[Courtesy WWOZ Radio]

Po-Boy Views: Jazz Fest or Bust

October 21, 2021
By: Phil LaMancusa

Sure, like many folks, I was going to go to The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (Jazz Fest 2021); in fact, we purchased every-day-tickets months and months before and wouldn't have missed it for all the tea in Humboldt County. But, first, I had to take a trip to the real Sin City.

I was gonna take the beginning of the first week (pre-Fest), board a giant silver bird at an ungodly morning hour, and land in Las Vegas when the sun is blazing over Death Valley and the neon lights were shining just as bright. It's to be a gathering of myself and my four siblings to celebrate my sister's birthday in the manner in which she wishes: gambling, drinking, and king crab legs from some hotel all-you-can-eat buffet line. Jazz Fest is off; the trip is still on.

Vegas will not be an Ocean's Eleven hit and split; more like five geezers rolling into town with an 11 o'clock curfew in madras shorts and Birkenstocks with socks affair. The days of partying like it's 1999 were over, well, in 1999, which we relive only in memories, fantasies, and arthritis; oh, the party is still on. It's just toned down to a dull roar.

Their mother (we all refer to her as "your mother" and not as our own) had five kids and they all carry a part of her whether they like it or not; all of us together make up one of the women that we called Mom. The birthday girl is the Gambler; my brother, (the non-Italian) the Musician; the oldest girl, the Actress; the youngest, the Poet; and I am the Cook. When we get together (whether we want to or not) we talk about her, the woman that was Big Red. At least four of us have different fathers.

Once upon a time, I worked in Las Vegas. I hitchhiked into town broke, busted, and with a woman and young child. I got a job cooking biscuits and gravy for truckers, dug myself out of a hole and, eventually, eventually made it back to New Orleans. Another story/time.

I'll take a deep psychic breath as I leave here and will only exhale when upon my return. I count New Orleans as my home, physically, mentally, and spiritually; attending Jazz Fest is my equivalent of church. Jazz Fest would've been my reward for completing a calling of the clan; my heaven/haven. I picture myself at Jazz Fest: my head is clear, I'm palpably brighter, and my smile cherubic; there'll be glide in my slide and gut in my strut. I'll be waving a handkerchief, chewing a praline filled beignet, buck jumpin', and havin' fun! Nothing, nothing compares with Jazz Fest. Nothing.

I'm fortunate in that I only live two blocks from the gate; from the construction to the breaking down, and every minute of show time, the sounds coming from the racetrack form the soundtrack of my life. My senses are tuned to the energy and activity that's going on within me and without me. My neighborhood becomes a hive with the comings and goings before, during, and after the gates open; a veritable county fair affair. Not this year though.

What can I say about Jazz Fest that hasn't been said before? How about this (?): it's crowded, hot, rainy, expensive, restrictive, and a tasteless sensory overload. I think that's true for someone who has never been, doesn't go, or is there for the first time and leaves before the Kool-Aid takes effect. I attend with every fiber of my being and all the love in my heart. You see, Jazz Fest to me is like a drug that I am addicted to and can never get enough of: "Hello, my name is Phil and I am a JazzFestaholic" (hello, Phil!).

Many of my friends are JazzFestaholics as well; I run with a dangerous crowd. We're packing sun screen, performance programs, a little something to sit on, and plenty of cash. We know the lay of the land. We peer over peoples' shoulders to see what they've been eating; we talk to strangers, take snap shots; we stand in long lines; we tip. We're so addicted that we show up early (every day) to be in the gate as soon as we can and we don't ever want to go home. Some folks will say that we'll never grow up and we don't dispute them. The worst day at Jazz Fest is better than the best day anywhere else.

Not this year (or last); I'm going through withdrawals and a trip to Las Vegas isn't going to help. Las Vegas was very good to me, as was Santa Fe, San Francisco, Denver, Saint Louis, New York City, San Diego, or a dozen other places that I've lived; but they're not New Orleans. Attending concerts and festivals in those places are good, but they're not New Orleans.

New Orleans is where women call me "Honey" and men call me "Baby," and we have the Saints football team, gumbo, humidity, mosquitoes, feral chickens, second lines, and folks stooping in the shade asking "How y'all doin'?" as you pass by on your way to get a cold one from a shadow street vendor heading for the Jazz Fest gates of your mind. Be patient. Next year, we'll meet again.

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