It can be easy to forget that Armstrong Park is a public resource, especially when it’s quiet and ringed by fences. But its potential becomes much more clear when the park is ringing with music, and filled from gate to lagoon with people and the wafting aromas of barbecue.
That’s been the scene here on early Thursday evenings through the spring during the Jazz in the Park events. These free, weekly concerts and celebrations are organized by the nonprofit advocacy group People United for Armstrong Park, and they serve a dual role.
First, the events help draw people into the park, a tarnished jewel that has been poorly treated over the years but has so much to offer as a gathering spot prominently located in Treme at the border of the Quarter.
The second role for these events is in community development, as People United hires local residents to staff the events, giving them training and experience in festival production that can be marketable elsewhere around town (read more on that here).
For visitors, music is probably the main attraction. Last week, the Joe Krown Trio with Walter “Wolfman” Washington were nearly upstaged by a thunderstorm, but soon turned the lingering gray skies bluesy. The acts this week are Mike Soul Man Baptiste and the indispensible Kermit Ruffins.
As with any festival, there is also a lot of food and plenty of crafts for sale around the grounds. But these are not necessarily the same vendors you see working the local festival circuit. At the dozen or so food tents, for instance, you find a lot of New Orleans home cooking reengineered for a big party, and served from chafing pans and foil trays and barbecue trailers. It’s like having a dream team of home cooks catering your event.
There’s a snowball stand configured in the cargo bay of a panel van, fried bacon-wrapped hot dogs, and something dubbed “the ghetto burger,” which turns out to be a really big burger on French bread with barbecue sauce and lots of seasoning. There are also NOLA Brewing products on draft and cocktails at the drinks tents.
Plenty of people dance near the stage, but it’s also nice to wander the park grounds a bit, with the music playing and an early evening drink in hand, walking over the foot bridges, around the lagoons and across the famous, oak shaded Congo Square area.
This Thursday’s edition, from 3-8 p.m. June 13, 2013, marks the end of the spring series, so if you haven’t yet been this is the time to go.
But as Jazz in the Park wraps up this week, another free concert series is in full swing just across the river. Each summer, Wednesdays on the Point turns a patch of the picturesque Algiers Point neighborhood into a temporary festival grounds.
Past editions have always proved to be a good time. An eclectic, all-ages crowd gathers, listening to music, drinking beer and wine and socializing outside, block party-style. The easy, after-work time slot, the mid-week break, the all-inclusive nature of the outdoor gathering and the great music all make this a sweetheart of an event. There is a small town feel to it, which is one of the reasons some Algerines cite for living in their neighborhood in the first place. And for those of us arriving from the east bank, getting there is part of the fun. The quick ferry ride across the magnificent Mississippi (see the ferry schedule here) provides a blast of free air conditioning and views of the city from the waterline.
Local funk outfit Flow Tribe is on the bill tonight (June 12, 2013), along with Melomania. This free summer concert series continues each Wednesday through July 17. Click here for the full music schedule.