The First Three Days of Jazzfest 2006

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My first day at Jazz Fest started Friday at 5AM with a flight out of DC’s National Airport and ended about 22 hours later when K (no, not that bitch K who everyone here, understandably, is so upset with) and I realized that perhaps we should call it a night after we backed out of a toll booth on the Mississippi River bridge at about 2AM. In front of a po-lice ossifer. That was after a series at least 4 U-turns in which we had endeavored, quite unsuccessfully, to find the approach to the bridge, on the Algiers side of the river.

Algiers has become popular with musicians and other cheap-rent-seeking folks who fled New Orleans after Katrina. However, I don’t think the cheap rent lasted long.

K and I had been lured over the bridge by a chance to see the Campbell Brothers perform with a bunch of local musicians, including Anders Osborne (Warning – music autoplays), a Swedish transplant and slide maestro, and his sousaphone player, Kirk Joseph.

They were at the Old Point bar, a neighborhood joint with high ceilings, pine paneling mostly covered by cheap beer ad mirrors and that night, BBQ and beer being sold outside on the sidewalk. The place is hard by the levee. The big earthen berm made for a pleasant bleacher section, as the Old Point’s doors and windows were thrown open. It was a benefit for the New Orleans musicians clinic, organized by Mark Stone, a guitarist, DJ on WWOZ and a transplant who left New York behind in the early 90s.

By the third set, which started after midnight, the Campbells were inspiring lots of pogo-ing. I think all those white folks could feel it. One of the Campbells sprinted up from his lap-steel guitar and began dancing in front of the crowd, adding to the religious-revival feeling. Osborne was truly inspired, improvising on his slide, eyes firmly closed, transported.

It was probably the best performance I’d seen that day. But then again, I can’t say that I was in true Jazz Fest mode yet. Friday appeared to be a big local day, from the looks of the crowd and the schedule, with most of the headliners drawn from Louisiana, with the exception of Bob Dylan. The crowds were as big as I’d ever seen on the first Friday. Huge lines snaked out of the food booths and the commemorative poster concession. This year’s poster is of Fats Domino, who initially was thought to have been drowned in his Lower 9th Ward home, but was later found to be alive and well. Fats will be one of the closers on Sunday May 7. The posters – usually signed by the artist – are collected by Jazz Fest devotees.

Apparently, a rumor has been circulating that this may be the last Jazz Fest, which caused a Furby-like run on the posters.

Jazz Fest is indeed a little different this year, post-K (the Katrina “K”, not my pal K). There are fewer stages. There are lots more corporate labels, a necessary evil for the Fest’s financial health. There is still crawfish bread!!

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I would say there seems to be less depth and breadth of performers. Hospitality tents have been moved closer to the stage. That made it a lot more convenient for me to sneak in and grab K and I some free beers. I felt like I was watching the action on the 18th green at Augusta. So antithetical to the sure-come-sit-on-my-blanket-and-eat-mushrooms-with-me spirit of the Fest.

(A very important aside: K and I are spokesmodels for the Safety Third campaign. We felt it necessary to spread the word at the Fest, where putting safety first would also be completely counter to the Spirit of Jazz Fest.

Oh, and **thank god**, they are finally serving hard liquor at the Fest! Those warm and fuzzy folks at Southern Comfort have so kindly set up one of those Wet Willie-type daquiri feeding stations between the mmmmm, how con-veeen-yent, the Southern Comfort (SoCo to those of you under 30) Blues stage and the Sheraton New Orleans Fais Do-Do stage. For $5, you get a Robitussin-flavored slushy. Doesn’t matter if it’s red or green, though I must say, the mix of the two is more aesthetically pleasing.

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Speaking of looks, check out the duds on these folks! [[photo of boots guy]]. The one with the shit-kickin’ boots on is Philip. He’s in HR for a local school district. How come my HR guy doesn’t look like that?

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Oh, and the woman in the shiny green outfit below – she was definitely not putting safety first when she got dressed this morning. She is a regular Fest attendee and a prime example of the festival-going species. See, part of the fun is dressing as outrageously as possible, whether that means shredding a mop and draping it over yourself, wearing things that would put a Vegas call girl to shame, or dying your hair in a leopard print pattern. Some men have even been known to dye their mustache, but we have not captured that animal on film yet. We are setting a trap for him later.

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Now, you’re probably wondering, WTF? Isn’t the Fest about MUSIC? I’m glad you asked that question. I actually do happen to remember some of the performances. It’s a good thing I do a lot of Soduku to counteract the SoCo daquiris, Fosters, bourbon, tequila, rum, and, um other things, which I can’t remember right now, but I’m sure will come to me.

OK. Friday: Keb’ Mo’. A great musician and songwriter, but he was lost on the voluminous Acura stage. Too mellow, a repeat of last year’s Jack Johnson snoozefest. Why don’t they put these guys on one of the smaller stages? Johnny Sketch & The Dirty Notes. Fun, fun, fun, local band that veers from power metal to ska-ish, to jazz/funk/fusion. . Have to put in a plug for my homegirl’s group, Shades of Praise, a multi-racial gospel choir from New Orleans that has some powerful soloists and an infectious love-and-harmony message that will get you up and shouting.

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Bob Dylan. OK, so Bob turned it out sartorially, what with the white cowboy hat and all-white clothing, and he rocked and rolled, but I dunno, I couldn’t get into it. I said to a friend later that it looked like he was playing keyboards, and this guy snorted and said he “pretended” to play. I didn’t hear any raves for Bob, but apparently, Dr. John put on a great end-of-day show, and people said Yerba Buena (Warning – musica auto plays) as top-notch. I’m curious as to whether anyone has any comments on Ani DiFranco, who moved to N.O. last fall, pre-K, and was debuting new material.

I had to jet off to the airport to pick up K, and while the bands were wrapping up at the Fest, I was sipping a rum and tonic at a friend’s, trying to get through to Frankie & Johnny’s on the phone so we could get a damn po’boy. To no avail. Sometimes I think you’d be better off not eating at night during the Fest, what with the 2-hour-long waits at most restaurants. This year is no exception, and the ka-ching of the registers is music to Ray Nagin’s ears.

The Honorable Mayor was spied strolling the Fest grounds on Sunday, but he was NOT glad-handing. Perhaps he thinks he’s got May 20 in the bag?

Saturday. K and I started the day at 10:30AM at a Bloody Mary party at a friend’s on Bayou St. John. Our very gracious hostess, Judy, welcomed us even though we showed up a _ hour before the bar was to be shut down. We then got to the fairgrounds early enough to see some of the first acts, including Belton Richard & The Louisiana Aces, a Cajun group. One of the highlights for me Saturday was Galactic, which played the Acura stage as if they owned it. The closer was a “song about New Orleans,” in the words of the sax player.

The band then launched into a tight, pristine version of “When the Levee Breaks,” by Led Zeppelin. In one of those only-at-the-Fest ironies, a 20-something girl was standing behind me in a LZ 1977 tour t-shirt, accessorized with some of those over-sized retro 70s sunglasses.

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As Galactic ended, I said, hey, you know that was a Zep song, right? Uh no, she didn’t really know their music. I’m like, dudette, I saw the 77 tour, and Jimmy Page rocked his guitar with a violin bow. A bow, man. I think she thought I was a dotty old lady.

Later in the ubiquitous Porta-Potty line I was also called “lady” by some 23-year-old guy with a Jackass hairdo, but at least he knew the Zep tune.

K and I then went to check out Herbie Hancock, but apparently, everyone else at the Fest had the same idea, and the crowds were 50-to-60 deep OUTSIDE the Jazz tent. The only upside to waiting a half-hour for the show to start while security tried to clear people from the aisles was that I ended up being plied with beer by a couple of older brothers who wanted to share their Katrina stories. (K was taking a load off her feet somewhere behind me). It was actually more interesting than Hancock, who I eventually gave up on. Then we hit CJ Chenier where I danced a few with my pal Jack, who I think is incredibly skilled on the dance floor and is a gentleman, to boot.

Next we plowed into the droves of teenagers who were camped out for Dave Matthews. I think I might have been napping on my feet. Does anyone else find his music to be dull? Then it was a hard choice: Terence Blanchard, Juvenile (Warning – music autoplays), or Etta James. We made for the blues stage and Etta James, and Holy Shit! What happened to Etta James?!?!

The woman’s a shadow of her former self. Etta apparently has joined Al Roker and whats-her-name from Wilson Philips as a walking advertisement for the miracles of modern obesity surgery. As always, her band was phenomenal. But since we were on the outer edges near the track, we couldn’t quite see ALL the prancing that Etta was doing. We missed her simulations of booty-style sex, of mission-position sex, of oral sex, of anal sex, and microphone, saxophone, and stool sex. That’s a lot of sex.

Hard to believe, but Saturday night, after dinner at the Taqueria Corona on Magazine in Uptown, I did NOT go out. K and another pal went to Morning 40 Federation at the most-excellent Les Bon Temps Roule, and typical of Jazz Fest, the club was packed in a manner that honors the Safety Third tradition.

Sunday dawned slightly cloudy after a night of tropical torrential downpours. In another shocking display of determination, K and I made it to the fairgrounds at noon. We caught a little bit of Willis Prudhomme & Zydeco Express, which afforded me a small opportunity to feed my dance addiction. Though the rains had turned the festival grounds mostly into a series of connecting bayous, the dirt in front of the Fais Do-Do stage was still dry and hardpacked – a testament to the legions who throw fears of an arthritic future to the wind by stomping and shaking day after day in front of the Cajun and zydeco bands there.

The day was a mounting crescendo of fantastic music. Next was John Mooney another slide virtuouso with a hard-rocking edge who’s got a new CD to plug. Then it was on to Christian Scott, a young trumpeter making his JF debut, slick in a gray sharkskin-type suit and melodious in a Miles’ kinda way. Then we caught a little of Big Sam’s Funky Nation, who had the crowd shimmying to his funky jazz, and then a detour to the daquiri station before waltzing by N.O. blues/funk stalwart Wolfman Washington for a few minutes. In a huge departure for me, I decided to spend the effort and energy to find a good sitting/viewing area for Allen Toussaint and Elvis Costello (Warning – Music autoplays).

Fortunately, we sighted my pal Jack, who was with friends who had staked out a spot dead center in front of Acura, close enough to see all the musicians. We stocked up on beer, and K dragged in another straggler who she spotted on a Port-A-Potty run before the show – a musician friend, Paul Cebar. It was great watching the show with Paul because he had worked with Toussaint years ago and knew all his music. It’s such an odd an interesting pairing – Costello with his itchy, scratchy voice and movements, and Toussaint, always impeccable in suit and pocket square, smooth of voice and manner.

Look it up, young people: Allen Toussaint is one of the greatest songwriters/singers/producers that you’ve never heard of.

And he lost his home in the storm. And he and Elvis have collaborated on a CD due out in June, with some originals about N.O.’s past, future, and current plights, and I think some old Toussaint stuff, too. Toussaint did some medleys of his greatest hits, Costello did a few with him, and they performed some new material, like the title of the CD, The River in Reverse. OK, there was a funky moment in the show, but one that showed why Toussaint is both a mensch and a tough guy to work for. He’d invited one of his back-up singers up to do “Groove Me” in a tribute to the recently-departed King Floyd, and when the guy got horribly off-tune, Toussaint just ended the song. Like that. In front of 40,000 people. While the dude slunk to the back of the stage, Toussaint did a little Vegas-style patter about Wilson Pickett and other late-greats, and after a few minutes brought the guy back up front-and-center and started the tune again, but, as he noted, “in the key of B for you.” Whoa. That was cold, Allen. But the show went on.

Then, we sat around (another major departure!) and waited for The Boss. Now, I’ve never seen Springsteen, nor had any desire to, but I knew he was debuting his tour here, and that it would be material from his tribute to Pete Seeger CD, which was released last week. I’ll get right to the point. I’m a convert. Bruce had 17 musicians up on stage with him, including a horn section, a couple of percussionists, a few fiddlers, a banjo player, and an accordionist. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a band so tight. The sound was impeccable, with every layer of every song tingling and tantalizing the innermost recesses of my brain, like a subtly-flavored and spiced casserole that causes you to linger over every bite as if it were your last meal.

I don’t even like folk music. But I couldn’t get over how much I was LOVING this performance. Mark Stone had joined us, and he was in the same boat as me – having never seen Springsteen, no desire to, and, like me, was blown away. We were just about speechless, kept looking at each other, like “can you believe this shit?”

Somehow, we tore ourselves away, because we felt compelled to go see the Meters close out the first weekend, as they had last year. It was a mistake. The energy was not there. The groove was on, but they were not connected to the audience in the same way that Bruce was, or even as they had been last year.

We got an emergency call to fill in for someone who’d backed out of dinner reservations at Herbsaint, so we booked out of the fest, drove home, bathed, and were back downtown for our fancy meal within an hour’s time. As K said, it’s a good thing that we’re natural beauties. After our sumptuous and ridiculously expensive meal, we drove around and around the Quarter looking for parking so we could see Eric Lindell at his CD release party at One-Eyed Jacks. After parking back near where we started at Herbsaint, we made it to Lindell at about 11, paid the $10 cover and, while he sounded great, the crowd did nothing for us.

Then we drove out to Rock N Bowl, where, at midnight the cover was still $20, and only Anders was left to play on the 4-band bill, so I said hello to owner John Blancher and then turned around and went home.

End of first weekend. I feel like such a wimp. That means we have our work cut out for us this week. K and I will have to find more Safety Third opportunities, and soon.

3 Comments so far

  1. dangerblond (unregistered) on May 1st, 2006 @ 11:53 pm

    Great post. About those rumors, though – If this is the last Jazz Fest, then I am the queen of France. They will keep having Jazz Fest even if New Orleans goes down and doesn’t come back up.


  2. Dubalator (unregistered) on May 2nd, 2006 @ 8:15 pm

    You know that “When the Levee Breaks” was originally recorded in 1929 by Kansas Joe McCoy & Memphis Minnie?


  3. Drury (unregistered) on May 3rd, 2006 @ 12:52 am

    Alicia,

    A fun post (or posts, I’m writing this after I read your second one). Great to hear your impressions of Jazz Fest…but your brief paragraph of Blacksmithing and metal work whipped me into a quick lather…Talk of metal work, a studio to do it in (in New Orleans) and the mere suggestion of men who do art metal…I need a cool’n sponge bath….

    Dubalator: Thanks for the clarification of the song’s origins. Wouldn’t be the first time many of us attributed a song’s origin to the wrong band, or period of time. I think that’s been kind of chronic over the past 50 years. Good songs seem to pass from generation to generation without much discussion.

    Thanks
    Drury
    Seattle



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