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WWOZ and Jazz Fest in Exile May 4, 2008

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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I left New Orleans New Year’s Eve 1986, clutching the winning ticket of a good job in Washington, D.C. and leaving a hard-riding posse of personal demons and the raft of friends who had kept me afloat here behind a string of burning bridges. Still, I could never shake my connection to home. The mark New Orleans places on those who grow up here is as indelible and as defining as Original Sin. No matter where we might run to, all of our suffering and opportunities for grace arise out of that invisible fleur de lis imprinted on our hearts. We cannot escape it, are reminded of it no matter where we are as surely as a determined sinner disturbed by the bells of morning Mass on his way home from a night’s debauchery.

During my almost 20 years away from the city, WWOZ and programs like it’s Jazz Fest broadcasts were one of the links that offered me an opportunity to experience the grace of New Orleans, that redeemed what seemed at times the mortal sin of leaving. When I lived in the far north, I would spend some of the first decent days of Spring not out clearing my yard but huddled in my cool basement around my computer, the WWOZ stream struggling through the dial-up connection like a short-wave broadcast from another continent. When the entire city went dark in September ’05, one of the first thing I found was the ‘OZ stream out of New Jersey. It was the sound track of all of my early postings to Wet Bank Guide.

WWOZ and Jazz Fest are both prominent ambassadors for New Orleans, and links that tie us all together: the people who are home, the ones still somewhere else by circumstance or choice, and the visitors lured by the glamor of the city. Without either institution the city would somehow survive, even if dearly diminished, even as we survived the steady erosion of some of our cultural landmarks over the last generation. Even with the gaping hole the absence of either would leave behind, it would still be New Orleans. Those of us here would find the music and the food and the spirit of the street parade on our own. Not so the displaced or the visitors who descend on the city every year for the Fest. Without ‘OZ streaming into the world or the Fest to draw it’s listeners here, the numbers of the foreign legion of New Orleans would be fewer and their strength diminished. We would be silently but certainly undermined in our determination to live here and remake New Orleans if either were to stop.

So what are you waiting for? Turn on. Tune In. Be Home.

N.B–Loki, here’s a “paragraph” for the ‘OZ blog on what the Fest and ‘OZ mean to me. You know I can’t just write a paragraph. Now I need to climb down from my fountain and go make some more coffee. My own Day Four at the Test has worn me out.