I’ve grown accustomed over the years to conducting some travel counseling for my out-of-town friends each spring. They want to come for Jazz Fest, but a full 10-day stretch to cover both weekends of the schedule out at the Fair Grounds just doesn’t jive with the cold realities of most vacation policies. So the negotiations would proceed with an opportunity analysis of which weekend to pick and which to forego.
These days, however, I’ve been urging these friends to make sure they’re in town on the Wednesday between Jazz Fest weekends, no matter what they do. That’s because this short weekday span between the festival weekends has enough going now that it’s become travel-worthy in its own right, and the off-the-Fair Grounds action comes to a head today.
Named for washboard virtuoso Chaz Leary, the whole affair is held in a verdant and bafflingly large urban meadow hidden behind a row of St. Claude Avenue homes. Buy a ticket, proceed down an alley between the homes and suddenly it feels as though you’ve emerged into a country picnic of alt rockers, street jazz players and roots musicians of all stripes, performing on two stages, sprawling on blankets and noshing snacks sold by vendors arrayed in titling tool sheds.
The do-it-yourself vibe of the event is irresistibly charming, the Shangri-La setting is transporting and the music is right in tune with the energy around New Orleans right now.
The Wednesday between Jazz Fest weekends is always a big night for Wednesday at the Square, a free concert series held at Lafayette Square in the CBD from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Today, long, tall Marcia Ball – the blues pianist, singer and Jazz Fest favorite – headlines the free concert, and the local Pinettes Brass Band, an all-female group, warms up the crowd. There are plenty of food and drink booths and local arts and crafts for sale between the park’s oaks and magnolias.
A few blocks away in the Warehouse District, the Rusty Nail hosts its third annual Daze Between Fest, a tribute to the music of the Grateful Dead performed by 10 bands between two stages over the course of the day. Some may remember this well-hidden bar and music venue from its days as the Mermaid Lounge, and they will probably remember the large, fenced yard attached to the property. This area takes on a festival feel for Daze Between the Fest with lots of craft booths and food vendors serving oysters, boiled crawfish, fish tacos and barbecue, while NOLA Brewing will pour beers.
The lineup of jam and groove-friendly performers includes Papa Mali, the Honey Island Swamp Band, the Dave Jordan Band, the IKO Allstars, the Soulswampbillyboogie Band, Camile Baudoin and the Living Rumours, Jimmy Leslie, the Mike Dillon Band, Frogs Gone Fishing and CMM: Reed Mathis, Josh Clark and Cochrane McMillan of Tea Leaf Green. Day-of-show tickets are $25, and a portion of proceeds benefit the Gulf Restoration Network.
The French Quarter music store Louisiana Music Factory hosts live, in-store performances all the time, but during these days around Jazz Fest the roster of performers taking the stage between the CD racks here is so robust it seems like its own mini-festival. Today alone, the lineup includes Galactic, Anders Osborne, the Lost Bayou Ramblers, Ryan Foret, Eric Lindell, Theresa Anderson, Davell Crawford and Dr. Michael White, each playing short but very intimate, close-up sets. That goes from 10 a.m. to about 8 p.m. If only someone would start selling crawfish bread and cans of Miller Lite near the listening stations here we could christen this amazing collection of performers the Factory Fest.
The Threadheads Cultural Foundation, that prolific New Orleans music-supporting/producing entity built on generosity and love of our music, has put together a helpful grid of music events all around town during Jazz Fest time. Check it out here.
The number of performers who take the 12 stages at Jazz Fest over the course of the seven-day event is staggering. What’s even more impressive? That number doesn’t come close to telling the whole tale of music happening in New Orleans this week. Today is a great day to get a big taste of it.
3020 St. Claude Ave.
Day-of-show tickets: $30
Wednesday at the Square
5 p.m.-8 p.m.
500 St. Charles Ave.
Daze Between Fest
The Rusty Nail
1100 Constance St.
Day-of-show tickets: $30