Music is not the only full-spectrum aspect of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
It’s an event for the ages as well.
Last year I took my then-7-month-old grandson to his first fest. This year, as a 19-month-old, he went back. With his 84-year-old great-grandmother. We were four generations sprawled under an expansive live oak near the Fais Do-Do Stage, and there was something – more than something – for everyone.
My mom (the octogenarian among us) always has had a nose for adventure, and is perennially prone to taking off for here, there or yonder. Preferably yonder. I credit her for the family wanderlust gene. We accuse her of having a congenital case of FOMO.
So she wasn’t going to be left behind when we headed for the Fairgrounds. But a knee replacement and lingering asthma issues have slowed her pace, if not her willpower. Heat, crowds and meandering through grass, sand and potential mud gave us pause.
Not to worry. Jazz Fest is set up fairly nicely for the not-so-mobile. As with kids, you just have to have an attack plan.
Kudos goes to the Paralyzed Veterans of America, which operates a wheelchair booth just inside the Gentilly Gate. Some 40 wheelchairs are allotted on a first-come, first-served basis, at no set fee, though donations are gratefully accepted. Go early if you want to snag one, and be prepared to leave a picture ID.
Volunteers tried out a quartet of wheeled options for my mom, before deciding on one that fit her build. They recommended a foothold-free version, as it is easier to manipulate through crowds.
Head over, too, to the Access Center for People with Disabilities, across from the Grandstand. You’ll find everything from assisted listening devices and Braille guides to service dog registration.
Festival pathways, for those in the know, range from concrete to grass to sand. Pushing a wheelchair through the terrain takes some muscle once you veer off the pavement. I’m a smorgasbord fester – short on stops and long on wandering – but that’s not the best approach for the disabled or tots. Pick a spot, pop out a chair or two, spread a blanket and sit back and enjoy.
Crowds are the biggest problem for the mobility-challenged. Trying to wheel a stroller or wheelchair through the masses causes a lot of bumping and maneuvering.
A better bet is to head for the Blues, Jazz or Gospel tent and park next to a space reserved for the disabled; they are clearly marked, and have companion seats. Cooler, no shouldering through the masses and high musicality ratings. A rousing set by the Gospel Soul Children proved a high point in our chair-bound day.
Although the racetrack does have reinforced surfaces at crossing points, disparate heights between the pieces make the seams sometimes difficult to navigate in a wheelchair or with a heavy stroller. And while food booths have counters at wheelchair height, they are accessed over uneven surfaces and often have long (and pushy) lines.
Jazz Fest does allow medical scooters, but no other kind of mobilized devices. As with kids, adults with disabilities are best served when they have a companion to fetch and carry, push and navigate.
But one of the nice things about Jazz Fest is that it can come to you. Stake out a space and let the crowd flow around you, the music wash over you. Sip a beer, sample a cochon de lait po-boy, enjoy the prime people-watching. My mom certainly did.
This four-generation fest drummed up memories we all will cherish for a long time. But we didn’t head back to Jazz Fest, as planned, on Sunday. Instead, my mom opted for an airboat tour through Barataria National Preserve. Where we held baby alligators.