Apr 9, 201012:00 AM
Joie d'Eve

Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans

Photographs and Memories of Jazz Fests Past

My mom and me at my first Jazz Fest in 1985

My high school sweetheart’s mother loved –– and presumably still loves –– Christmas more than anyone I’ve ever known. Starting just after Halloween, she’d set out Santa candles and mangers and ceramic elves and hand towels emblazoned with holly wreaths. She had Christmas sweaters and Christmas coffee mugs. She listened to Christmas music. She baked Christmas cookies.

I understand that kind of enthusiasm, though not for Christmas.

A friend of mine who lives along the Uptown parade route loves Carnival more than anyone I’ve ever known. Starting just after Christmas, she hangs out a purple, green and gold flag and puts up purple, green and gold bunting on her balcony. She has an open house for every parade, setting out pans of jambalaya and red beans, plates of King Cake, ice chests of beer and soda. “Carnival Time” and “Mardi Gras Mambo” play on a seemingly endless loop.

I understand that kind of enthusiasm, though not for Carnival.

No, all of my fervor is concentrated on two weekends in the spring –– Jazz Fest. I buy clothes year-round with the intention of wearing them to Jazz Fest: linen sundresses, galoshes, sun hats. The day the cubes come out is like the equivalent of Black Friday for me; I plot and plan and strategize with intensity. And the food, my God, the food.

I’ve missed very few Jazz Fests over the years, and most of them are blended and layered into a sort of generic pleasant memory of sweat and mud and coconut sunscreen and crawfish bread and dancing and sunburn.

A few Jazz Fests stand out, though. My very first Jazz Fest, pictured above, was in 1985. Moments after this picture was taken, my mom set me down, and I immediately got stung by a bee. While I wailed hysterically, some fast-thinking family friend sliced open a cigarette, put a wad of tobacco in his mouth and then spit all over my leg, which only made me cry harder. I think I was ultimately soothed with a chocolate-covered strawberry and sent to play in the Kids’ Tent. As far as I know, there’s not a picture of me at the end of this day, but if there were, it would show me covered with dirt, chocolate, snowball syrup, grass stains and tobacco spit. I’d like to say that this was because I was 4, but even 25 years later, I still end a Jazz Fest day every bit as filthy.

Then there was the Jazz Fest when I was 9 –– aka the day my dad met his fourth wife. (The quintessential New Orleanian, my dad has met his third, fourth and fifth wives at Napoleon House, Jazz Fest and Rock ‘N Bowl, respectively.) My dad and I had gone to Jazz Fest on the first Saturday, and I’d already eaten about eight snowballs and drunk five strawberry lemonades and was bored with everything. I’d brought along a Baby-Sitters Club book and a pad of Mad Libs and finished both, so I told my dad I was going down to the racetrack to play in the “sand” –– I don’t want to actually consider what it really is, but I know it’s not just sand.

Around sunset, the Jazz Fest police drove by in their little buggy and asked where my parents were.

“Oh, my dad’s around here somewhere,” I said vaguely.

Maybe 10 minutes later, they drove back by.

“The fest is closed,” they said. “Everyone’s gone. Come with us.”

My mother, furious, picked me up –– covered in dirt and chocolate and snowball syrup and grass stains. My father, apologetic, introduced me two days later to his new girlfriend, whom he’d met that afternoon at the Dr. John show.

Some things get funny with time. That story got funnier, but 20 years later, it’s still not funny. Like the bee sting in 1985, it smarts a little, even now.

Overall, though, my memories of Jazz Fest are overwhelmingly happy. I remember huddling under a black trash bag, cut open along the seams, in the middle of a warm spring downpour with my dad and aunt and uncle, all of us born in North Carolina, as James Taylor sang “Carolina in My Mind.” I remember being 22 and dancing with my dad as Paul Simon performed, hugging him tightly in his tie-dyed tank top and jean shorts and finally forgiving him, entirely, for forgetting me at Jazz Fest all those years before. I remember taking my daughter for the first time, wearing her in a Maya Wrap and dancing to the Wild Tchoupitoulas as she wiggled and clapped her hands.

This year, she’ll be almost as old as I was in that photograph, and I’m delighted but also a little in awe to think that soon she’ll have memories of Jazz Fests of her own. I hope that they’re memories of pure happiness, of music and sunshine and dancing and friendship and food.

I, of course, have been buying Jazz Fest clothes for her all year, too, and I’ve got a bright-green sundress and some tiny Crocs and a little floral sun hat for her to wear. And I’ll consider myself a failure as a mother and a New Orleanian if we don’t both return home covered in dirt and chocolate and snowball syrup and grass stains.

What’s your favorite Jazz Fest memory? What do you look forward to all year long?


Reader Comments:
Apr 9, 2010 12:38 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I'm with ya Eve - been planning my fest wardrobe since the line-up came out. Check out the Boden catalog for lots of linen, kaftans, crazy colors and prints. Fave memory... walking barefoot through mud (it feels good). Hope I'll make a new fave this year & hope yall have a great time. Crawfish Monica, I'll see ya in a few.

Apr 9, 2010 01:02 pm
 Posted by  pmrichard

I didn't move to New Orleans until 1980, started attending Jazz Fest in 1985 also (though quite a bit older than you Eve)! Like you, Jazz Fest is something I look forward to all year long! In January, I start the emails to friends - followed by forwarding the music lineups and the (FRUSTRATING) cube schedules (ALMOST have my plan complete - SO much to see). Another must is printing the food area maps with my favorites highlighted (for expediency while moving from stage to stage - we CANNOT waste a single moment)!

My favorite JF moment has to be the first time I brought my 14 yr old nephew. I really wasn't sure how he'd enjoy the Fest - unpredictable weather, crowds, etc. While we were waiting for Irma Thomas to start, a HUGE storm blew in - absolutely pelting us with rain so hard it (really) hurt. I just knew my nephew would be in tears! But, when I looked over to him, he was LAUGHING! He looked at me and said "Wow! This is COOL!"!! - must be in the genes! He is now bringing his friends with us and is HIGHLY disappointed when we have nice weather.

Happy Jazz Festing to you and Ruby this year Eve!

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Joie d'Eve

Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans


Eve is further proof, if any is needed, that New Orleans girls can never escape the city. After living here since the age of 3 and graduating from Ben Franklin High School, Eve moved to Columbia, Mo., where she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Missouri School of Journalism and became truly, unhealthily obsessed with grammar.

She had originally intended to strike out to New York City and work in the cutthroat magazine industry there, but after Katrina, Eve felt a strong pull to return home, to her roots, her family, her waterlogged and struggling city – and a much more forgiving work atmosphere that would allow her to skip a routine of everyday makeup and size 0 designer label business suits and enjoy the occasional cocktail or three with an absurdly fattening lunch. She moved back home in January 2008 and lives in Mid-City with her two daughters, Ruby and Georgia; her stepson, Elliot; and her husband, Robert Peyton.

Eve blogs about the joys and struggles of living in post-Katrina New Orleans, the unique problems and delights of raising a child in such a diverse and challenging city – including her experiences with the public education system – and her always entertaining and extremely colorful family.

Eve has won numerous writing awards, including the Pirates Alley Faulkner Society Gold Medal, the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence award for column-writing and Press Club of New Orleans awards for her Editor’s Note in New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and for this blog, most recently winning the award for "Best Feature Affiliated Blog."

She welcomes comments, advice, empty flattery, recipes, drink invitations and – most especially – grammatical or linguistic debates.




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