The Fortin Street Stage April 30, 2011Posted by The Typist in 504, 504ever, fuckmook, Jazz, Jazz Fest, music, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
They came early and the line stretched down Fortin Street even though it was only Friday, all in their straw hats spreading lotion, men in their ball caps and concert shirts, women in short-shorts and in cool summer whites, with parasols and backpacks and collapsible chairs, the barkers of sunglasses and hats and coozies that hang from your neck working the line until I was ready to kill the one who set up in front of my door incessantly shouting. I saw with my coffee and a cigarette watching them file past into the first day of Jazz Fest 2011.
I couldn’t tell you the line up. I’m working from home today and my joke post about being a stone’s throw from the gospel tent was “Jesus on the conference call, Tell him what you want” but first it was time for a mid-morning break, coffee and a cigarette in a dirty white resin chair next to my stoop to watch the crowd assemble then pass, perhaps to catch a bit of the excitement I’m wasn’t feeling looking at the line up. Today’s big act is Bon Jovi, and there’s a sign advertising the Shrine of Bon Jovi at 2992 Maurepas. The first fans are already at the gate two hours before it opens to stake their place.
This is why I was not that excited about what is still called the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in the weeks leading up to this.
Yesterday I opened the door to sit on the stoop and smoke a cigarette and watch the crowd a man stood with camera gear slung around his neck, trying to make a cell call away from the chatter of the barkers and the anxious crowd. He didn’t get an answer and stood there a moment staring at his cell phone before he looked over my way and said nice seat.
It’s the Fortin Street Stage, I told him. Turns out the guy, who will remain nameless, with credits and credentials for a half-dozen jazz magazines, can’t get a press pass. He has hustled comps and even a press pass one year. Apparently someone at the festival hands them out to friends with tenuous credentials by the handful, and he managed to get one from a local lawyer one year. I didn’t go through the list with him, but let’s just say if you’re here from the Off Beat of L.A. you should get a press pass. Then again, this is not your grandfather’s jazz fest. I told him that back in the 1970s I could get a fistful of tickets for the University of New Orleans newspaper and went every day. I think you have to be from a rock magazine now, he said.
I see you have Rahsaan up on your wall he said, noticing a painting I have. He spoke of the other jazz fests he has attended elsewhere, ones where jazz in the name still means something. I told him about my visit to The Cavern in D.C. and looking at the marquee of coming acts, all the current touring big names and in jazz, none of whom every visit New Orleans. We spoke of Kenny G in the Jazz Tent, and talked about catching Ahmad Jamal and Sonny Rollins. He is debating staying for Rollins and having to buy another ticket out of his own pocket hoping to get some saleable shots. I said I planned to just walk up the street and plant as close as I can get to the Jazz Tent Saturday afternoon for Jamal, and was going in for Rollins because my son’s music program (sponsored by the Heritage Foundation) plays that morning.
I had never been a tremendous fan of the Gospel Tent, although I have friends who swear by it, always thinking I had too much else to see and do when inside. Today its a pleasant relief from work, to step outside with my coffee cup and listen to the choirs riffing on James Brown themes, to hear the sisters moan in a blessed tone as the John Boutte song goes, picking apart the music to find the roots of so much else I love in the pounding rhythm sections and soaring organ. I wonder how many Bon Jovi fans will pause outside the gospel tent today and recognize that much of modern popular music would not be possible without Southern gospel.
After Friday’s shows were over, a crowd who had rented the lot next door and erected tents cranks up their music right outside my window: the Charlie Daniels Band. As The Souths Gonna Do It Again replaced the sounds of gospel. What the hell are these people doing at Jazz Fest, I wonder? I step outside for a moment at glower around the corner them. I step back inside, and they crank it up a bit louder. Time to go all McAlary on them. I browse through my I-Tunes and decide on Miles Davis Bitches’ Brew. I turn my new Bose speakers outward, and turn it up, then wander into the back to stick my soaking red beans in the fridge for the night.
Forget the Acura Stage and Bon Jovi. Saturday’s lineup on the Fortin Street Stage includes Robert Cray in the Blues Tent and Ahmad Jamal in the Jazz tent (at the same time alas), just a short stroll up the street for me to listen over the fence. I’m going to cook up some red beans against any unexpected guests at the end of the day. I’ve got beer and water in the fridge and the bathroom’s clean. I’m ready to spend the day at my own private Jazz Fest. I just hope the stories aren’t true about the Bon Jovi fans booing Dr. John one year, anxious to hear their band, because if I hear the fuckmooks boo Irma Thomas who plays just before their band the Shrine of Bon Jovi is going to be in serious danger.