Jazz Fest Redux or Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters
Apr 14 2017

Jazz Fest Redux or Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters

By: Phil LaMancusa

Mea Culpa Mamma Jamma. Wow, did I step in it or what? Last week (you didn't read it, did you?), I wrote about "characters" of the Fest, and someone compared me to those older Brits that used to profi le kids as either Mods or Rockers. "Not so," I retorted: "Listen, I get less than a thousand words to wax onward and I didn't have room to pay tribute to all the other Festivalians you may see grazing at the Crawfi sh Monica zip code, let alone the workers!" Needless to say, having been successfully admonished, I have corrected my oversight.

First things first: from the voice of Larry McKinley (in the box) at the gate telling you, "Welcome to the 43rd." "Remember, for your fun as well as safety, the following are strictly prohibited," leading you to the gamut of bag-friskers and ticket-takers and outward (or inward), the Fest is staffed with an army of workers and volunteers from ushers, trash-gatherers and them darn people in yellow shirts that blow their "vehicle crossing" whistles to stage crews, beer slingers, gospel singers, swingers, good news-bringers and bell ringers.

There's a lost and found, post offi ce, ATM, general store and posters galore. Also a fi rst aid station and wandering security folks among the Mardi Gras Indians, brass bands, and fans of every food and music genre.

Boys that fear no noise crowd the stages, eager for some honky-tonk badonkadonk: hometown heroes with angel backup singers and stars playing on electric guitars. Old bats herd brats while cats in hats with rug rats have spats. Frats and Y'ats.

Teens with hormones ragin', Cajuns, Asians, and two-stepping amazin's at the stage they call Fais-Do-Do. Craft sellers, California swellers, gals with their fellers and strollers and men in buffed bowlers gently jostling with writers, liars, tea-swillers and mango freeze-spillers; oyster shuckers and down-on-their-luck-ers. Stage hands, brass bands, Gospel Tent prayers, old school harmony slayers, Hip Hop "Players," second line partner-searchants eyein' wares of Congo Square merchants. Restless Electric Slide dancers, hip-twitchin' prancers and ebony romancers eager for some Frankie and Maze. The Dixie Cups are onstage singing "The Chapel of Love" while a guy in tight jeans is schmoozing a young blushing dove. Without embarrassments, impromptu assessments of body inkments in tents and on pavements; a cold one up to my smile and sunglasses, freshly baptized in Old Sol's shine.

Outdoor shepherds with cane-fi shing pole signposts fl ying pigs and fl ags and waving their charges toward safe haven outposts in crowds thick with smoke, sweat and beer; girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes and "Peanuts! Get your peanuts here!" Gospel Tent rockin' with spirit so thick you can taste it and robed choirs sway for the Lord like seaweed moving in a sea of harmony, joy and salvation. The Lord is holding down this corner of the track, and throw your hands in the air, get up on your feet and raise your voices in praise of His Name until holy exhaustion overtakes you like the ebb of a wave in the sea of Galilee. Hosanna, Amen, "I know that's right!" and a joyful noise up to heaven powerful enough to convert both hustler and hussy.

The Jazz Tent regulars jockey for prime seats to languish in notes created on premise from old salts to young lions grabbing solos, saluting past masters from Monk to Dizzy and Duke, dished up by Mayfi eld, Blanchard and Harrison. The ghost of Coltrane fl oating beside Charlie Bering, smiling at what they had wrought upon the audience devoted to going no further into the fray; for once again, in their element, home at last. Sighing and nodding, toes keeping a time subjective in a love supreme to a crescendo of applause and standing ovations. Only to give way to the younger generations that amaze, astonish and astound, with fresh-found fugues repeated and varied with accompanying contrapuntal lines. Take a deep breath and close your eyes.

Past the kids area with games, story tellers and mac-n-cheese. Tykes in rapt wonder while the likes of the Wiggles, Imagination Movers or Choo Choo Soul spin smiles, songs, stories and young ideas to thirsty minds in small bodies, while older, yet not any more mature children crowd Economy Hall to see Chris Owens, the Goddess of all things New Orleans: Dixieland at its fi nest and handkerchiefwaving gravy trains around the tent.

Mardi Gras Indians chanting from the Heritage Stage speak to our innermost senses with rhythms of Shallow Water, Indian Red and Big Chief with a Golden Crown, followed by brass bands that get us dancing down and dirty. While indigenous Americans remind us through song and crafts who the original citizens really are.

Lagniappe Stage by the oyster bar, with surprises a bit shy of big-time but no less admired, more prized, localized, idolized, less simonized but soon to be proselytized semi-marginalized musical masterminds. Surprised?

Food, food, acres of food. Red beans, white beans and BBQ ribs; there's a place to get PB&J for the kids. Crawfi sh bread, bisque and boiled and beignets; po-boys: gator, duck, soft-shell. Cochon de lait. Jambalaya, quail gumbo, couscous and jama-jama; catfi sh pecan, amandine or trout baquet for your mama; boudin balls, fried chicken and fried green tomatoes; spinach and artichokes and poned sweet potatoes.

And for those of us that sport a sweet tooth, we'll find Brocato's gelato by the next booth; or cobbler, cheesecake, turnovers or tarts; or strawberry shortcake to share with sweethearts. But the best thing of all, to top off this list, is when we get kissed in a tent fi lled with mist. It's damn near poetry.

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