Jazz Fest: The joy of meandering

Ivan Neville and Friends at Jazz Fest 2018 (photo by: Shane Colman)

Jazz Fest caters to the desires of everyone who walks through its gates. Jazz Fest newbies and veteran have ideas of what they like and what they can count on–for me, I can’t pass up crawfish bread, cochon de lait poboy, and a plum street sno-ball for dessert. People usually take a glance at the musical lineup to pick the two or three artists they’ll make a point to see on a given day, and then come the wandering. This is when Jazz Fest becomes the experience no one expected. 

Perhaps one of the more overlooked beauties of the Jazz Fest experience is all of the unexpected delights that you will undoubtedly stumble upon. Walking around, there are smells that become irresistible; there are the guys selling water outside the main entrance on Fortin Street, which you can easily have a lengthy conversation focused around the upcoming Saints season. And while continuing to stroll, the sounds of  the musicians strumming their guitars and playing music on their porches on the adjacent streets reminds you that you’re currently in a different world. 

My favorite moment from this year was when I was walking to get some raw oysters from the bar area in the paddock. Before I had the opportunity to get in line, I was lured in by some of the most powerful vocals I’ve ever heard. It was Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Blount of The War and Treaty. Their energy was infectious and music inspiring. The group played jazz (of course), blues, rock, and funk. They played classic hits and singles from their upcoming EP.

I became a big fan instantly and am definitely going to see them live in the near future. It was the most packed I’ve ever seen the paddock, whether it’s been Jazz Fest or a big day for horse racing. The oysters had to wait, as I watched the remainder of their set. Another such experience was watching an NBA playoff game on the last Sunday of the fest. I searched tirelessly to find a TV that was showing the New Orleans Pelicans playoff game. Finally, I found five other Pelicans fans, huddled around a small TV in the grandstand. This was the only place in the entire festival that was showing the game. Slowly but surely the Pels fans flocked to the small screen in the six-seat VIP box. While the game did not turn out how any of us would’ve liked, I look back on those four quarters fondly.

One of my colleagues recounted a story to me about an experience he had when I told him what the theme of my article was for the week. He had an eerily similar experience to mine with the band Lake Street Dive. He came across the group at Jazz Fest last year and quickly fell in love. So much so, that he went to their performance at the Civic Theatre that same weekend. He’s now a Lake Street Dive enthusiast and has turned me onto the band from Boston. It’s the happy mistakes and chance encounters like these that are what make the “Jazz Fest Experience” complete.

It seems, to me at least, that it’s never the things that you plan to go there for that leave you with the most nostalgia. That’s not to knock the food that you always get or the main stages with the big acts. After all, those snacks and artists are your favorites for a reason. But, that’s only part of what keeps you coming back every year. You never know if you’re going to meet a new friend, if a new menu item will find its way onto your list, or if you’ll discover the next international sensation. My bet is if you allow it to happen, you’ll check off at least one of those boxes. The best part is It’s now been a week, which means only fifty-one more until another Jazz Fest experience.

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