Jazz and Heritage Festival — Day One

Our first year here, I had recently been discharged (read: signed out AMA) from a local hospital and was recovering from pneumonia. Last year, I was 14 months pregnant with Kate and in Mobile, awaiting signs of labor. This year, the kids were in school — and we were at Jazz Fest, loving every minute. It was a wonderful day; perfect for taking in the one-of-a-kind music, food, culture, and celebration that is New Orleans and Louisiana.

Our strategy, as first-timers: spend the day walking the field, make no plans or commitments to performances, just get a sense of the festival, the crowd, and the range of experiences.

Our highlights…
Mardi Gras Indians (the above are Semolian Warriors) on the Jazz and Heritage Stage. Jazz Fest includes 11 stages — some open air (like the Jazz and Heritage Stage seen below) and others in tents. Tented stages have areas with bleachers and chair aisles for seating — big pluses for getting out of the hot sun.
In the Southern Comfort Blues Tent, we grooved to Bryan Lee and the Blues Power Band… great performer, fabulous musician… screeches with the best of ’em!
Jazz Fest has big crowds, so many use interesting hats to stick out.
Michael Ward, adult contemporary in the WWOZ Jazz Tent. It was like seeing a concert with 1500 versions of my mother. (My Mom LOVES smooth jazz and, as she says, would have “eaten it up with a spoon.”)
With the tents, it was very easy to sit comfortably and occasionally walk up to the stage for better photography opportunities. It was great to be in a crowd, but still have this ability to come in close and have an intimate moment with the music and performers.
Make no mistake: the Gospel Tent is WHERE IT’S AT. For pure energy and excitement, you will not be disappointed with any performance. LOVED IT.
This is Lyle Henderson & Emmanuel. This is right before he told us that he was “feelin’ something movin’!” among us.

Seriously great performer, awesome powerhouse of energy.
The massive Acura stage (below). This is where Van Morrison, Rod Stewart, Harry Connick, Steely Dan, Brad Paisley, ZZ Top, and a bunch of the other big performers are playing it out (Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams, Ludacris, Bonnie Raitt, Counting Crows, and others are playing on the Gentilly Stage on the other side of the track.) We walked by to check it out — and see the crowds — and decided to stick with our initial impressions: steer clear of the big names and stick to the local performances.
That’s George Porter, Jr. and the Runnin’ Pardners up on the Acura in the picture above. Dr. John (who we would have loved to see) came up next… but we decided to get our funk out with da’ good Doc later at some local venue. (Anybody wanna babysit while we check out Dr. John at Jazz Fest nights this week???)
More crowds. I was torn over the controversy of the “big names.” I like the idea of keeping it to our local musicians and cutting ticket prices by keeping big names out. Yet, it’s great that the crowds congregate to the big stages and let the rest of us enjoy the festival with relative space and ease.
My favorite area was around Congo Square and Lousiana Folklife Village — Louisiana artists (including Zulu coconut history and artistry) and African-American heritage.
Guy sets up in style near the Fais Do Do Stage.
Looking out to the Grandstand. The Fest takes place at the New Orleans Race Track/Fairgrounds. I can only imagine how muddy it might get in a heavy rain…
Paul gets us Mango Freeze… one of the many unique and incredible delights at Jazz Fest. Many go to the ‘fest just for the food. We admit: that only would be reason enough. We sampled a large variety of tasty treats including the Mango dream (below), Andouille Calas with Green Onion Sauce (good gracious were these good — they are like Cajun Rice Cakes with sausage… wow), Pecan Catfish Meuniere, Mandarin Orange Ice Tea, and the obligatory Frozen Cafe au Lait. We have a list of other things we’d like to try next Friday… including the Carribean Fruit Salad, Strawberry Lemonade, and Tajadas (plantains with spicy pork & pickled cabbage).
We saw a Native American Pow-Wow and friendship dance in the Louisiana Folk Village.

We also had a nice conversation with one of the artisans who weaves the incredible beads that make the Mardi Gras Indian costumes. His studio and much of his work was lost in Katrina — and volunteers from Kansas were instrumental in rebuilding a more structural sound workspace (one of architectural significance, to hear him talk of it) and reclaim his home and family. He told us about his wife, his concern over her emotional state in dealing with the losses caused by the storm and Great Flood. Finally, he told us about teaching his younger son to carry on in his talents.
A couple enjoys the music from the Fais Do Do stage — one of my top choices for music (it’s a close contender to my number one: the Economy Stage). I am turning into a huge fan of Zydeco and Cajun music.
Geno Delafose and French Rockin’ Boogie were awesome. I want to learn some French just to be able to sing along!
The Economy Hall Tent is my favorite for music: Dixieland and New Orleans Jazz! We caught Mari Watanbe’s Chosen Few Jazz Band in the morning and Leroy Jones and New Orleans’ Finest in the afternoon… where enthusiastic music lovers of all ages had started to Second Line around the tent.

How can you not fall in love with this city?

We were too tired, had too much work (and no babysitter) to go on Saturday or Sunday. But we hope to head back out this Friday! (Or maybe get out for some Jazz Fest nights this week!) The only real tragedy in all of this is that our house is not full to the rim with guests. Apparently, we haven’t been doing a good job about getting the word out about this incredible event. Open doors, y’all, come on down!

By the way, you can stream live music from the WWOZ tent during the ‘fest. (Or just tune in to some of the great music shows and live broadcasts everyday.)