A Rambler’s Guide to Jazz Fest

Jazz Fest is about music like Mardi Gras is about parades.

It is, but only to a great extent. A late-April day at the Fairgrounds can’t be contained to those printed-out cubes any more than a late-February evening on the neutral ground is just the float bulletin. Naturally, my yearly pilgrimage includes music—but rarely at a fortified Acura (err…“Festival”?)Stage encampment and never on Swiss-precision schedule.

Here’s my rambler’s guide to Jazz Fest.

Step #1: Get there early. If you don’t care about grabbing a day-long spot, why stand in the Sauvage St. line? Because you deeply care about seeing those people who do want their day-long spot. The buttons, the sundresses, the flagpoles, the backpacks. The line outside Jazz Fest is like a 40-year high school reunion, with the strongly middle-aged, often out-of-shape, predominantly White crowd trying to make sure their group has their spot. And that they can still fit into their track-and-field lettermen jackets.

Once the gate is unlocked, the security scan complete, and the tickets beeped green, the main event arrives: the running of the festers. Limbs and chairs and bags, all riding the wings of flipflops and IcyHot, galloping across the outer-bound dirt track. Each year I watch, transfixed, playing the theme music to Chariots of Fire in my head. It’s not Pamplona’s bulls or Boston’s marathon, but it’s our great race. Just wait here while I catch my breath for a sec.

Step #2.1: Go buy your ticket. After collecting your trifecta winnings (always bet on the best footwear), remember that you had to watch the running of the festers from afar because you don’t actually have a ticket. That’s because you’re here on Locals Thursday. Fresher grounds, fewer people, cheaper prices. As I say about many things: if we’re going to put up with this city, we might as well enjoy it. Thursday also presents the promise of a later celebrity sighting. (See, but don’t skip ahead to, Step #13. Step #2.2: there are no skipped steps at Jazz Fest.)

Step #3: Breakfast is crawfish strudel. You’ve been fasting long enough, sustained in that long line only by that Liuzza’s by the Track bloody Mary. It’s time to eat, and there’s no other breakfast choice. Manna from heaven, crawfish mounds from New Iberia—just thank the Lord however they appear.

Step #4: Set your chair down somewhere. I’m a rambler, but I’m not a monster. A chair will help in, like, five hours. That Stage formerly-known-as Acura has a stand-side chair area. Stick it along the back for easier headliner access.

Step #5: Get second breakfast. With the temperatures still in the double digits, we’re heading towards the other end of the park. This route overlaps with the festival’s best deal: the fried porkchop sandwich. It’s also the best roaming companion. Thank you, Ms. Linda!

Step #6: Follow your ear, but end up in the paddock. A month removed from the Louisiana Derby, take a tour of the horsies’ home by taking a seat in a stall. While listening along, pull out your cubes for a first time. Is there a book signing, cooking demonstration, musician interview nearby? Both the grandstand and betting parlors have regular, over-looked attractions.

Step #7: Get a drink. You need something to wash down that sandwich. There’s a bar in the paddock if you need it sooner or prefer more than beer.

Step #8: Pop into the Economy Hall tent. There’s something about a tent above and grass below – and about a Second Line always ready to strut out.

Step #9: Mango Freeze and Fais Do-Do. The only-at-Jazz-Fest combination is a toe-tapper for the tastebuds, cher. We’ll be back at Fais Do-Do, but bonus points for an early sighting of a floral department hat.

Step #10: Trout Baquet is dead, but long live Trout Dizzy’s. Gourmet food at bargain prices is New Orleans on a plate. Trout Baquet was always that. The price of crabmeat has led to some Treme ingenuity: add crawfish and shrimp instead. Like Mickey Loomis moving into the top-5 of the draft, we can make that trade. We can also allow the dish to raise existential questions: How is this legal? I wonder if Coachella specializes in food-flavored air? Why doesn’t Li’l Dizzy’s take on the Superdome contract?

Step #11: Gospel and Jazz, Jazz and Gospel. Tent life is real – as is the afternoon heat. I’ll never forgot fanning myself off during a Gospel set from Aaron Neville or a Jazz Tent appearance by Ms. Irma Thomas. Try to grab a mister-friendly spot between performances.

Step #12: Stand a spoon straight up in Prejean’s Gumbo. It’s hot. It’s late. But it’s Prejean’s. I’m not going to drive to Lafayette, even for the world’s best gumbo. Thankfully, at Jazz Fest, my close-out meal is within ear-shot of Congo Square.

Step #13: Find some watermelon shirts. Local Thursday is also triathlon time. A group of moderately sober, slightly athletic festers delays its race until the afternoon. Swim across Bayou St. John. Bike to the Festival. Run a lap on the track. As a celebratory ritual (or is it a fourth event?) the sacrifices a watermelon in front of the Fais Do-Do stage. Steve Gleason will even let you share a bit of the offering.

Step #14: Where’s my chair, again?


Sadly, for all my “steps,” I won’t make it to Locals Thursday, which this year is sandwiched between two exams. Jen and I will be forced to schlep out there on, gulp, a weekend. Regardless, Jazz Fest’s return is another sign of society’s. Give thanks, and get some goosebumps.

And from the sports pages, here are my Thursday predictions. During the 4th quarter of a close Pelicans loss to the Suns (I’m worried about BI’s fingers and CJ’s stamina), the Saints package #16 and #98 to trade up to #13 and select…offensive tackle Trevor Penning. Retaining #19, they can take their pick of receivers. Surprisingly, their preference is ACL-reconstruction-recovered George Pickens from Georgia. In the unlikely scenario that the Saints make both, keep an eye on safety Jaquan Brister in the second and tight end Jelani Woods in the third. Mind you, this is not what I would recommend doing (Charles Cross and Chris Olave, come near!), and the PFF simulator hates it. But I’m just looking at the Relative Athletic Score bible. Mickey stressed taking two first rounders, so they’ll probably trade both picks anyway. Stay safe, and only bet on the running of the festers this week.

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