Jazz Fest is like that beloved family member that you could not see or hug for the past two years. Sure, you stayed in touch with them virtually via phone calls, texts, and occasional video chat on Zoom, but it was not quite the same—not by a long shot. And in much the same way that people improvised during COVID, WWOZ gave us Festing in Place with decades worth of archived live-from-the-fest music. And it was great. Everyone was a good sport about celebrating Jazz Fest on our porches, but there was no "hug."
Face it, our Jazz and Heritage Festivals are visceral, tactile, sensory overloads. There is more than just the world class music to hear and the pride invoking local talents to absorb, there is a smell, a scent, which only a fester recognizes. It's a fragrance that changes with every breeze—fried chicken, crawfish, hot beignets freshly dusted with powdered sugar, beer spilled and swilled, beer breath, horse manure, fresh hay, sweet olive blossoms, roasted peanuts, and porta-potties. Every smell, even those not so lovely, stir memories of past Fests and of the promise of a grand day ahead.
Jazz Fest engages every sense, even that sixth sense. Before cell phones, you could find that friend in a crowd of thousands. Those of like-minds simply connect. Also, us dedicated Jazz Festers are predictable in that we all know each other's "special place"—that seat to the right of the Jazz Stage or that spot on the dance floor of Economy Hall. Even our festive ghosts tap into our senses and they too are predictable. I know damn well that my friend Cathy, who passed a few years back, will be sitting next to me in our favorite tent, the WWOZ/Zatarain's Jazz Tent. I will toast to her with café au lait, sprinkle powdered sugar on the ground, and shed a tear or two as I wish for one more hug of hers. There are so many former festers that are carried to the Fair Grounds—some appear on t-shirts, buttons, badges, or are actually there within their ashes. The Fair Grounds is truly the happiest cemetery a music loving soul could reside in for eternity. I always refer to these acres as the Holy Land, and not merely because of the lovely spirits that "Fest" there, but for the euphoria I feel at Jazz Fest that is the closest this secular gal gets to spirituality. If I were to custom craft a religion for myself, it would be music, with the Jazz Fest as my church.
I have not missed a single Jazz Fest since my move here in 1989, and, thanks to WWOZ's Festing in Place, even the COVID monster couldn't shut down my celebration and devotion to this unique event. And, with that said, as much as I funked it up with the radio blaring, my feet dancing and hips swaying, it was bittersweet, like that phone call to my sister without a hug. So therefore, it is a given that husband and I bought tickets as soon as they were available and for every day. Time off to attend, compliments of an understanding boss, was arranged nearly a year ago. This will be the third set of tickets purchased (the first two sets fully refunded—thanks) since the COVID monster interrupted (and took) lives. And we are more than ready to claim our seats and fill our ears and eyes full. I even have my funky fest attire planned.
Dressing for Jazz Fest properly is a badge of honor—proof that you are a veteran of JF. I wear my festing experience in the form of easy-to-pee-squatting dresses—never jeans, which are too confining and awkward in a porta-let. I always have a hat, sunglasses, shoes compatible with mud and dashing to and fro to a second line. Cute little strappy sandals or sweat producing leggings are a sure sign of a newbie fester, and those false eyelashes and makeup just ain't that hip—think sunscreen and leave that Cover Girl foundation at home. Bring a shawl (light weight) for that always-one-coolish-day and to sit on in the grass. And, this year, bring a mask for the situations where you just don't feel totally at ease with masses of humans breathing the same air.
Even if the COVID cootie monster were to become extinct before Jazz Fest, I will still have an adjustment to make as I enter the gates. For two-plus years, I have viewed large gatherings of humans as kinda crazy, reckless, and foolish. This will be my first dip back into that pool. It has always been a pool of humanity that gives me great joy and energy, because Jazz Fest just seems to bring out the best behavior and attitude in folks. Perhaps it simply attracts peace-loving, happy people. There are many other venues that I have never felt particularly kumbaya in, but Jazz Fest has always been my safe zone—my sweet place. Yes, it will be an adjustment this year as I plunge in and remember how to swim through the magic. I might be the only one wearing a mask, but I will just pretend it's a pair of swimming goggles and dive deep into my beloved Jazz Fest and its long awaited and anticipated hug.