Diary of a Jazz Fest newbie and Anita Baker fanatic

Zharia and friends heading to the Jazz Fest to see Anita Baker (photo by: Zharia Jeffries)

Editor’s Note:  The following series “All about Jazz” is a week-long series curated by Rena Repenning as part of the Digital Research Internship Program in partnership with ViaNolaVie. The DRI Program is a Newcomb Institute technology initiative for undergraduate students combining technology skillsets, feminist leadership, and the digital humanities.

Yes, this is the time when we’d be swarmed with floral shirts, drinking mango freezes, and sweating to our favorite beats in the sun, but due to  COVID-19, the annual New Orleans Heritage & Jazz fest is postponed until Fall 2020. However, that doesn’t mean we all won’t be getting down and dancing in our living spaces. WWOZ will broadcast for 8 days-8 hours each (11am-7pm), the same days and hours as the originally-scheduled Jazz Fest (April 23-26 and April 30-May 3). So turn up the volume and get down to our Nola sounds! To also get you in the mood, we are bringing you a virtual Jazz Fest from the fests of the past. Originally starting in 1970, Jazz Fest is a staple in New Orleans culture and showcases musicians and talent, new and old. Happy Jazz, everyone, and we can’t wait to dance with you again in the hot hot sunshine (and pouring down rain, of course!)

This article was originally published on 5/10/2018.

A letter to my cousins,

Ya’ll, I am so blessed. I just saw Auntie Anita Baker kill the Congo Square stage at Jazz Fest this weekend, and my heart is still warm from the heat, OK?

Let me tell you all that I was not playing at all when it came to Auntie Anita and Jazz Fest. Having to rush back from my final exam to change into my Auntie clothes, my friends and I headed to the Fair Grounds. Now, this was my first time attending Jazz Fest, so I didn’t know what to expect. But what I did know for sure was that I was going to see my Auntie — a woman who I grew up listening to and knew eevery oneof her songs — for the first time on her farewell tour.  If you can’t tell, I’m still gushing over here. We all know she has that effect.

My experience was a blessing from the time we parked the car to the time we walked out of the Fair Grounds. We entered the grounds and had no idea where Auntie Anita was performing, but heard her sweet melodies from the entrance. So excited and ready to get our entire lives to some “Sweet Love,” we asked the fellow Que Dogs at the entrance, “Which way to Auntie?”   

He replied, “Oh, she’s in Congo Square, ya’ll, and it’s packed, so hurry.”

As we rushed over to Congo Square, we could still hear Auntie’s melodies. With our goal clear, we resisted getting sidetracked by the signs for poboys, red beans and rice, boudin balls, and everything that a foodie like myself can find so easily distracting. Pulling me away from the shrimp po-boy stand, my friends said, “Zharia, we will eat after Auntie. Walk away.”

Amazed by how large the festival was and how many cool vendors I saw, I kept trekking. We finally made it to Congo Square, which was one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever encountered. There was jewelry, shea butter, incense, fabric, and so many of my fellow Black people. All three of my friends, realizing the same thing, looked one another and said in unison, “It’s about to go down.” 

So we reached Congo Square and there were so many people that I couldn’t see Auntie Anita from the big screen. My goal of reaching her was not only ambitious, but now seemed far-fetched due to the crowd. At this point, I usually would get frustrated because of the lack of space, but I was surprisingly peaceful. To be honest, as long as I could see her I was going to have a great time (Keep in mind that no one in my group is over 5’5″, so keeping our peace from way in the back is a feat I am still wondering how we accomplished.)

As soon as we got settled in one spot, Auntie blessed us with our favorites. First came “Sweet Love,” and ohh how sweet it was. So sweet that even Auntie started to tear up when the entire audience began singing along with her, which warmed our hearts even more. “You better sang, Auntie,” said many Black women in the crowd, including myself.

Then came “Caught up in the Rapture,” an obvious crowd favorite. I looked around and everyone was in his or her own little heaven — sipping their drinks, bobbing their heads, singing along, and definitely moving their feet to the rhythm. Then, she goes straight into “Same Ole Love.” Now, cousins, you know this song is an excellent beat to move your feet to. So you know I had to come with the electric slide line all the way in the back. Pretty soon my friends figured out what I was doing and joined in, and then everyone else got the groove and joined as well. 

Starting an electric slide line at the Anita Baker farewell concert should be its own headline.

As the electric slide line started to die down, Auntie Anita continued to give us life and spread her authentic and joyful self. My stomach began to growl, so my friends and I decided to visit the plethora of food stands as Auntie Anita wrapped up her set.

Paneed Chicken Po-Boy to finish off the perfection of Anita Baker (photo by: Zharia Jeffries)

It surprisingly didn’t take long for me to decide that I wanted the Paneed Chicken Po-boy, which was fried and seasoned perfectly. The bread was fresh and just thick enough for flavor, but it was not overbearing.

A Paneed Chicken Po-Boy on top of the emotional high from Anita Baker filled my growling stomach. It was the  embodiment of a perfect evening with some amazing friends.



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