The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival starts today. Jazz Fest runs the last weekend of April and first weekend of May, and we’re excitedly looking forward to being there for the second weekend.
I didn’t expect to like Jazz Fest. Several years ago when our friend, Rachel, invited us to join her in a large rental house for the festival, I declined. I don’t know what I pictured — stuffy jazz fans who would make me feel I didn’t know enough about the music to play in their sandbox or a messy outdoor scene where I’d feel like a priss for not wanting to use a stinky portapotty — but I just didn’t think it was something I’d like.
So John went without me, taking our friend Bob as his playmate. When he came home, he insisted I’d love it and we should go together. He was so right. I’ve fallen in love with Jazz Fest.
I love it for the music, which does include lots of jazz including the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, one of my absolute faves, but also a mish-mosh of rock, blues, zydeco, gospel and more. Last year we saw Stevie Wonder, Santana, Jack White’s new band, the Raconteurs … plus loads of bands I’d never heard of who made my heart soar.
I love it for the food. Oh, the food. You could hate music and still have a blast at Jazz Fest because the food vendors represent such a yummy selection of southern, cajun and creole food. I first learned about shrimp remoulade at Jazz Fest and now I have two jars of remoulade sauce in the fridge. (Red, not white, by the way) I have learned to get over my revulsion at sucking the heads of crawfish thanks to Jazz Fest. John and I graze through the fest all day — see a little music, have a little snack. If you see someone eating something that looks yummy, you’re sure to strike up a conversation if you ask what it is. Festers love to point you to their favorite vendors. (On that note, don’t miss the seafood mirliton casserole and fried crab cake with smoked tomato and jalapeño tartar; the crawfish sack, oyster patties and crawfish beignets; or the frozen cafe au lait; or the sauteed spinach called jama-jama …)
I love the vibe of New Orleans. It’s a laid-back city that’s almost like the Caribbean. You have to adapt to its speed because it’s not changing for you. There are no laws against having open alcohol on the street, so you can get a daquiri in a go cup then stroll down the sidewalk until you hear music coming from someplace else that you like. Whether on Bourbon Street, Frenchman Street or Magazine Street, it feels like a block party. And it’s a city like no other I’ve experienced. It’s not a sea of Starbucks and Pottery Barn. It retains its uniqueness in architecture, music, food and style.
I don’t think I could live in New Orleans. It’s a profoundly dysfunctional city — so many things seem not to work, from city hall to the schools, and violent crime is all too common. This isn’t because of Katrina but Katrina made existing problems worse. But I do love visiting, and helping to keep a magical place vibrant by contributing to the local economy.
Here’s a great lesson: what might you love if you just gave it a try?
And to celebrate New Orleans, here’s a video from Preservation Hall celebrating making life less complicated: