to where my office is, and biked about 2.5 miles through City Park to the Gentilly Pedestrian Entrance and Bike Parking area.

We went and listened to Shannon McNally and Hot Sauce:

Then we walked around and grabbed some food. Crawfish bread, crawfish sausage poboy, fried crabcake, strawberry lemonade. Tom wanted an Abita so we wandered over that way and looked at the craft vendors. Then investigated the food area there- we had the shrimp and pork Goi Cuon (Spring Roll), and then Crawfish Bisque and Trout Baquet, which were all marvelous. The trout was panfried in butter and then topped with fresh lump crabmeat. You know, a nice light New Orleans snack on a hot summer day.

Then we found the Lagniappe Stage- located in the Grandstand building, it's tented and it's in close proximity to a REAL bathroom! Very exciting. We watched the show - Hurray for the Riffraff - and enjoyed it immensely. I believe we left soon after that...

Sunday we went in a little later because I wanted to stay for the last sets - the Decemberists and Arlo Guthrie. After arriving, we tried to settle in the shade near the Fais Do-Do stage (where the Decemberists would eventually be playing) and listen to the Honey Island Swamp Band. That proved difficult after a while so after we ate up our WWOZ Mango Freezes, we decided to wander a bit. We went to the WWOZ tent, and got some beer and then some iced coffee and peach cobbler, and then went over to our favorite tent, the Lagniappe Stage. We caught the end of the Leroy Thomas and the Zydeco Roadrunners set and then snagged some good seats to listen to Kristen Diable.

Afterward, we went to the Blues tent to catch some Arlo Guthrie (LOVE):

and then over to the Fais Do-Do to catch the Decemberists.

We ended up not staying for the entire set and biked back to the car to try to rest up for returning to work the next day...

And that next day was TOUGH. Everyone came in with Jazz-Fest-itis; runny nose, irritated eyes, sneezing, coughing. No one's mind was on work - no one and nowhere in the city. If I were to do the Brass Pass thing again, I think I would want to take off those 3 days between weekends and just make it an awesome staycation.

Will report on the second weekend of JazzFest soon- Thursday and Friday I was on my own and had a great time, and on Saturday Tom accompanied me.

This is a pretty accurate rendition of what Jazz Fest is like, copied from Ian Hoch's Hit N Run Guide to Jazzfest, presented by It gives you not only an idea about the layout, but what is actually going on there, and the cultural norms for each location. I love this map!

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