Jazz Fest 2017. Photo by Elsa Hahne.

You probably shouldn’t spend $3,995 to go to Jazz Fest with an LA Times writer

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival can be an expensive experience for out-of-towners. Between fest tickets, after show tickets, accommodations, transportation, food and more, it’s easy to see how one could end up shelling out a good bit of cash.

One thing that you probably shouldn’t spend a lot of money on, however, is a few presentations about New Orleans music from LA Times writer Randy Lewis. I only bring this up because the LA Times appears to believe that people are willing to do just that.

As part of its brand new Los Angeles Times Expeditions program, the popular California newspaper is offering a $3,995 Jazz Fest travel package that comes with “insights and anecdotes provided by LA Times expert Randy Lewis.” Lewis is generally pretty good at his job, so I have nothing against him. In fact, I commend him for figuring out a way to get paid to do this.

My issue is with the people who would spend good money to hear a music critic from California talk about New Orleans for a few hours when they can get plenty of free insights and anecdotes from WWOZ (or OffBeat’s equally free Jazz Fest Bible, for that matter). The Expeditions website explains that “this is not a fancy affair” on the same page where it also explains that this is a $3,995 affair, so I’m not entirely sure what the target demographic is here.

Even after the cost of lodging (four nights at The Monteleone), ground transportation (to and from the fest, airfare is not included), a few tours (Preservation Hall sans a performance), a “drumming session on Congo Square,” and some other amenities, you’re still looking at—at least—a few hundred dollars going to insights and anecdotes about New Orleans from a man who has spent the better part of four decades writing about pop music on the West Coast. If you’re in the mood to drop that kind of dough, I know plenty of natives who are looking for a side hustle and who almost certainly have better anecdotes to offer. Any schmuck can point out Cosimo Matassa’s old J&M Recording Studio, but only a real New Orleanian can tell you where they were and what they were doing on the day Frenchmen Street stopped being cool.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this hefty sum of money—which doesn’t include after show tickets, airfare or most of your food, and which requires you stick to a strict schedule while vacationing at a music festival—is totally worth it. Maybe this is a fantastic business plan from a bold newspaper in a time when the future of print media is far from certain. If that’s the case, I’ll eat my words and get to work planning the 2018 launch of OffBeat Magazine Explorations with OffBeat expert Sam D’Arcangelo.

  • A Face in the Crowd

    Maybe an Offbeat writer can offer $4K tours of LA’s club scene in return.

  • Randy Lewis

    “Hey guys, at least let the ink dry on the press release before releasing the hounds! I get where you’re coming from; in fact, I LOVE where you’re coming from, and avail myself of every opportunity to spend time where you’re coming from. That’s a huge part of why I’ll be returning once more next year with a group of music lovers in tow. I’ve been attending JazzFest on and off since 1987, made numerous other trips to New Orleans and traveled more broadly throughout Southwest Louisiana precisely because I’m so in awe of the music, the culture, the history, the food, the people… everything that make it such a wondrous and unique place. I’ve interviewed D.L. Menard at his chair-making shop in Erath, visited with Canray Fontenot at his home in Welsh, two-stepped and waltzed at Mulate’s in Breaux Bridge while Dewey Balfa fiddled and daughter Christine played triangle (when she wasn’t busy serving drinks), and jammed with Marc and Ann Savoy on more than one Saturday morning at the Savoy Music Center in Eunice. And I’ve enthusiastically written about those experiences during my 30+ years covering pop music for The Times, something I plan to share with travelers, by way of exposing them to several of the remarkable musicians I’ve had the good fortune to spend time with during my time in your wonderful city. I’ll even let members of our groups in on my experience getting married in Preservation Hall some years back, performing Sidney Bechet’s “Petite Fleur” on my trusty clarinet on that vaunted stage during the ceremony and topping it off with a joyous second line parade through the Quarter with a raft of family, friends and no small contingent of warm-hearted, empathetic strangers. So when Jazz Fest 2018 does roll around, I hope you’ll be as welcoming to me and this group of visitors as so many New Orleans residents have been every other time I’ve come to the Crescent City. Oh, and Sam–you are more than welcome here in the OTHER L.A. any time. Cheers! –Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times