Did you have a good time at Jazz Fest this past year? We know we did. Relive some of the highlights of the past year as our writer's recount their experiences at New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
Friday, April 24
by Austin Niel
Friday, April 24 was the first official day of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and it had all of the essential ingredients to set the standard for a music festival in the wild city of New Orleans. Whether you wanted to lie out in the sun for the first half of the day, show off your dancing shoes at the Congo Square Stage or simply eat, drink and be happy until the rain started pouring down, most would probably agree that the first day of the festival had just enough of everything.
Those who had a craving for good New Orleans–style Cajun recipes did not have to go too far, as Sara Toth of Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse demonstrated recipes for crawfish bread, shrimp bread and crawfish deviled eggs and showed exactly what New Orleans’ food culture is all about! After the spicy Cajun dishes, WWOZ’s Mango Freeze provided the perfect chill to get festival-goers back into the swing of dancing, singing and cheering as Royal Teeth began their set with heavy rhythmic grooves that everyone could nod their heads to.
Wilco began their set at 5:20 on the Gentilly Stage. The Chicago-based band started playing to a highenergy crowd of people dancing, singing, laughing and enjoying the show until halfway through their set, heavy clouds of rain began to pour and pour. For some Jazz Fest attendees, that weather was the only bad part of the day. Other festival-goers might tell you that the weather was the best part of the day, as Wilco’s broad stream of colors, shapes, sounds and feelings was complemented by the excitement of a thunderstorm approaching accompanied by a tornado warning! Of the twohour set they were originally scheduled to play, only 40 minutes were achieved before large bursts of lightning shot across the sky. In a way, the weather added to the whole experience, for better or for worse.
Saturday, April 25
by Alex V. Cook
The day started out brilliantly. We were going to see The Who, my daughter’s favorite band. I felt like King Dad. We slid in seamlessly to catch Richard Comeaux’s pedal steel band at the Lagniappe Stage, tucked inside the Grandstand. Comeaux was fantastic. His 1950s dance band High Performance is a V8 Cajun boogie engine on full throttle, but in the manicured shade of the Grandstand, he and his band stuck to standards and hits.
From Lafayette’s Creole Lunch House I scored a piece of Creole stuffed bread—sort of a sausage-heavy jambalaya tucked into a perfect little pocket of bread—and an effervescent set by GIVERS (also from Lafayette) before the rains came.
When the sky opened up, my daughter texted me to say she was huddled in the book tent. I made it there just before the real monsoon hit, threatening to blow the tent off its moorings. I tried to negotiate an escape plane with my daughter, arguing that the two surviving members of The Who are deep into AARP territory. She wasn’t having it. “My Tumblr followers will be disappointed if I don’t see them,” she explained with adolescent resolve. Who am I to defy Tumblr?
The rain eventually petered out and the SkyCam crane lurched over us at the Acura Stage like a grazing brontosaurus. Keeping to the dinosaur analogy, The Who lumbered onto the stage. Roger Daltrey looked like an aging bar back from an English pub; Pete Townshend, in his skullcap, looked like an engineer on a nuclear sub. After some sputtering, they came shockingly to life and were the greatest rock band in the world. The Who played with muscle, as if this show was their big break. The elation on my daughter’s face during “Pinball Wizard” was a triumph of rock ’n’ roll. Then we saw it: my bright blue shirt in the corner of the Jumbotron. We were in just the right spot, where the crane had to turn around to do those magnificent flying shots of the band. We were part of the concert, the “who” that answers the ancient question “Who Are You?” It was exactly how rock ’n’ roll is supposed to feel.
Sunday, April 26
by Emily Hingle
My group of friends and I started our fest day with a few libations at the Seahorse Saloon just across the street from the fest gates, a staple of the most experienced festers. It makes for a smoother entrance into the chaos that can be Jazz Fest. Upon entering, we slowly walked around and enjoyed the music coming from all directions. I couldn't help but take a turn using the amazing Oculus 3D system presented by Shell Oil and meandering through the Folklife and Cultural Exchange Pavillions to check out the fascinating wares and international showcases of dances. My fest food strategy is one of getting the most bang for the buck; something filling and sustaining. So I sought out my favorite from Gambian Foods, the Spicy Grilled Tofu and Veggies with peanut sauce. This heaping dish is full of spicy sweet flavor and good protein. Later in the day, I also was enticed to enjoy a steaming Broccoli and Cheese Pie from Mrs. Wheat's Foods. The old pirate and local restaurateur Jimmy Buffet closed out the Acura Stage in his signature, enjoyable, beach bum style. Halfway into his set I had to leave to catch some of our cover artists' set. Beausoleil avec Michael Doucet featured the fun, danceable Cajun music they've been playing for decades, and a few of their friends showed up for the occasion: Charles Neville, Don Vappie, and Jo-El Sonnier to name a few. Sunday certainly was a full, filling, fun day.
Thursday, April 30
by Kathy Bradshaw
Buying food at Jazz Fest without shopping around would be like marrying your first date, so I wandered along the various food booths searching for the ideal lunch. I came across every conceivable type of crawfish dish imaginable: boiled, bread, bisque, beignets, étouffée, enchilada, pie, strudel and the famous Crawfish Monica from Kajun Kettle Foods. I finally settled on crawfish bread from Panaroma Foods, which was disappointingly lukewarm and rubbery. The praline-filled beignet from Loretta’s Authentic Pralines, on the other hand, was an authentically delicious find, and probably worth the $5 price tag for only one.
I met up with a friend who got me into the semi-exclusive WWOZ tent, where I took advantage of those giant spritzer fans and free refreshments galore, such as the miles-long fresh fruit buffet. The highlight of the entire day was very likely the complimentary WWOZ Mango Freeze sorbet, which was even more fabulous once I spiked it with coconut rum from my smuggled flask.
I got there early enough to get a good spot in the shade and camped out for a while in front of the Fais Do-Do Stage to take in some good zydeco. I caught Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, who did a mostly traditional, folky zydeco but stepped it up with just a touch of electric guitar and impressed me by singing half of their songs in French. I also ventured to the Gentilly Stage to watch Amanda Shaw rock out on fiddle while she and her Cute Guys performed their zydeco-country-rock renditions of tunes such as “Highway to Hell” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”
Despite the mushy ground from 10 straight days of rain and that lingering barnyard smell (it is a horse track, after all), it was a great Jazz Fest Thursday.
Friday, May 1
by Julie Mitchell
As someone who hates live music, crowds, getting sunburned and most people, you can imagine how much I love Jazz Fest! As I was leaving my house to walk the two blocks to the Fair Grounds, I noticed I’d got a parking ticket. Right in front of my house! Jazz Fest really tests my spatial intelligence, because the layout is a continuous loop that you need to veer off of at the correct time in order to find anything.
It was while drinking a $7 beer that I realized Macy Gray was onstage and singing. Two things must be noted here: (1) I love Macy Gray and (2) somehow she looks the same as she did when I was in sixth grade, which was 14 years ago. She performed with Galactic and it was amazing! I was able to sit down and that was even more amazing.
After much debate, my friend and I decided to split a cochon de lait po-boy. This was the correct decision. The sandwich was truly delicious. My only regret is that I later ran into someone who has a “gluten allergy” and doesn’t eat bread. This person told me you can get the same po-boy as a salad, which is basically just a pile of meat in a tray—in other words, all I could ever want in a meal. We also got some fried okra, which was good but not great.
Upon returning to our seats (claimed nearly seven hours earlier) it was time for No Doubt! They were really great; Gwen Stefani’s voice is actually incredible (something I either forgot or never knew) and they played all my faves. They did a ska-heavy set, which I didn’t hate because the dad next to me really loved it and kept expressing his feelings through dance, which was a real treat. The only drawback to this performance was Gwen’s between-song comments, which ranged from slightly weird to local-newspaper-horoscope levels of oddity. She kept saying how special the day was, how special we were and that the only reason she was at Jazz Fest at all was to hear us sing to her. She sounded like Vicodin trying to make a commencement address.
Overall, I had a really good time, and got only a little sunburned!
Saturday, May 2
by Kimmie Tubre
OH, JAZZ FEST, HOW I LOVE THEE, LET ME COUNT THE WAYS! Just standing at the gate, seeing the people, smelling the horse manure and being covered in dust—these things honestly make me happy.
My first stop is always to the CAMP SITE. This is where the rest of my crew sets up for the Fest. They usually arrive early to mark their territory, while slackers like myself arrive hours later. The CAMP SITE is normally set up at the Acura Stage, but something told us that the whole Elton John ordeal was going to be pretty insane, and it turned out to be. So they decided to set up at the Congo Square Stage instead.
After lollygagging around the Fest with Crawfish Monica in one hand and a beer in the other, I decided to wait for the infamous Big Freedia. Freedia came out with a bang. The rump-shaking dancers, male and female, can move their bodies in ways that are unheard of. In true Freedia tradition, she invited Jazz Fest patrons onstage for a shake-a-thon. It was absolutely the most entertaining thing I saw all day.
After Freedia, I decided to take a stroll for more food and, of course, more alcohol. I mean, what’s Jazz Fest without a few beers? Being the artsy-fart that I am, I had to make a brief stop to check out some of the art. Everyone from Terrance Osborne to Exhibit B artist Brandon Odums was out there representing the local art of New Orleans.
I had to fight my way through the bustling crowd to get back to the CAMP SITE. By then, I was pretty much danced out and—how can I say this lightly?—exhausted.
Saturday, May 2 by Craig Magraff, Jr.
Ah, Jazz Fest: the sun, the sounds, the short-shorts. It's an amazing display of springtime at work. May 2 proved to be a wonderful day. Few clouds provided an ample amount of sunshine to light our blazing paths through the festival. Call me a traditionalist, but I can’t help but revisit the same things at Jazz Fest, and each year I’m not disappointed.
Usually I start my day off with a helping of crawfish bread. It’s a festival staple, and along with the shrimp bread provides a solid foundation for whatever pleasure or punishment you plan to endure. Another favorite for those on a budget is the frybread booth in the Native American Village. The booth features a demonstration of how the ubiquitous food of the Houma Nation and natives across the country is made, and at $3 a pop it’s a great way to tide you over between meals. My favorite way to eat frybread is the more traditional method, doused in honey goodness. Feel free to add a little powdered sugar to jazz it up; then it will taste closer to a beignet if you’re more familiar with them. The best thing about frybread is its versatility, and the booth also serves savory options atop this golden-brown foundation of love and resilience.
After being rained out of their previous time slot, Big Sam’s Funky Nation provided quite the show at the Fais Do-Do Stage after Taj Mahal came down with flu-like symptoms and were unable to perform.
Ending the day on a sweet note, white chocolate bread pudding is a surefire closer. For a thirst quencher, the strawberry lemonade is a popular choice I always find myself revisiting each year, just like the Fest.
Sunday, May 3
by Christopher Louis Romaguera
I heard Deacon John playing while walking down Gentilly Boulevard. Once inside the Fair Grounds, the first thing that stopped me was The Kyle Roussel Electronic Band at the NOCCA Stage. The fatigue of the previous month’s work was being cleansed from me, the music by a band I had never seen live before washing over me. The Creative Writers of NOCCA had a chalkboard set up outside the tent. Alongside more perverse and comedic statements, I wrote: “The moment when the music makes the rest worth it.”
Big Chief Juan Pardo & Jockimo’s Groove’s set brought out the canon that Pardo rocked to at this year’s Mardi Gras. The suits were so pretty, and he had the audience rolling with the music. Pardo finished his set with his rendition of “Ho Na Nae,” which has a Latin flavor to it and is a favorite of mine.
“It’s a Jazz Fest miracle!” I heard in the background, as a friend and fellow writer spotted me and gave me a hug. We got to enjoy a bit of John Boutte, just two people relaxing without a deadline looming over us (or at least it felt so for the moment.)
The social media “win of the day” was Sasha Masakowski posting that she and Cliff Hines’ band, Hildegard, were playing at the NOCCA Stage. Even Jazz Fest has hidden gems. With Hines’ searing guitar and Masakowski singing, playing keyboard and somehow dancing as well, the entire audience was captivated. People were kicking off their flip-flops and dancing on the sandy wood floors. It was a truly beautiful moment.
I arrived home a satiated man.