Love is in the air! Photo: Willow Haley

Jazz Fest’s 50 Years of Family Ties

As of Thursday, we’ll be embarking on a journey into the second 50 years of the Jazz Fest’s centennial year…God willing.

It started as a foray by the city into jump-starting a lagging economy, and promoting tourism, and over five decades transmogrified into the cultural behemoth it is today.

We just published our annual Jazz Fest Bible in a brand-new, pocket-sized format (hope you like it!). Interestingly, there’s not much of a history of the Fest in our little Bible, because we figure that our readers already are aware of the festival’s history. Our local newspapers took on that history task, surely gathering much from the very informative book The Incomplete, Year-By-Year, Selectively Quirky, Prime Facts Edition of the History of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, published in 2005, just pre-Katrina by e/Prime Publications and edited by Kevin McCaffery.

It’s still available online and it’s definitely worth a read if you’d like to get an inside look at the development of the Festival…up until 2005, which is when Hurrican Katrina almost blew us and the Festival away for good, and changed the trajectory of the Festival and its talent lineup.

We also looked at a nice piece on how the Festival has managed to keep its story alive over these five decades, and the people—the ancestors—who made it what it is today.

Even the New York Times is celebrating the Festival’s 50th anniversary with this paean to the Festival by journalist Jon Pareles, a longtime New Orleans visitor.

Jazz Fest historian buffs must venture to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation’s wonderful archive to check out their collection of artifacts and photos. There’s even a database of every musician or band who’s ever performed at the Festival. Cool!

But the Jazz Fest is much more than a music and culture festival. It is in fact, almost what can be called the “Church of New Orleans”—people revere the Jazz Fest so much. It’s like a religion.

But it’s a homecoming and coming-together of disparate friends from around the world who are bonded together by their love of New Orleans: her music, food, her joie de vivre, her spirit of indomitability; her stubborn refusal to give up when she should; her celebration of the importance of community and family.

I truly love this time of year because I am able to visit with the hundreds of like-minded people I’ve met because of the Jazz Fest over the years. So the Fest is much more than a celebration of the music and culture that we hold so dear. It has created a community and even a worldview of its own.

I am lucky to do what I do. And we are all blessed to be able to host an event that has truly created a worldwide family.