Dear “new” New Orleanians and virgin Festers,
If you are one of our many new citizens to pick this town to be your home, I want to welcome you. And if you are really brand-new and haven’t yet experienced Jazz Fest, then I would like to offer some heartfelt advice to you. In addition, I wish to reach out to all the visiting first-timers to Jazz Fest (hopefully, there are many of you). Jazz Fest is unlike most any festival you have attended or ever will attend. For some of us, it’s akin to a religious experience. Those of us who love this festival and all that surrounds it want you to experience and fall in love with it, so that you may help us keep the spirit, funk, and magic of it going strong for decades to come. And we are relying on you to do this.
This year marks our festival’s 50th anniversary, and through all the years, growth, changes, and the changing-of-the-guardians, it has never lost its magic. Every year, as I enter the gates, I look about, holding my breath with trepidation, and then within minutes, I see and feel that the magic remains, casting a spell over me that lingers for the entirety of the event. But I have seen our city change in ways that cause me to feel cautious and apprehensive. Fortunately, lots of new blood have embraced our culture and seem to really get it; they lend themselves to community involvement and enjoyment. Yes, enjoyment of our city and of the things that make her unique is crucial to preserving our “only in New Orleans” culture. Still, there is a risk as the city grows, and the same goes for my beloved Jazz Fest. So, I am tasking all you newbies with a mission—a mission to keep it real, to keep the funk alive.
For our new citizens—and again, welcome—I remind you that now, when someone asks you where your home is, you will say “New Orleans.” Because regardless of where you were born or lived before, you are now a New Orleanian, so wear that with pride! And to be a New Orleanian, ya simply must be an ambassador for and participant of Jazz Fest. So, perhaps you lack the funds or the time off from work to attend this year; I get it, but you can still treat yourself to an immersion in the peripheral Jazz Fest.
The neighborhoods closely surrounding the Fair Grounds, especially at the Gentilly Boulevard, Sauvage Street, and Mystery Street entrance/exits, are filled with wonderful pop-up brass bands who perform for tips—so tip ‘em and enjoy the time of your life! You will also pass some wonderful and random food, beverage, and art vendors—check them out (cash only). There are several bars located in this Jazz Fest Ground Zero that are within mere blocks of the fest. Three that come to mind and are dear to me are Liuzza’s by the Track (a tradition everyone must make a part of their own ritual), The Seahorse Saloon on Gentilly Boulevard (so close that you can hear the fest), and a more recent addition, Pirogue’s Bar at Bayou Road and Broad Street (wonderful food and vibe). So, if you can’t fest within the gates of Jazz Fest this year, you surely can pass a good time while supporting local businesses, musicians, and vendors.
If you are so lucky as to live in this fabulous neighborhood, so close to the Holy Land of music and magic, then be sure to show our visitors and local Festers hospitality with a “Happy Jazz Fest!” greeting and to be helpful with any questions or directions they might need (and no, you do not have to offer your restroom). Parking is an issue, but most residents in this area “play nice”—sure, we block off a space for ourselves, but no need to hog spaces. And be sure to add a touch of spring/festival with Jazz Fest flags and WWOZ banners, flowers, some pink flamingos, string lights, bling! And leave those porch lights on all night to make our streets welcoming and a wee bit safer.
And if you are “going to be in that number” of lucky ones attending Jazz Fest, and if this is your first time—your maiden voyage—then please indulge me as I share some do’s and don’ts to make this more enjoyable and to help you be a proper representative and ambassador of this event and of our city. Dress for comfort (ladies, I suggest a skirt or dress, as this will really make navigating those port-o-let urinals easier) and wear shoes that can take the mud, should it rain. Wear sunscreen, a light hat, sunglasses. Do not over-burden yourself with toting lawn furniture (festival chairs). Drink plenty of water. You are allowed a liter of unopened bottled water when you enter—refill at various water stations. Stay reasonably sober—you will be a nicer person to be next to and will save money for the great food. And do not even think about driving or biking while intoxicated—this is not acceptable, ever! Do not take selfies! Come on, your friends already know you’re at Jazz Fest. Take photos of the talent out there—let them shine; it’s their day, too. (Sure, if Diana Ross asks you to be in a photo with her—then, okay!)
During performances, be quiet; save that energy for applauding vigorously. And put down that device—it’s rude to text during performances. Do not dance in the aisles—folks are not here to see your dance moves. But where dancing is permitted, then by all means, go for it! Just use all the good manners you were taught, and you will find that others will follow your example.
This is a community event that has always been filled with camaraderie, good cheer, and celebrations of creativity. Now get ready for the time of your life, my dear new Fester!