Where Y'At Staff/Provided Photo

Strolling the Sidelines

05:12 April 16, 2015
By: Debbie Lindsey

The magic is about to commence and nowhere else is it felt more keenly than here in my neighborhood. And happily for me, the enchantment will linger, if only in memories, year-round. Ask me where I live and I will say, “Near the Holy Land—Jazz Fest.” For horse racing enthusiasts, this place near and dear to me is referred to as The Fair Grounds. But for two weekends each year and all the days in between, this is the epicenter for the magic. Actually, for many, the excitement begins weeks before with the first sighting of scaffolding. As usual, that early glimpse of stages being brought to life reminds me that I had better lock it down, and fast. As much as I look forward to the opening day of Jazz Fest with the same excitement that a kid anticipates Christmas, I usually am a day late and a dollar short of being ready.  

Every year I write in this column that Jazz Fest is a bargain and to lessen the pull on one’s wallet, just plan ahead—save 2 bucks a day for the year; buy the Brass Pass; negotiate time off work in advance (suck up to the boss and co-workers) or simply quit your job! Yet most times I am left scrambling for my toehold on this magical ride. Sometimes the poor planning and lack of good judgment (I mean, come on, this is Jazz Fest, for Chrissake) are totally on me. Or, life just gets in the way. And when that happens, there is nowhere better to be than on the sidelines—the blocks and streets that surround our New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

I look forward to the opening of Jazz Fest with the same excitement that a kid anticipates Christmas.

Therefore, when work prevents my full attention, wandering these streets is as much a part of my ritual of Jazz Fest as actually entering the gates. In the mornings before work, I enjoy my front porch coffee and newspaper and wave to the many festers strolling from the bus stop, heading toward their ritualistic and celebratory pre-fest Bloody Marys at Liuzza’s by the Track. The camaraderie shared with otherwise strangers makes for an instant kinship, albeit only for a few moments.  And actually, at that time of day, especially on Opening Day, folks linger to chat like neighbors sharing tidbits of gossip. Some will timidly thank me for “putting up with all the commotion” of this mammoth event, to which I reply that “it is my pleasure.”

For the most part, my neighborhood simply treats this festival as one giant block(s) party. Adding to the peripheral celebration is a tremendous entrepreneurial spirit. Bottled water, lemonade, food, beer, crafts and cocktails are vendored by locals seeking some additional income while providing a service to the crowds. (I wish that the authorities would stop messing with these purveyors, who are no less sanitary, ethical or businesslike than bricks-and-mortar businesses that take advantage of Mardi Gras by setting up to-go drink windows without permits and certainly with higher prices.)  

Twenty-six years ago I entered Jazz Fest for my first time by way of the Gentilly entrance. It was exciting and full of folks, but since then I have found that I much prefer the Sauvage Street pedestrian entrance. There are three or so blocks (I’m talkin’ about my neighborhood!) that buffer this entrance from tour, city, and charter buses. Add to this the limited access to cars and you have a more relaxed environment; foot traffic is simply friendlier and allows for conversations and personal encounters. For once a year, waiting in line can be fun and social and sets the mood and tempo for negotiating the crowds once inside.

Jazz Fest has seeped into my mindset, my very pores, throughout these years. I feel that this festival (much like Mardi Gras) has become a part of our city’s biorhythm. And with due respect to all of the amazing celebrations and festivals this city has spawned, I believe there is something unique about this one. Opening Day just feels different, even when I must work. Perhaps it’s because our out-of-towner Jazz Festers “feel” this town and immerse themselves in it while here—from back-of-town music joints and diner dives to Frenchmen Street and Commander’s Palace. Even our museums and parks take on enthusiastic crowds. Jazz Fest is simply a state of mind for so many of us.

Today, as I sit typing, the weather is cold and rainy and we’re months away from Opening Day, but soon I will be in the thick of Jazz Fest and when not inside its gates, seated in my favorite tent, I will still be in that number. I’ll walk the streets that surround the festival, appreciate the many pop-up brass bands that conduct a rhythm in our streets and linger a bit on a friend’s front porch, a cold one in hand, toasting to the moment. Yes, I will be in that number, no matter where I am—and feeling the magic. 

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