April, 2009

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New Orleans Jazz Fest – Wow, can these folks put on a festival

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Spent a long weekend in New Orleans, attending the first weekend of the 40th New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Jazzfest runs for two long weekends, featuring seven full days of fantastic music, food, arts & crafts. Some of the biggest and best names in contemporary jazz, blues, zydeco, and other cajun music styles. A dozen stages – yes 12 of them, all running from about 11 am to 7 pm each of the seven days.

The first weekend, the big names were James Taylor, Dave Matthews Band, Robert Cray Band, Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Etta James, Johnny Winter, Pete Seeger.

Etta James at JazzFest 2009

Etta James at JazzFest 2009

Second weekend features Bonnie Raitt, Tony Bennett, Neil Young, Bon Jovi, Buddy Guy, The Neville Brothers, Dr. John, John Mayall, Poncho Sanchez Latin Band, among others.

This must have cost a fortune. Nah, $35 per day in advance, $50 at the gate. Food and drink prices were very reasonable. Best gumbo and etouffee I’ve eaten for $5 each. Big cups with way more meat and veggies than the cafe we tried on Rue Chartres in the French Quarter for a lot less money. Beers were $4 per can.

Guess what! They actually deal in real money at all the vendor booths. None of this Festscript crap that our city has accepted as gospel.

Being new to the area, we opted for the Jazz Fest shuttle. $14 each, roundtrip. Turns out it was a good buy as the parking was free and secured and the drivers knew how to avoid most of the traffic.

Now the real fun. There were untold thousands and thousands of people there and everyone we ran into was pretty darn decent. We had been told in advance by others to be shocked that Jazzfest would not be the drunken brawl that once was Mardi Gras. They were right. They was a large number of middle-age and older folks and we never did see any loud, rude drunks. We’re thinking that this may be due to having it all in mid afternoon and being done by 7 pm.

Past year’s Jazz Fest have had upwards of 350,000 total attendance. The Times-Picayune showed an aerial shot of the crowd listening to Dave Matthews that they said was “tens of thouands.” And the other 11 stages were also running, though obviously to a smaller crowd.

Bottom line here is that the folks that put this thing together clearly know what they are doing. Many, many people came and went, eat, drank, danced and chilled to lots of different musicians and had a great time. It’s no wonder that this gig is now in its 40th year.

Perhaps, just perhaps, some of our local fest organizers can admit that they don’t know it all and find out how to put together something that runs this smoothly year after year.

Music -James Taylor never connected with the crowd or us. After a few songs we moved to another stage and caught Johnny Winter. Taylor was probably good for those that forgot their lithium that day. Knowing that Dave Matthews would be seriously crowded, we opted for Etta James instead and were very glad we did. She’s on both of our iPods and still has the magic in person at 71. Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra were awesome. They played with Yacub Addy and Odadaa of Ghana. What a fantastic combination. Robert Cray also played an excellent set.

We will definitely go back. Tip – save some serious $ and stay in Slidell. It’s less than 30 minutes to French Quarter or Jazz Fest parking.