1993 Jazz Fest Second Line. Source: Wikipedia Commons

A Side Dish Rather Than The Entree

We asked our Weekly Beat readers about which bands they must see at the 2017 Jazz Fest , and of all the answers we received, less than half were interested in seeing a band or musician from Louisiana.

I think that’s pretty revealing in showing the way the Jazz Fest is satisfying the musical tastes of people who attend.

Every week we post a video in the Weekly Beat—some are pretty obscure—that’s related to one of our older covers. This week we featured a blast-from-the-past 1993 Jazz Fest issue, and we went back to look for videos of that “ancient” Jazz Fest.

We found some clips from the 1993 Jazz Fest that featured Wayne Toups, Marcia Ball, Earl King and others on a “big stage.”

Boy, those were the days.

This year, we have Maroon 5, Usher, Stevie Wonder, Tom Petty, Meghan Trainor, Lorde, Snoop Dog, and so many more who have diddley-squat to do with Louisiana(except that they love to come here, like everyone else in the universe).

While we all know that the Fest has drastically changed its booking policies post-Katrina—mainly because of a lucrative affiliation with concert giant AEG—it’s sad to know that Jazz Festers are becoming more interested in seeing those “big acts” and not Louisiana bands.

Of course, “heritage” music abounds at the Fairgrounds, but the demand for it has changed drastically. It’s now much more of a side dish, rather than the entrée.

I’ve mentioned many times that we can never be resistant to change. We have to honor our musical past and welcome changes in musical tastes too. But it’s well-known that the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is a major influencer in creating demand worldwide for New Orleans and Louisiana musicians, food and culture.

That goal can never end, and it probably won’t. It’s just not as important as it used to be.

But what concerns me is that I see a decreasing interest in local music in favor of “any” music by the Jazz Fest audience. This is something that we have to ponder and hope that the Jazz Fest takes very seriously.

Yes, the event itself is big, big business. It’s grown into a sort of juggernaut among all New Orleans festivals. But we also have to separate the “Festival” itself from the “Foundation” that owns the Festival. The Jazz & Heritage Foundation is inextricably entwined with the success of the Jazz Fest; if the Jazz Fest isn’t monetarily successful, the Foundation’s mission falters due to lack of funding; their relationship is 100 percent symbiotic.

As we know, the Foundation has undertaken the task of creating several local free festivals, music industry events, education, community grants and a lot more. If we focus on what their real goal is, the Foundation is using the Festival to fund its stated mission of preserving local music and culture, and we have to be very grateful for that: their aim is true.

So when you moan about a national act playing Jazz Fest, remember that the Festival funds a much higher purpose. Let’s just demand that our local music and culture remains at the heart of the Festival’s offerings.

  • Joe Holtzman

    just explained why we come for FQF not Jazzfest any more – I remember the Earl King, Wayne Toups, Marcia Ball year – when everyone started coming for Phish and Widespread Panic etc. – we changed to FQF and have not looked back – I come for the local music.

  • Maxwell

    This hurts my heart. Really. Hurts. Perhaps Commander’s should open a drive through and sell pizza and chicken nuggets? Change is not always good. Jazz Fest has been ruined. I have 20 years of JF posters that line my walls. One for each of the consecutive years I attended. Sadly, no more of my dollars will be pouring in to New Orleans for JF.
    I continued to go for a few years after Katrina. It was important for me to know I was helping the people, the city and the music recover from the devastation. I will always love New Orleans, but JF is dead to me.

    • jjazznola

      Then you cannot be a real music fan. Just all of that Cuban music alone is worth $70.

  • Barry Obama

    I’ve been going to Fest since…1974. Nowthat I live elsewhere coming to Fest is my chance to renew something deep inside me that can’t be messed with even though so many of my musical muses are gone. I ignore the ridiculous rules, the bloated national acts and my mind like that of an old man wanders to the days of umbrellas , tents and sitting in front of the Fess Stage.; when Fess, Earl, Johnny Adams,Clifton, the Rhapsodizers and everyone truly of New Orleans roamed the Fairgrounds. I was one of the lucky ones .

  • Johnny Pierre

    The true essence and spirit of Jazz Fest has always been and always should be the local sounds of Louisiana. If things continue the way they are, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the complete disappearance of local music at this grand old festival. The key word is: Heritage.

  • YRBY

    I see nothing wrong with the big acts…nor all the youngsters fighting for space at Acura/Gentilly stages. I was one of them in the early/mid-90’s (who basically knew the Nevilles, Meters, Radiators and Dr. John), and despite that I couldn’t help but discover all the music (and food, oh the food!) that makes NOLA great. Now I spend all my time at Fais Do Do, Congo Square, the Jazz tents, etc, and can’t imagine a New Orleans experience without Kermit, Henry Butler, Marcia Ball, Jon Cleary, Dr. Michael White, and zydeco at the Rock-N-Bowl. That said, I’ve never seen Stevie Wonder, so will brave it over at Acura. Laissez les bon temps roulez!