Okay, Festival Productions people: don’t go nuts on me here. I’m not dissing the Jazz Fest this year. It was one of the better ones in memory: the lineup was innovative, and the weather was totally cooperative.
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is one of the most well-run and -promoted events in the country, and of course, the attendance records show this. Despite the bitching and moaning of old-time festers about the change in the music at the Jazz Fest, it’s still a fantastic experience.
People complained about the ticket prices. Well, they go up almost every two years or so. It’s been happening for a long, long time. You can’t buy a cheap house in New Orleans any more either. Costs go up; it costs more to pay staff; the bands that are booked that bring in the most ticket buyers cost more and more money. I mean, how cheap do you think Springsteen and Aguilera are, anyway?
Drop acts like these, and you’re sure not going to get the massive crowds that show up at the Jazz Fest.
Not gonna happen. Jazz Fest needs crowds; big-name acts bring big crowds; big-name acts cost a lot of money. If you want to be at a Festival with only local musicians, then you’d be better off attending the French Quarter Festival a couple of weeks earlier. But even FQF has gotten so huge it’s almost ready to explode outside the Quarter and Woldenberg Park (hopefully to Armstrong Park). And of course, that festival is free. Big difference.
We haven’t received the attendance numbers for the 2014 Jazz Fest yet, but I was out there six of seven days and the second Saturday was really packed. So I’m assuming they’re going to break 500,000 this year—last year was estimated at 425,000. French Quarter Fest claimed 733,000 fest-goers in 2014, up from 560,000 in 2013.
Me, I don’t mind the crowds that much, as long as I can get my scooter through the masses, which was doable this year. As long as the weather is pleasant—whatever. It’s an outdoor festival; you’re going to get hot and sweaty and sunburned. There are always going to be people who are inconsiderate of others
However, I do get annoyed by people who stop on the pathways across the track to the infield, or within the infield itself. Can’t tell you how many times I almost ran someone down accidentally because they stopped suddenly for no apparent reason. Jeez, it’s like stopping short on a freeway or something! Keep moving, people!
The music this year was incredible. Since I don’t typically write about what I hear at the Fest in the issue, here were my high points: Lyle Lovett (because I am a long-time avid fan); Rene Marie (whose voice and stule blew me away); Henry Butler and Steve Bernstein (unbelievable musicianship and band arrangements); Jon Batiste and Stay Human (wow! WOW! Trombone Shorty, look out); Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires (James Brown reincarnated supported by a killer band of hipsters); Shamarr Allen with surprise guest John Popper; Bobby Womack (with Jon Cleary in the audience, clearly being swept away by Womack—now I know where Jon got his vocal groove); Brittany Howard and the Alabama Shakes (an older guy standing next to me was simply agog at her performance: “It’s amazing how much you don’t know about some musicians until you see them live…this girl’s a reincarnation of Etta James and Tina Turner,” he raved. I would’ve added some Janis Joplin thrown in too.). Oh yes, and Chick Corea and his band were transcendent.
Of course, I heard Wolfman, and Tab and Vox and the Hound, and the Wailers, and so many others: I typically last for about three songs or so and move on so I can catch someone else, because there’s so much music I want to experience.
My major problem with Jazz Fest isn’t about the music, not by any means. Or the food (except for the Crawfish Bread, which is now unfortunately mostly bread and maybe two crawfish–sighing for the days when it was oozing with cheese and mudbugs), or the crafts (superb, wish there were more local, though) or culture (did you happen to see the photos of Jules Kahn and his movies of the early festival in the Grandstand? Incredible and incredibly moving).
I get annoyed by dumb-ass women in heels, or the bodacious exhibitionistas who show up nine-tenths naked, or in Coachella-type costumes (dilettantes!). Or the people who think it’s cool to “surreptitiously” smoke cigarettes in the tents (can’t you wait just a few minutes, dude, and not blow your smoke into my face?). Or the people who come to Jazz Fest more for the social aspects than for the music. I had to bite my tongue to keep from snapping at the two stupid women behind me who (loudly) yapped the entire time the band played. Or the frat boys guzzling beer who only lack a beer bong to turn their Jazz Fest into another Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street. In general, I can’t stand the people who aren’t there for the music first and foremost; I don’t have any use for them, and I turn more curmudgeonly than I already am. But as my significant other continues to remind me: most people don’t care about music like we do, and he says that a lot of people just look at Jazz Fest like a football game: it’s more about the social experience, the “tailgate,” than the music. Too bad.
Oh well. As long as there are some music lovers out there, I guess I’ll take that good with the people who don’t really give a shit. Takes all kinds to make a festival!