By Mr. FS
Jazzfest (a.k.a The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival) is, in my opinion, the single most important event of the year in New Orleans, eclipsing even Mardi Gras. Jazzfest has it all—food, music, arts and crafts, parades, people o all ages dancing like crazy. Also heat and sometimes rain, although this year was an exception in both cases (highs in the low 80s; no rain to speak of).
But is it worth it? People complain mightily about the cost of tickets--$50 at the gate, ort $40 (plus $3 handling fee) if you get them early from the box office. This year was the 40th Jazzfest, and I heard a lot of festgoers reminiscing about when the tickets were $10 (or less). Of course, the first Jazzfest, which took place in Congo Square (rather than on the fairgrounds, its current venue), only had a couple of stages, while now there are 12, and on a typical day you can hear 70+ performances (theoretically, that is, although you’d spend most of your time running from stage to stage). That means that you get a lot for the price of a ticket.
For example, here’s my Thursday, April 30 itinerary. (I went by myself, so I could move quickly; it's harder to cover as much territory in a group.) I got there right when the gates opened at 11:00, and after a peep into the Gospel tent went to hear Jumpin’ Johnny Sansone in the blues tent. Then Corey Ledet and his Zydeco Band at the Fais Do Do stage, then the Honey Island Swamp Band at the Gentilly stage, then Rumba Buena at Congo Square, back to Fais Do Do for a bit of Sonny Bourg and the Bayou Blues Band, then to the Acura stage for Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes; back to Fais Do Do for the Creole Zydeco Farmers then over to the Gentilly stage for Theresa Andersson, back to Congo square for the New Birth Brass Band, then to Acura for The Meter Men (Leo, Zig, and George), then to the Jazz tent for George Wein and the Newport All-Stars featuring Howard Allen, Anat Cohen, Randy Brecker, Lew Tebackin, Jimmy Cobb, and Esperanza Spalding, then to the Gentilly stage for a bit of Emmylou Harris, then to Fais Do Do for a bit of Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Playboys, and finally to Congo Square for Solomon Burke. I’d say that’s worth the price of admission (at $43 this works out to about $3 a performance).
However, the music to Frugal Son’s crawfish peeling instructional video (the great Dirty Dozen Brass Band) got me to thinking that one of the best aspects of Jazzfest is absolutely free. This is the street scene when the Fest lets out, and particularly the To Be Continued Brass Band, which usually plays on Gentilly just outside the gate. We first heard them a couple of years before Katrina, when the band members must have still been in junior high school, and they’ve played every year in the same spot. They even played Jazzfest last year, on the Jazz and Heritage stage.
So now that Frugal Son has shown us how to post clips, I thought I’d give you some samples of this Free-Fest. I wish the clips were better quality, but they’ll give you an idea of what it’s all about. At the end of the clip you will see a couple of kids on the opposite corner who are just starting out in the world of New Orleans brass bands--just like the To Be Continued six or seven years ago.