Jazz Fest, Part One

jazz fest peopleI think I should tell you something, right at the top, before you’ve even decided whether to read this or not, which is that I’m afraid I might have had too good of a time last week to be able to write properly at the present time. I feel there’s a good chance this week I might have trouble using regular words, because of all the deeply silly things I have engaged in quite recently. And, by the way, Jazz Fest was swell this year.

I’m referring, of course, to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which I attended half of last weekend (you could attend the second half today -Friday, May 2nd– – if you’re resourceful enough.) My experience has been that that is probably a good idea. I’ve been lucky enough to get down there every now and then -perhaps eight or ten days spread out over a couple of decades -and I’ve never had a bad day yet.

The fun starts before you even leave, too, because it’s great to be going for a change instead of not going and hating the ones who are (like usual.) It feels nice to be on the receiving end of all that hared every once in a while.

Then there’s the obvious advantage of being anywhere else other than here, the most obnoxious, rainy-snowy-sleeting what-the-hell pain in the neck weather location practically in history apparently so who would ever want to go to New Orleans (which was, as it turned out, beyond perfect and sublime in every regard: sunny, cool, and comfortable, and,… well, it’s just there, it’s not here, and it’s just so riveting in its total foreign there-ness. I like it.

Did I mention the food and the music? Well, they had food and bands. It was cool. (Why did I return? Why?)

I knew this would be a good one at the airport when one of my music biz friends got searched and detained at one of the security points. It’s always heartening to see one of your friends get in trouble -for one thing, it improves your own odds -so I was already in a really good mood.

I know the next thing you’re going to want to know is, what was Mrs. Kelp- my gently floating, flaffling fashion faun, the light, the way, woot, lawdey -Mrs. K! -wearing, and I’m sorry that I cannot divulge that at this time, except to say that it was exceptionally tight and revealing, making me think from time to time, hubba hubba, that’s no parka!

Many bands play at this thing -about 50 a day, on ten different stages, most of them with ties to the area, but lots from far away as well -and it’s hard to resist the temptation to try to see them all for thirty seconds each. I started off with this method, but my group to a man forsook me once my planning got out of control on day 4 (some quite angrily, with great swearing and gnashing of teeth.)

Again, I fed off their hatred. Here’s my analysis:

Thursday: Got there about an hour late, so missed the first round, and started with a dumb cover band (actually, the only cover band I’ve ever seen at the Fest, and not the only bad advice I got from the local critic’s picks) in whacky costumes called Bag of Donuts, only to find out later that we plainly should’ve been watching the Wild Tchoupitoulas instead. We stopped the bleeding at the Gospel Tent, of course, with the Friendly Five Gospel Singers (the first rule of the Jazz Fest is, when in doubt, go to the Gospel Tent, which is usually both more rocking and less populated than the rest.

From there we cruised Kenny Neal, who started with a clueless medley of “I’m Ready” and “Little Red Rooster” that had us heading for the aisles in no time, just in time (after our first helping of Crawfish Monica) to catch our first major find, the Hackberry Ramblers, a cajun group who have been together for seventy years. At least two of the “boys” are in their nineties, and they were rough-hewn and personable as they sang my favorite line of the Fest: “I wish I had died as a baby” (which sounds particularly disingenuous coming from these guys.) They also played the funniest cover- “Proud Mary”- and instigated the first of many outbreaks of the dreaded Public Radio Boot Dance.

Then we crossed back over to the Blues Tent to see Big Al Corson, who was large in every respect, again via the Gospel Tent, then crossing back again (we were rookies, and made lots of needless crosses on the first day; by the end we had those pretty much eliminated) to catch a few songs of Austin’s Tish Hinojosa, who was quite good albeit relatively refined.

And that did it for the first half of the first day (continued-)

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