I first wrote this little harangue in 2011 and have had to post it every year since then when the JazzFest lineup is announced. This year it needed some updates so I’ve made a few edits but basically the song remains the same. See what I did there? Yeah that’s going to be the tone of the entire article so if you don’t like my smarmy, sarcastic writing voice best to drop the challupah right now.
The 2020 Jazz Fest lineup was released this week and the Facebook world has been filled with comments. “That’s not Jazz” . “I’m not driving 200 miles to hear a bunch of pop stars like The Who and The Beach Boys and Stevie Nicks” “They keep raising the ticket prices every year” “Wow, how ironic you have an oil company as a sponsor. Couldn’t get BP?”
OK, will everyone please take a deep breath and shut the fuck up.
First, it’s the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and we (and by we I mean the people who live down here including all us damn yankees. And if you know the difference between a yankee and a damn yankee, you are absolutely from Looziana) call it Jazz Fest for short. We know it’s not a jazz festival. Thanks for pointing that out.
Hey. Did you know that there are more than 10 teams in the Big 10? Or that jumbo shrimp isn’t? And neither is Fox News. And Bono and The Edge? Those aren’t their real names. Same with Meatloaf and Newt Gingrich and Pink. No. Really.
And BTW, The Who? That’s really a Who cover band with two guys who used to be in The Who. I wont even discuss The Beach Boys. But you know what? In both cases, the music is timeless and when you’re standing there in the sun drinking a strawberry lemonade, dancing with your sweetie, well you’re sixteen again and you’re gonna have fun fun fun …. well, you know.
So here’s a little history lesson. And this is all on the Fest web site, which clearly none of you bothered to read before you started whining so try to pay attention.
In 1970, George Wein, who produced the Newport Jazz Festival and the Newport Folk Festival (begun respectively in 1954 and 1959) was hired to design and produce a unique festival for New Orleans. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit organization, was established to oversee the Festival and George got one of his young assistants, Quint Davis from New Orleans, to run it. The festival was called the Louisiana Heritage Fair and was held in Congo Square just outside the French Quarter.
In addition to Mahalia Jackson and Duke Ellington, the first Festival lineup included Pete Fountain, Al Hirt, Clifton Chenier, Fats Domino, The Meters, The Preservation Hall Band, parades every day with The Olympia Brass Band and Mardi Gras Indians, and many others.
Clifton Chenier. Zydeco. Fats Domino. Pop. The Meters. Funk before anybody even knew what that was.
So during the Festival, Mahalia Jackson and Duke Ellington ran into the Eureka Brass Band leading a second line. George Wein hands a mike to Mahalia and she did what any other NOLA native would do. She joined the parade.
The Fest web says : This spontaneous, momentous scene—this meeting of jazz and heritage—has stood for decades since as a stirring symbol of the authenticity of the celebration that was destined to become a cultural force.
OK, that’s a bit thick. Some ad agency wonk got all teary eyed and full of himself there but the point is well taken. It’s all about the total experience not the headline acts. Take a look at the lineup for any given day. Say Sat April 25th. Over 70 bands. 70. For 70 bucks. A buck a band. And you want to complain? Really?
There are five stages and five tents. One tent with nothing but jazz all day. Every day. One with blues all day. Every day. One Jazz and Heritage Stage and one Jazz Tent. Jazz. The Fais Do Do stage and the Congo Square stage feature non-main stream music acts. Heritage.
And looks like seven parades that day. Couple of social aid and pleasure clubs. Some Indians. Some brass bands. Heritage.
Crafts. Food. Cultcha. Food. Listen if you haven’t eaten crawfish monica in a styrofoam bowl with a plastic spoon, then don’t talk to me about cultcha. Really if you’re gonna keep on whining like this don’t talk to me at all. I’m trying to decide between Kid Rock and Cowboy Mouth. Ohh but the Radiators are playing then too. Damn.
Or you don’t like pop stars? Well maybe if you were here in 2006 after the storm and heard Jimmy Buffet choke up singing The City of New Orleans or the whole audience crying when The Boss sang My City of Ruins. Or couple of years ago when a huge thunderstorm threatened to interrupt his act, Billy Joel yelled out “you didn’t let Katrina wash you away, this isn’t going to wash me away” and broke out in Louisiana 1927 while a roadie used a squeegee on his piano. Or another year a thunderstorm soaked the crowd and I danced in the rain with Gayle while Van sang Brown Eyed Girl.
Maybe then you’d think differently.
Or maybe not. Maybe you’d do like I did when I was listening to Jeff Beck one year and thought he was a little more impressed with his own licks than the music itself so I wandered over to listen to Pearl Jam. A group I never really listen to but really that’s the point of the Fest. A whole bunch of people you’ve never listened to and you walk by and go, hey that sounds interesting.
Oh yeah. Pearl Jam was incredible.
So listen. You wanna come down, hear some great music. Eat some great food. Meet some great people. Stop by my place by the Sauvage St Gate on Saturday and get some crawfish and a cold drink. Use the bathroom. Ride on my Harley. Great. Love to see ya. Well except the Harley. Lone Wolf and all that. OK, good looking women get mudbugs and a drink and a ride too.
But please, stop getting your news at the checkout line at Piggly Wiggly. Those are tabloids not newspapers. Price Charles is NOT married to a transvestite (I know. I know. The pictures) , aliens do NOT live in the White House (the Senate maybe) and Elvis IS dead.
And just stop whining. Cuz it’s our fuckin party and we’ll call it whatever we want.