Jazz Fest has always been my favorite cultural celebration in New Orleans. It's important to me for many reasons, but, primarily it's a family experience I share with a family I've known since the new millenium.
We're extremely close and I'll share an aspect of my experience with you, via this link
Jazz Fest and the Spice of New Orleans
Why travel to such a culturally diverse venue such as New Orleans, Louisiana, with the intent of only tasting the main menu? Would the experience be more rewarding if we tasted the spice along with the flavor of the main menu? The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is the main course, however, the people of this beautiful city are the spice that provide its’ flavor.
As we observe the movement of Jazz Fest fans during arrival and departure, a distinct manner of deportment is obvious. As Fest fans travel from Esplanade Ave toward the Sauvage gate entrance and down Gentilly Blvd to the front gate, their movements appear to be scripted. The appearance of scripted movement is likely the result of determined fans, focused upon getting to a destination while ignoring the spice available to enrich their experience.
I appeared the same way to a resident on Fortin Street during Jazz Fest, 2000. I was engaged during my travel toward the Sauvage gate entrance in a manner that has effected my relationship with Jazz Fest and the spice, forever.
Prior to this festival, I’d adapted to parking on St Bernard Ave, nearly a mile away from the Fair Grounds. This was the first day of the festival 2000 and the sun was blistering hot. I was still 200 meters from the entrance and my desire for a thirst quenching beverage and an opportunity to take a break were of a higher priority. At that very moment, I heard, “Ice cold water 1 dollar, Ice cold beer 2 dollars”. I bought two cans of beer and sat on the steps as I drank both cans, faster that I should have.
As I handed the lady sitting on the porch the money for the beer, I noticed the most gracious lady with the warmest smile I’d ever met in all my years of attendance. She was the family matriarch, Ms Mary. She was concerned with the appearance of aggravation and disgust upon my face. She also stated, “Baby this is Jazz Fest, nobody comes here looking that way”.
I’ll admit, Jazz Fest isn’t the proper venue for sad feeling. I was particularly disturbed with the fact of my having walked nearly a mile to get to the gate. I’d been parking that distance from the festival for 5 years prior and I was becoming disappointed with having to do so. As I explained my angst, Ms Mary politely stated, “Baby you can park here anytime you want to and I’d be happy for you to do that, if only that would put a smile on your face”. I’ve been parking on Fortin St with Ms Mary and her family since Jazz Fest 2000.
As I continue to attend Jazz Fest over the years, parking is the ignitor that sparked a social scene for many visitors of the fest. Following the final act of each day, visitors from far and near gather on Ms Marys’ porch and in her yard for fun and revelry. In addition to parking, there’s much food and drink for all that are patrons of her parking venue.
I’ve always considered Jazz Fest my premier event in NOLA. As a result, I’m in attendance everyday. It’s also during the Jazz Fest season that I celebrate my birthday. During the second weekend of Jazz Fest, 2000, I was surprised with a birthday celebration by Ms Mary and her family. I will always remember the warmth and generosity of this beautiful family.
During the years following the 2000 Jazz Fest season many of my friends and family have journeyed to NOLA to celebrate the fest. They’ve all met Ms Mary and her family and look forward to seeing her and her family, each year. It’s this type of graciousness and expression of love that give Jazz Fest the spice it deserves to perpetuate itself for all time.
Ms Mary and her family are unique, as they truly represent the spirit of what this city would love to promote to the world. There are many families such as Ms Marys’ that line the perimeter of the fairgrounds. They provide a basic service for folks that travel from local, national and international destinations in support of Jazz Fest. Those services include something as simple as parking and providing a refreshing drink for exhausted patrons of Jazz Fest. Although it’s a simple gesture, the interaction among Jazz Fest patrons and the people of this city are what can potentially negate the evil that’s becoming fodder for the news agencies
Wouldn’t it be more interesting to read of the great relationships that are formed with visitors to Jazz Fest and the spice of this city? Wouldn’t it be more interesting to know those relationships endure, because, people take the opportunity to engage each other in terms of kindness and love? It only takes a moment to visit and simply say hello, at times, to those families that may never have the opportunity to experience the Accura Stage, Gentilly Stage, Congo Square, Zydeco Stage, Jazz Tent, Blues Tent or Gospel Tent.
The spice of New Orleans is its people. They’re all along the routes we travel enroute to the festival. They’re waving signs asking us to park in their yards. They’re offering ice cold water and beer as we move toward the fairgrounds. Many also have cookouts at the end of the festival and I know they love to share. It’s a greater option we have to engage the spice and talk to them on all occasions. Please don’t walk as though they’re simply additions to the infrastructure. NOLA folks are among the friendliest of the planet. They love to share their knowledge of this city with folks that aren’t indigenous to it. There’s more to this city than the commercial venues that have become its signature.
Jazz Fest is a combination of the activity at the fairgrounds and its people. If you truly enjoy the spice of life come to NOLA and engage its people.