Last weekend, in New Orleans, Rose and I rode a sensorial wave of music, food, blooms, and green lusciousness. Mercy me, it was good. All of it. The centerpiece of our propitious three-day gift was the first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Hundreds of musicians and thousands of music lovers gathered around a tribal stump, swept away by communal happiness.
(Many, many thanks to Jill and Marc Winston for their hospitality, as always. I have interspersed photos from the first weekend of Jazz Fest with those taken on walks uptown, in Audubon Park, and on a drive one morning with William Winston around his Bywater Neighborhood.)
Let me give you a flavor of the Jazz Fest path of harmony and righteousness. You needn’t be shy about asking for directions.
Here’s how conversations began. Sometimes with strangers, while sitting at a table eating a soft-shell crab po-boy.
“Who you gonna listen to?”
“What’s good to eat?” (Already thinking of my next meal…)
New Orleans is not a city of slim pickings
Years ago, on a visit here, Rose and I heard a show in small club uptown. The next morning, we ran into a friend who had spent most of her life in the Crescent City. She asked who we’d seen the night before. I couldn’t remember his name but said he was a Black, blind piano player. Her brow knitted. She looked up and said, “That don’t help me one bit. There are a thousand Black, blind piano players in this town.” We had heard the late, great Henry Butler, a scion of the legendary Professor Longhair.
We were not denied great piano players last weekend, either, though none were sight impaired, as far as I could see.
Tom Hook, pianist with Wendell Brunious and the New Orleans All Stars, asked the audience, during their afternoon show, “Any music lovers in New Orleans this weekend?” Of course, there were. Thousands had flown, driven, biked, and even walked to hear music on stages large and small. 78 performances, on 13 stages, in the infield of the Fairgrounds Race Course. I knew the names, or music, of only 16 groups. That left a whole lot left to explore and discover, especially on the smaller stages. I found Brunious, Hook, and their band, inside the Economy Hall.
Hook, who is also the band’s co-leader, sang Walking to New Orleans, written by Bobby Charles and made famous by Fats Domino in the early 1960s. Hook mentioned that Bob Dylan had called local WWOZ the best radio station in the universe.
The nearby Gospel Tent was filled with a discernible spirit fueled by powerful voices and thumping bass lines, blessed by Adam Clayton and Anointed for Purpose. “Get in line for a ticket to heaven!”
(Check out WWO Z, Guardian of the Groove, for a reckoning of last weekend’s Jazz Fest. You’ll find great photos from many of the stages. And you can stream portions of this weekend’s Jazz Fest. Check out the closing four-day Jazz Fest schedule.)
Then there were food options
Crawfish Strudel, Crawfish Croissants, Crawfish Monica…
Crab cakes, pecan catfish meunière, beans and rice, jambalaya…
Trumpeter Wendell Brunious once said, “No matter where you’re living…Could be on the moon. You’re still in New Orleans.”
Happy people and parades.
Tubas, trombones, saxophones and clarinets.
Venerable live oaks with piggybacking resurrection ferns and Spanish moss, dripping from muscular branches.
Long-needle pines, cast iron plants, leafy tractor seats.
Jasmines and southern magnolias.
The smell of flowers and food out of nowhere and everywhere.
I got my ticket punched for a ticket to heaven.