In one of many binaries that don’t need to exist – are you a cat person or a dog person? red wine or white? – there is sometimes a sense in New Orleans that you’re either a Mardi Gras person or a Jazz Fest person.
But I like dogs for their steadfast loyalty and enthusiasm for basically everything; I like cats for their discernment and their ability to truly not give two shits about your feelings. I like red wine and white wine and, while we’re at it, rosé and sparkling wine, too. And I love both Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest.
All things being equal, I guess I’d come down more on the side of Jazz Fest, but Mardi Gras is free and Jazz Fest decidedly is not, so the scales are pretty even for me.
I was, as the kids say, all in my feelings during this year’s Carnival season, dancing with my daughters and screaming for beads, pausing to have a cathartic cry when the marching bands and majorettes in tasseled boots with their “SENIOR CLASS OF 2022” sashes passed by.
But Jazz Fest has always been, as the kids say, my jam. I have early memories of being stung by a bee on the Fairgrounds and crying and a man opening a cigarette and spitting tobacco on my leg; of going home sunburned and covered in snowball syrup; of meeting my brother there for his birthday celebration on April 29, 1988, the last birthday he would ever have. It was also an early source of teenage independence: I love to joke about the time my sophomore year of high school when I got into Jazz Fest on a kids’ ticket (meaning I looked 12, which I did) and then bought a beer (meaning I looked 21, which I did not). I cut class senior year to go to the fest with a bunch of friends and somehow never got caught.
Still, though, I was on the fence about whether to go this year. On the one hand: Yes, of course. On the other: $90 per person.
But on Saturday, a dear friend texted that they had an extra ticket, and when I realized Jason Isbell, possibly my favorite songwriter of all time, was playing, I made a split-second decision to go. My husband, God love him, sprayed me down with sunscreen and dropped me off on Esplanade, and I managed to make it there in time to hear “Only Children,” which is a Top 5 song for me because I am nothing if not an over-encouraged only child. (And if you’re confused that I identify as an only child after making reference to my dead brother, I have about 11 years worth of blogs for you to read to try to sort out the craziness that is my family tree because I promise you it makes a certain kind of perfect sense in a dysfunctional way.)
Listening to that song with waning sunshine on my shoulders and a sweating plastic cup of beer (legally purchased this time!) in my hand, I was happy in a way I haven’t been in a long time.
New Orleans is not an easy place to live. It’s hot and humid, and I had a cockroach fall on my face while I was sleeping in bed last week. It’s crime-ridden, and they only pick up my trash about every other week, and our insurance bills are sort of criminally insane.
But when we have Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest in absolutely ideal weather and you can celebrate it with the kinds of friends you only make in this city … well, that reminds me why we live here in the first place.
Happy Jazz Fest, y’all.