I was a teenager living in another state when the first New Orleans Jazz Fest & Heritage Festival was born. Both my parents were born here, but my daddy picked up and moved his wife and eight kids to another state for a job promotion.
We were the first of our dyed-in-the-wool New Orleans families to relocate, and it certainly had an impact on us kids: we were in Arkansas; it was a non-Catholic, law-abiding, non-drinking, hilly, snow-in-the-winters, small Southern town kind of place. Living in Little Rock definitely changed my “world” view, so to speak.
One thing the move didn’t change, though, was my love of music. I had started listening to the transistor radio when I was a little kid and got into New Orleans R&B that was on the AM waves back then: Fats, Irma, Chris Kenner, etc. Then I picked up my little brother’s Gibson guitar and dove into learning to play. Have always been a music lover—of all kinds, too. But when I got back to New Orleans for good, I discovered the Jazz Fest.
A feast for the ears, the eyes, the tastebuds, the senses—the vibe was fantastic because everyone who went to the Fest was like me: a damn music freak. We loved the music and loved each other for loving the music.
And I’m still into music (obviously), although the old bod can’t party like she did. I do want to let you guys know that just because she has white hair and a cane, this old music broad used to be a serious party animal, but also one who was more attuned to the music than the partying (I’d go to music clubs and bars for the music, not so much to get wasted). I feel the same way about the Jazz Fest: music first, camaraderie second.
It’s amazing that the Jazz Fest has grown and endured for so long. It’s changed, of course, and the issues that promoters had with booking the major headliners this year (the cancellation of the Stones and then Fleetwood Mac) demonstrate that the Jazz Fest founders’ musical era will soon be coming to a close. It has been a stunning 50 years. So it goes.
But it must continue.
I just pray that local musicians and those players (and music biz types) who are drawn to New Orleans realize how very special the music and culture is and keep it going into perpetuity. It’s a treasure that cannot, must not, be lost.
As I write this I would like to also pay tribute to my old friend and a true music lover, Wesley Schmidt, who passed away today (April 12). Talk about full of life and music! Wes was the owner of Snug Harbor, after he bought it from its previous owner, George Brumat. I met Wesley a long time ago—maybe at the infamous Luigi’s near UNO?—I know not how or where (we were both too drunk or stoned to remember, I’m sure), but he was the most delicious, fun, intelligent guy. We knew each other for over 30 years, well before OffBeat was a reality. He was one of the original M.O.M.S. ball organizers, led countless performances and second lines with the Storyville Stompers Jazz Band: a lovely man who will be missed by every person who knew him.
Wes, doll, this Jazz Fest is ever for you.