"Jazz Fest Part Two" is that gift of one more weekend of festival magic. You know I will be there; in part, thanks to a boss who understands that it's my jam, my nourishment, and the single most important annual event for my soul. This is not an exaggeration. Every year by the time Jazz Fest rolls along, I am at that near depletion point of patience and loyalty to my town. I am dehydrated and in need of the magical healing that I find in abundance within those gates of the Fair Grounds-my Holy Land. There, I quench my thirst for music and so much more.
Of course, this city and its people dazzle me throughout the year. However, there is such an uphill climb and struggle daily, as our unique town is far from easy. Yet, if one takes a moment every day to look, listen, and lean into her, this town will always remind you, even on a hard day, that nowhere else is as profoundly real and special. But just as one needs a vacation from their job and routine, regardless of where they hail from, I need a respite from the negative, and I need this immersion into "all that is good" about my home and my people. This festival is my vacation, my personal reboot. In over thirty years' worth of Jazz Festing, I could count on one hand the rare moments of rudeness or less-than-pleasant behavior encountered at this event. It's as though with every ticket purchase, a dose of cool is injected. Festers just seem to ebb and flow with the magical rhythms of this cultural gathering.
You might say, "Now, it's all fine and good to sing the praises and benefits of attending both weekends of Jazz Fest, but what if you can't afford it or don't have the time off?" Well, of course I get that. So I am here to deliver my annual "How to Vicariously Enjoy Jazz Fest." Whether or not you were lucky enough to participate directly within the gates of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival's last weekend, you might still—should still—be yearning for more of the entertainment and festive fun flowing through the fences surrounding it. Yes, the neighborhoods that encircle the Fair Grounds are rife with street music, porch parties, food and craft pop-ups, and entrepreneurs selling "bottles of water," aka cans of cold beer from ice chests. Most of the action takes place as the crowds leave the Fest daily between 5ish and 7ish. Just bring an appetite, a thirst, and some tipping money for the brass bands busking.
We've had two years of sluggish, at best, and downright devastating economic hemorrhaging of our local businesses, musicians, artists, salespersons, and all involved in our hospitality industry. Now it is time to catch a break. Our businesses and entrepreneurs need that break to recoup losses incurred during this pandemic and Hurricane Ida. So use this festival as a fun opportunity to spend some of your hard earned monies. No shame if you are on a tight budget, but do allocate a modest amount to buy a croissant at Leo's Bakery, a breakfast taco at Pagoda, a cup-of-Joe at one of the many locally-owned coffee shops in the hamlets surrounding Jazz Fest (Old Road, The Flag Pole, Fair Grinds, to name a few). Peruse the family-owned Terranova's (operating for nearly 100 years) and make it a future destination for making groceries. Sight-see this part of town, buy a book at Vera's Community Book Center on Bayou Road, drop by Liuzza's at the Track for that traditional festival bloody mary they mix so well. Okay, you get this, you see where I am going—I am going all over the map of worthy destinations for food, drink, and shopping. There is not enough space on this page to shout out all the folks and establishments that need your support-more than ever. No purchase is too small not to be appreciated.
While "festing" along our streets and sidewalks, take a moment to enjoy the sheer beauty of our gardens, the funk of our front porches shaded by our proud Jazz Fest flags, and the flapping of blues and yellows in the breeze—our banners of shared solidarity. New Orleanians show off their allegiances, their personalities, their passions, but no neighborhood does this with such vast amounts of vigor and verve more than our Gentilly/7th Ward/touch of Treme/Bayou St. John/Mid-City melting pot of Jazz Fest hosts. We are the ambassadors for this Fest.
We all learned how to improvise during the Pandemic by Festing in Place, when WWOZ shared the archived recordings of decades of "live from the fest" music. This allowed us a way to celebrate while at home. For those unable to attend or venture into the streets of this fabulous neighborhood, you've got this. You've had two years of practice at the art of celebrating virtually. So if you live out of town, just stream WWOZ.org (if you live here, you already know this) and make yourself a mango freeze or try your hand at a recipe for Crawfish Monica. Heck, just pop a cold brew and toast to the talents performing and keeping the art of music active. And if you live here and have some evening time free, go support our music clubs and venues. So many performers at Jazz Fest have gigs at night and you never know what world famous musical luminary might just show up and sit in on a set. Just fest wherever you are!