Last Act at the Private Street Stage May 6, 2008Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Sinn Fein, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: Carlos Santana, Jazz Fest, Jazz Fest 2008, Jim Hendrix, Jimmy Buffet, Neville Brothers, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, power of love, Terence Blanchard
By Sunday, I was done in. The combination of days treading through treacherous, treacly mud pits and an unballasted wallet left me walking like a sailor just back from the Horn, with a Odd swinging gait and a permanent list to windward. I was burned without and within by too much sun and too much fun and could in no way contemplate another day at Jazz Fest.
Somehow I drug myself out of bed that sunny morning and managed to plow through all the necessary chores for a weekend: laundry done and my shirts ironed, something cooked easy to serve up for the week, a trip to K-Mart for some necessities, a blog post written up. After all that I was beat, but managed to find the energy to replace my back bicycle tire. I was determined that I was not going to let the last of April, first of May pass without hearing Carlos Santana. His is an almost quintessential Jazz Fest act, combining jazz, rock and Latin rhythms in a way an Orleanian can digest as easily and with as much relish as a crock of creme brulee: an almost impalpable richness and sweetness touched with fire.
It is not just the sheer beauty of straight ahead guitar jazz like Europa or the cathartic drum rite of a perfect Black Magic Woman that drew me there, but something elemental like the Odd forces that hold atoms together, a species of the Strong Force. Santana is one of the generation of musical bodhisattvas: a line of musicians running back to jazz artists of the 1960s like John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, powerful jazz innovators who expressed a profound spirtuality through their music. Somewhere along the line musicians with that sort of overtly spiritual inclination seem to have vanished. Perhaps they were all sucked into one of the many marketing arms of the Cult of the Gospel Inerrant, that peculiar religio-business that has replaced Christianity in much of America, to pop up as acts like Jars of Clay or Third Day.
Santana is one of the last of a different breed. To hear him is not to experience the happy, corporate pop of what little I have heard of popular “Christian” music. The instrumental second part of Black Magic Woman is not some toe-tapping, feel-good cant. It is what was called in the decade from which Santana emerged An Experience. What comes through is not the gentle spirit of the shyly-smiling blond guy with a lamb on his lap. It is instead music that could be the song in the head of the demiurge as he raised the first roaring volcanoes out of a chaotic ocean, and then tossed the burning sun into the sky, the frenetic rites of the first peoples upon discovery of the drum and the dance.
And so while my tired wife napped in the sun with the pretense of a book in her lap I applied myself to the bicycle pump and set out to find a spot where I could at least hear Santana’s mid-afternoon performance. I pedaled up the narrow cul-de-sac streets between St. Louis No. 3 and the west side of the Fairgrounds, and found myself on the corner of a quiet residential street abutting the Fairgounds and a narrow strip of asphalt with a city street sign reading Private, right behind the port-o-lets west of the Acura stage, not fifty feet from where I’d turned the corner the day before to go buy a beer and some food over by the Jazz Tent.
Private was an apt name for the place. I had pedaled over expecting to either be disappointed that I could not find a good spot or instead that I might find one that would look like Frenchman Street on Mardi Gras night. Apparently the world is divided into people who plop down their $50 and go in the gate to Jazz Fest and people who find something else to do. Except for one fellow in sleevless black smoking Marlboro’s back propped against the fence and a handful of the people who lived back there sitting out in lawn chairs, Private was very nearly just that: my own personal place to listen.
There’s not much more I can say about Santana that I haven’t already said. I was so tired that I can no longer remember the entire play list, only highlights: an ecstatic Black Magic Woman and rocking versions of Oye Como Va and No One To Depend On, Maria Maria, a John Contrane number my tired brain can’t recall two days later. There was a long speech on politics that I silently applauded, not for its overt electioneering, or even for the long list of activists and musicians Santana cited as being in the tradition he tries to uphold (it was long and I couldn’t recreate it without notes). Instead, what wowed me was the way Santana wrapped it up with Jimi Hendrix’s famous aphorism: “We are about the power of love, not the love of power.”
Oddly enough, I had picked up a button with Jimi’s picture on it and the same saying just two days earlier when passing the Save Our Wetlands table. I visualized the button laying atop my muddy poncho on the porch back home, and immediately connected the three note base line and the simple, whammy bar guitar riff that goes with it, the one common to Hendrix’s Third Stone from the Sun and Santana’s Black Magic Woman (listen hard in your head; you know the one). “We are about the power of love.” The phrase is still ringing in my head days later even as the discrete events of Jazz Fest retreal into a blur.
That is what this last Jazz Fest was about: a healing that during the last two we were not ready to receive, an experience no Big Chief from Kansas City could possibly understand. There is enough distance now for healing, and the line up was perfect. Jimmy Buffet was my touchstone to the Gulf Coast during my cold years of exile, and the party that life here can be if you so choose. Terence Blanchard was It, The Thing, distilled into music of such emotional power that it lifted you past The Event and into the place that healing can begin. And finally Santana: the ineffable essence of beauty Keats once found on an old urn and which I found at the corner of Verna and Private; a rollicking tribal celebration with drums and fire of the Power of Love; the love of this place that brings us home, that drags us out of our tired patio chairs and back to this lonely corner of Mid-City because we need cannot get enough, the power of the love of those who have come home to stay and rebuild New Orleans.
I left before the Neville Brothers played.