I had a very specific, very inaccurate idea of what a music festival could be when I walked through the Fair Grounds’ security gate last Thursday morning. I settled on that day and time to avoid crowds; nevertheless, I was prepared for chic Coachella gear, hordes of inebriated college students, and anyone who might decide it would be easy to snag a nice camera from a solitary 5’6″ girl. I was ready for danger. Instead, I mostly found a sea of friends and families in cargo shorts and silly, beautiful hats. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little disappointed.
But I was also relieved; and though I know my time slot made a difference, my experience of Jazz Fest is exactly what I would expect of New Orleans. Jazz Fest isn’t a celebration of fashion or status (though it would be a heinous mistake to say that Jazz Festers aren’t fashionable in their own ways); it’s a celebration of authentic expression and human connection. Life and joy were bursting from every corner of the Fair Grounds’ little world; it was written in an old couple’s lingering fingers, in the smiling faces of dancing children, and—literally—in the sky. Expression isn’t always glamorous, but neither is jazz; and I can’t think of a better way to honor the beautiful, rugged heart of music.