Okay, cats and hats, off we go like a herd of turtles to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, hereafter referred to as simply Jazz Fest. I personally welcome you to the first weekend of Jazz Fest. Our roads have been paved and sidewalks straightened like you’re off to see the wizard on the Yellow Brick Road; yes, you’re headed straight into the virtually fabled city of music, food, and gaiety. We’ve sprayed the trees so that those nasty caterpillars that sting like acid don’t drop from the trees like armed commandos and whelp your delicate epidermis (also knocking off butterflies, bees, and the occasional hummingbird). All quiet on the western front, anticipating the arrival of the festivity-famished friendly festival family of multiple thousands (and den some).
Understand that your safety is paramount to us and we want you to feel as safe as Tite Poulette in Madame John’s bathrobe. We’ve charged a sizeable ransom for your hard-earned tickets (certainly not couch cushion coin) in order to keep the riff raff away. We’ve also upped the price of alcohol to where, if you’re gonna get it in your cups, you’ll have just enough cheddar for the Uber chariot that you’re relying on to take you safely back to your Airbnb. There, your bedmates (and buddies) await like bears in a den, insulated from the elements and weighted down with beers that are iced like sticks of firewood in their cooler uterus, while their emptied brethren sit discarded like fallen soldiers, having given their lives in the service of their inebriation czar.
Being spring and all, I find myself congested with a case of similes, you might say that my analogies are acting up. Personally, after all of my jingles are jingled all the way (Christmas music) and my Hey Pocky’s are all pockied a-way (Carnival music), the lull since Easter has expended my musical capital to the point of rock and droll; needing a shot of rhythm for the Jazz Fest fever blues. I’m as ready for my dose as a hippie on a high mountain seeking the guru sounds of musical nirvana awaiting my arrival. Mama, I’m home.
Be that as it may, might I point out for you newbies that at first, it can be a little overwhelming. All the sounds and sights might sound like noise, the attendees might look like crowds. It can cloud your imagination, flummox your judgment, boggle your mind; you might get as nervous as a virgin at a prison rodeo. First, rein in your hearing ability to about 60 feet in front of you; that will have the other locomotion commotions sounding less like cosmic debris, cacophonously speaking. Stop, breathe, find your inner Conan … you can do this. Go with the flow, make believe that you (and everybody else) is high on something and that everything is a show put on for just you, because it is (and they probably are).
Preparation is good, as good as a compass in a dust storm. The weather is gonna be sunny, overcast, dusty, rainy, muddy, and above all erratic; try as you may, you will not be prepared for all of its idiosyncrasies. Wear a hat, scarf, sunglasses, sandals, boots, overalls, shorts, long and short sleeve shirts; or screw it, just put on something comfortable, and figure it will get ruined and you will get wind-, dust-, and sunburned. You can’t bar the doors if the walls are gonna cave in. Take cash and maybe one credit card, and leave all other paper and plastic at home. Electronic devices and extraneous jewelry are like Jazz Fest masturbation, nobody needs to know where you are and those selfies just make you look like an escapee from a batty bin. Basically, if you’re playing with yourself, you’re not playing with us. You’re at the Jazz Fest to have a good time, not to make a friggin’ documentary. Relax, it’s just music, food, and fun; and if you don’t like the fun you’re having where you’re standing, go make some of your own six feet, 10 feet, or even 100 feet away.
Allen Toussaint recommends that you “eat everything” at Jazz Fest. Debbie Lindsey reminds us to tip like someone’s watching you (they are). I do both. I traipse the Fest dervishly—both new words for my personal dictionary—kinda like tripping the light fantastic, only it’s something that I do out of doors and performed with alacrity and a certain amount of youthful subjective objectivity. In other words, I’m in love with the whole scene. I even dig waiting in lines.
I look over people’s shoulders to see what they’re eating and am not shy about asking them how they like it and where they purchased it. I’ve been attending for decades, and I still cannot find my way from one end to the other without getting lost at least twice, and I love that, too! I purchase my tickets well in advance and never buy from someone out on the street after my friend got burned with bogus tickets from a seemingly honest pedestrian; literally scalped, she was.
Generally, I can tell the newer members of the audience because they haven’t yet learned that rude and crude don’t work here. They don’t use the litter barrels much less the recycle bins, they act like the fest is a meat market and also tap into their negative energies by mocking the afflicted: silly dancers, weird dressers, flag wavers, and other people who happen to be ignoring how similar to a rube the mocker happens to be. Hopefully they’ll learn before the second day.
Some don’ts: do not unfurl a towel, blanket, whatever, and expect that it will hold your place in the middle of an audience; don’t unnecessarily save a seat in a tent for more than a portion of a performance and deprive another of a place to comfortably sit; don’t block aisles or other walkways; and don’t you ever pass up the festivities outside of the race track! This city turns out all over town during Jazz Fest, and it would be so wrong if you let the fest be the end of the day for you. Keep going.