Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. - Cyril Connolly
Thursday, May 05, 2005
Day 2: Duct Tape
Jazzfest: Day 1.

So, upon getting out of bed the next morning, I went to stand up and felt as though I had stepped on glass shards with my left foot. I fully expected my head to feel like that, but not my foot! I hobbled over to turn on the light, and discovered that I no longer had any skin left at all on my big toe, the ball of my foot was one gigantic blister, and my little toe was also completely blistered. Damn tennis shoes!! I performed some minor surgery to alleviate the blisters, applied some bandages, and determined that I was destined to wear flip flops for the rest of the week to avoid having anything rub on my foot. After a day of limping along in pain, losing the bandages, and having blood oozing on everything, I went to Walgreen's and bought some gel bandages ("second skin"). They still didn't hold well with sandals, and the bottom of my foot was a piece of raw meat. I finally applied duct tape to hold the gel on, and hold the mess together - yes, duct tape, - and it did the trick! So despite that bit of unpleasantness, we had an awful lot of fun our first day out (although favoring my foot made for some awkward dance moves - more awkward than usual that is).

First, a primer on Jazzfest for the uninitiated: This was the 35th year of Jazzfest which first started in 1970 and featuring gospel legend Mahalia Jackson and jazz great Duke Ellington. Jazzfest is largely a misnomer - the festival is really designed to promote all the elements of Louisiana heritage: a large daytime fair with multiple stages featuring a wide variety of indigenous music styles, food booths of Louisiana cuisine, and arts and crafts booths. So in addition to jazz, you have equal representation of the very best of Southern rock, bluegrass, blues, R&B, funk, Caribbean, folk, gospel, Cajun, Zydeco, Native American and African Congo music. To be honest, New Orleans really does represent the very best musical heritage that is uniquely American.

By the second year, Jazzfest moved to its current location, the Fair Grounds Race Course, which is the third-oldest racetrack in America (open since 1872). Jazz Fest grew quickly over the next few years, constantly expanding its use of the 145-acre site.

So - Day 1. The grounds open at about 10:00 every day, and the first set starts at 11:00. Each "concert" is between 45 minutes to 1.5 hours long, and you can sit in for a few songs and then wander next door and catch another act to maximize your time and exposure to some great groups. We arrived and set off to see Ellipsis, a great start to the day given their unique mix of soulful, bluesy, folky rock.

It's easy to feel guilty at Jazzfest because you are always aware that there is somewhere else you could and should be. Indeed, sometimes it's easier to wander between the festival's thirteen stages, absorbing bits and pieces of each act to create one collective conscience. One of the best T-shirts I saw said "Don't judge Jazzfest by the greatness of what you saw, but by the greatness of what you had to skip in order to see it" So true.

From Ellipsis, we headed over to hear Jeremy Lyons and the Deltabilly Boys. These guys simply rocked, and were very playful as well. Lyons is an amazing guitarist with a great voice, and played steel guitar and banjo with equal skill, with a bluesy, rockabilly style. They reminded me a lot of the Squirrel Nut Zippers.

From there, we decided to head across the fair grounds and catch Charmaine Neville (you couldn't throw a stick at this festival without hitting some member of the Neville family - they were simply everywhere, all the time. They own this town and this festival), and along the way, stopped for a few songs at the wonderful Fais-do-do stage and caught some great Cajun music by the Red Stick Ramblers. This band was impossible NOT to dance to, and a lot of people (including moi) were happy to join in! This is a really fun band to hear live.

Charmaine Neville ("the best pair of lungs in New Orleans"), backed up by her saxophonist father Charles and pianist uncle Cyrus, as well as other family members, including a couple of kids on fiddle and percussion, was just great, and had the crowd on their feet. By the time she wrapped up, it was close to 2:30 and we were long overdue for some food and the first beer of the day on our way back across the fairgrounds to catch the subdudes.

The festival food really deserves a post of its own. There are simply so many choices and it was all incredible. It was also very well organized and prepared considering they were serving up to 100,000 people per day. Every conceivable incarnation of crayfish, shrimp, crab, and oyster dish you can imagine, and some that you can't (BBQ alligator on a stick!). Most dishes cost $4 or $6 - basically a small or large. The first day I had a plate that contained oyster pie - plump oysters and veggies in a wonderful sauce filling a small pastry shell, a phyllo sack of crayfish etoufee, and 3 crayfish beignets with remoulade sauce, it was incredible. Another highlight was the frozen café au lait courtesy of the Café du Monde booth. I had one every afternoon without fail.

Now things really began to pick up. An early afternoon highlight, the subdudes' mixture of rock and zydeco peaked with an accordion reference to the "dirty mud people." If you like Keb' Mo, or Toots and the Maytals, you'll love the subdudes. At this point, we just stayed put at the Acura stage, because next up was none other than Nickel Creek. They may well have been my favorite act all day. A pleasant blend of bluegrass and pop, Nickel Creek nodded to JazzFest's sea of crowd flags, territorially marking veteran concertgoers ground (more on these later).


Not to be outdone, the last act to take the stage was headliner Jack Johnson, who invited his Brushfire-bandmate Donavon Frankenreiter onstage for an acoustic jam. Frankenreiter had played earlier in the day, but we had to skip him for Charmaine Neville, so this was a compromise bonus to hear him play with Jack. He also did a nod to G. Love with a version of "Rodeo Clowns" (which Johnson initially included on Special Sauce's Philadelphonic ).

Since we had to exit the fairgrounds by crossing in front of the other main stage, we headed towards the exit after listening to 2/3rds of the Jack Johnson concert in order to catch the end of the BB King concert (yes, I know - it's an embarrassment of riches, a real "luxury problem"). It would appear that everyone else had the same idea, because the crowds really became overwhelmingly tight at this point - uncomfortably so. We got to hear BB's version of "Rock Me Baby" and "The Thrill is Gone," but to be honest, he spent a lot of time talking to the audience. So much so that you wanted to yell, "Shut and play already!"

Thus ended the first, highly successful day of Jazzfest, and thus also began the après festival ritual of returning to the hotel for showers, a change of clothes, and a cocktail, before heading down to the French Quarter for a late dinner and an evening on the town. Based upon a recommendation from the hotel front desk, we ended up at Deanies Seafood. It was a bit of a tourist trap: loud, and bright, and not very intimate, but the food was quite good. By this time, I just wanted a salad and a glass of wine anyway.

We wound up the evening on the balcony at the Red Rhino where we met a couple of fun guys in town for a government sponsored conference, and amused ourselves by people watching the action on Bourbon St. below us. Diane and I spent some time fending off an otherwise harmless fellow who was trying to convince us (rather unconvincingly) that his "poor dead wife" would want him to be happy..... We amassed a growing collection of Go Cups and headed back to bed a little after 1:00 AM so we could repeat it all over again the next day.....
posted by Broadsheet @ 3:10 PM  
1 Editorial Opinions:
  • At May 05, 2005, Blogger Green Eyed Pagan said…

    Lordy, I'm insanely jealous already and there are still 4 more days to hear about.

    Good thinking on the duct tape- it really does fix almost everything!

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