Battling Fortuna at the Track April 25, 2008Posted by Mark Folse in 504, Dancing Bear, Jazz Fest, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Jazz and Heritage Festival, Jazz Fest, New Orleans, NOLA
Today I am at the counting house and not at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Our masters in the far away financial centers of the nation to the north do not take note of our particular holidays. (I was forced to take a vacation day for Mardi Gras, which is no longer an official holiday on the counting house’s calendar). And I am just too damned busy.
My absence is mitigated a bit by the fact that I am not as excited in the particulars of this Jazz Fest as I have been in the past. If you visit Toulouse Street often enough you would notice I have rather eclectic taste in music. Jazz, however, is in a central place in my musical pantheon. This year there is nothing as transcendently perfect as last year’s Pharoah Sanders followed by Terrence Blancard date. These are the Days of the Divas in terms of major, out-of-town jazz talent and female jazz vocalists fall somewhere mid list in my own musical universe. Then there is the prospect of having to shove through crowds of Billy Joel and TimMcGraw fans to get where I want to go.
Still, to walk up to the Fair Grounds among the large and anxious crowds on a hot Spring day is more than just a concert. It is, as I wrote of French Quarter fest last year, “…more than just an option sandwiched between a trip to Target in the morning and one to Blockbuster for a Saturday night’s entertainment. It is a defining and participatory event closer to the civic religions of pre-Christian Mediterranean societies than anything in America, peopled by larger-than-life figures who represent Who We Are. Failure to propitiate them, we remind ourselves, might upset the balance of our cosmos.”
Part of the reason I did not move heaven and earth to get out today (or tomorrow) is that there are an awful lot of Big Names I’m not as anxious to see and an awful lot of schedule conflicts that have driven my crazy these last several weeks. I regret I won’t see Mac Rebennak tomorrow but there is my daughter’s dance recital. That and I would really want to catch the Tribute to Willie Tee and Earl Turbington at the Jazz Tent while Dr. John is playing. I would then have to choose between standing behind tens of thousands of die hard Billy Joel fans to catch the good Doctor, or skipping that to stay at the Jazz Tent for Astral Project. The schedule this year seems to have taken a bad turn this year from the perspective from my taste, a ill spin of Fortuna’s wheel without respect for theology and geometry.
Still, before the weekend comes to a close I know that I will find myself walking across the Fairground’s track and into the heart of it all. Sunday’s downward arc is a good one, passing from the Voice of the Wetlands Allstars (Tab Benoit, Dr. John, Monk Boudreaux, George Porter Jr., Cyril Neville, Anders Osborne, Johnny Sansone, Johnny Vidocovich & Waylon Thibodeaux; ah, I shall see the Good Doctor), then through the Nicholas Payton Quintet (I hope this is the Tribute to Miles Quintet I’ve read about), and with a tip of the hat to Pete Fountain as I pass the Economy Hall tent on my way back to Jazz and Heritage Stage, ending at the Hot 8 Brass Band. Somewhere in there is a mango freeze, some crawfish bread and perhaps a beer or two, if the lines are not horrible.
Even when Mammon and Fortuna conspire against it Jazz Fest will always draw us in. At the end it is worth the money and the crowds and the lines because it is not just another stop on the festival circuit, even if the fest management books name acts as if it were. To be at Jazz Fest is not to be one among thousands of fans of this or that particular act. It is to be in the middle of a bubbling alembic full of the ingredients that are the secrets of the alchemy of New Orleans: the collision of so much and various music and food, and a crowd mostly assembled not for love of any one thing but for the love of it all. Out of that vessel comes the Spiritus Vitae of New Orleans, and no matter what conspires to prevent us none of us can live without a taste of it.