Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Few More Thoughts About the Big Easy and the Jazz Fest

My wife and I got back home from New Orleans late Saturday night/Sunday morning after a wonderful visit that included the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, eating stupendous food, walking around the French Quarter, eating more stupendous food, enjoying the view of the Mississippi River from our hotel room and eating more stupendous food.

If you'll indulge me, I 'm going to skip Soundtrack Sunday so I can sum up some of the highlights from the visit. I'm sorry I didn't post more during our visit, but Internet access was iffy at times and I was busy most of the time. Which is the point of any trip to New Orleans.
  • Please don't even begin to compare the NO Jazz Fest with any similar event. The event is that enormous and that ambitious in its scope. Elephant ears and corn dogs? Try Oyster Po'Boys and some of the best Jambalaya you'll ever eat in your life. And that's just the beginning of what you can taste. You will also never hear such a large variety of music. At one point Friday, if you were positioned in precisely the right location on the enormous infield of the racetrack where the festival took place, you could hear a New Orleans Ninth Ward rapper on the Congo Square stage and the strains of a traditional Dixieland jazz band from the Economy Hall tent. Aside from the music and the food, there was a full-fledged art fair, traditional Louisiana craftsman demonstrating their work and even cooking demonstrations underneath the racetrack stands. I've been to the festival about a half dozen times, but it remains mindboggling. You can never hope to capture it all. Just soak in what you can.
  • Despite all of the devastation brought about by Katrina, there remains no city in the United States – perhaps even the world – quite like New Orleans. The architecture, the nightlife and the cuisine remain one of a kind. And the city itself is gradually getting back on its feet, as I stated in my last post. But there remains some deep scars. My parents, who have been down for each of the 39 festivals, say the people in the city aren't as friendly as they once were – perhaps because of the deep psychic wounds not only from the hurricane but from the government's treatment of them. People just aren't getting along the way they once were. A classic example: One of the newspaper articles while we were there was about police stopping some jazz funerals. That never would have happened a few years ago.
  • I usually wander from stage to stage during the festival, rarely catching a full set. Two exceptions this time around: I saw Randy Newman's show on Thursday afternoon and Stevie Wonder's performance on Friday. Randy was his usual irrascible self, doing a mixture of familiar tunes between on-stage patter. He would play "Birmingham" from Good Ol' Boys(1974) and then launch into "You've Got A Friend In Me" from Toy Story (1995), a song that Newman introduced by saying that he had estimated he had contributed $4,000-plus to the total gross of the blockbuster Pixar film. As for Wonder, on the whole, I really got a kick out of his show. Sure, he was a little self-indulgent by allowing his thirty-something daughter Aisha Morris (The memorable subject of "Isn't She Lovely" in 1976) to solo on a piece and talking about his mother's death in relation to Katrina. The song "Ribbon in the Sky" went on much too long. But I came to the Jazz Fest expecting Old School Stevie and that's what I got – complete with a tight-as-hell band. Forget about "I Just Called to Say I Love You," "Part-Time Lover" or (gulp) "Ebony and Ivory" We heard "Superstition," "Sir Duke," "Living for the City" and "Don't You Worry About A Thing." It was 1976 all over again on the Acura Stage. And for once, I didn't mind it at all.
Play "Political Science" by Randy Newman

Play "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing" by Stevie Wonder (Live in New York 1973)

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