Jazz Fest at 51

A hope for the future of the festival

 

Another Jazz Fest is in the books and except for a couple of showers (expected) and the absence of a couple of big names (unfortunate), the 50th anniversary celebration was a great success. This is the point in the year where those of us who write about music and have long standing personal relationships with the festival begin to get prophetic about its future. There are great pieces at My Spilt Milk, The Advocate and even the New York Times about the past of the fest and speculation as to its future. The consensus seems to be that despite its age and stability change must come.

Personally, I’ve been going to Jazz Fest since before I was old enough to remember it properly. It exists in my mind in the same space as Mardi Gras – something that has always been there and has a familiar look and feel each year. There are things I have to eat (white beans and ribs) and performances I have to see (The Radiators) – the whole thing has a comfortable groove to it and enough variation to keep it novel. As the high profile cancellations (Stones, Mac, Prine) might suggest, I am not sure how much longer this model can hold. The past few years have seen our fest camp drifting from Acura to Gentilly and then away from the main stages almost entirely. On the one hand as locals we have the luxury of seeing the New Orleans acts in more intimate settings and on the other the decreasing consistency of the legacy headliners have made the proposition of a day in the sun to get a good spot less appealing. As long as the Boomers are interested in this experience, the fields will not change; but I do worry that the festival isn’t doing enough to groom the next group of fans. While the prices at Jazz Fest grew up with the Boomers, the younger generations can find a lot of alternative musical experiences for the 100 plus dollars it takes to get into the fest and have a meal and a couple of drinks.

I do think the festival would do well to pay a bit more attention to indie and emerging rock and folk. The audience is here but needs more than one act isolated on the Fais Do-Do stage to make the proposition worth it. Festivals like Newport Folk (also founded by George Wein) have been reborn with much smaller budgets by aggressively pursuing talented young performers and encouraging an air of collaboration and experimentation. There is no reason Jazz Fest couldn’t follow a similar model. Certainly there is nothing like that nearby and as its center the festival could open up a whole new musical scene for the city. One of the thing that works against the legacy headliners is that for the most part they are going to play the same set here that they played in the town before and will play again at the next stop. What we need is a performance environment that challenges everyone to bring something unique and play out of their comfort zone. Even if the attempt fails, it is a performance that is unique to that moment and when it succeeds the people who were there talk about it forever. If we can build that space for younger artists and truly value their contributions to our festival and our city we can make something truly special. My son is almost two and has already attended 10 days of Jazz Fest. I want to see the festival grow with him the same way it grew with us.

 

Going On This Week

Just because Jazz Fest is over doesn’t mean that the music has slowed down. Tonight, the Marina Orchestra and Daria and The Hip Drops are at Gasa while DJ Soul Sister plays Tipitina’s. The big event is Garbage over at The Fillmore. If you’re feeling nostalgic, tomorrow you can catch the New Kids On The Block at the Smoothie King Center with Tiffany, Salt-N-Pepa, Debbie Gibson and Naughty By Nature. Also on Saturday. the excellent Canadian hardcore punk ensemble PUP are at One Eyed Jacks and country singer songwriter Cody Jinks is at The Saenger. You can also catch Damon Fowler at Tipitina’s and the British electronic duo Snakehips at Republic. Sunday, ’90s superstars Collective Soul play The Fillmore and TV Girl drops into Gasa Gasa while the Hot 8 Brass Band hold down their usual gig at the Howlin’ Wolf. Don’t forget Irma Thomas’ Mothers Day celebration at the Zoo. She goes on at 2:30 p.m. preceded by Cha Wa (one of my favorites) at 12:30. Tuesday, Frog and Henry play at the Dragon’s Den. The Wednesday performance at Lafayette Square is Kristin Diable and the City with The Quickening. Also Wednesday, Wilderado play the Hi-Ho with Duncan Fellowes and Deer Tick play One Eyed Jacks with Courtney Marie Andrews. Deer Tick is one of the great alt Americana bands out there right now. Their nightly shows after Newport Folk are some of my favorite concerts of the year. Take the opportunity to see them while they are in town. Also Wednesday, the Foo Fighters return to make up for the opening gigs at The Fillmore they had to cancel. They also play at The Fillmore Thursday night as well. Also on Thursday, the MURS are at Gasa Gasa and India.Arie is at the Mahalia Jackson.

 

To Listen This Week

 

Categories: Festivals, In Tune, Music

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