I was sad to miss Carnival season this year, sadder than I originally expected. I normally wouldn’t call myself the world’s biggest fan of the whole thing; I tend to feel like the stress of traffic and parking and muscling through crowds isn’t worth it for the payoff of pounds of beads and cups and stuffed animals that clutter my living room until I finally move them up to the attic around St. Patrick’s Day.
But somehow, without Mardi Gras on the menu, I was deeply nostalgic – if not for the throws and the crowds at least for the bands and the traditions. The ethos of Carnival if not every aspect of it. And yes, the house floats did a lot to capture that, but still, I found myself longing for a sunny Saturday along the Avenue, drinking an Abita and talking to the friends I only ever see at “our” spot along the route every single year.
Going a second year without Jazz Fest to help mark the official start of summer, though, is hitting me even harder. Of course canceling it last year was the right call (and God bless WWOZ for its “Festing in Place” programming) and of course it’s still the right call now.
But even if I’m not a Carnival diehard, I’ve always loved Jazz Fest. While many of my childhood memories of Carnival involve injuries – plastic spear in the eye, knocking a baby tooth out while climbing on to someone’s shoulders, bag of beads to the head, toes trod on by marching bands – most of my Jazz Fest memories involve music, food, friends, and family – spending my brother’s last birthday before his death at the Fairgrounds with him, eating crawfish bread in the Gospel Tent while waiting out a rainstorm; spiking my strawberry lemonade with smuggled-in vodka with college friends who drove down with me from Missouri; dancing with my dad to Paul Simon songs; huddled with my favorite aunt and uncle under a blue tarp we were using as a makeshift umbrella during a sudden cloudburst that disappeared as quickly as it came; eating a mango freeze to try to cool down while 36 weeks pregnant with my daughter.
While I fully supported last year’s postponement and ultimate cancelation of Jazz Fest, I also fully believed that this year, come April, you’d find me in a seersucker sundress and a floppy hat, slathered in sunscreen and eating Crawfish Monica.
Not only am I sad that this is not in my immediate future, but also I am forced to reckon with just how long this has been going on and how uncertain I am of when we will ever get back to “normal.”
There are, to be sure, bigger problems than no Carnival and no Jazz Fest. But with all the days blurring together since the pandemic started, where a Saturday feels no different than a Tuesday, losing these seasonal markers are disorienting me even further.
Will there be Jazz Fest in the fall, for real this time? Maybe.
All I know for sure is that whenever they open up those gates, I’ll be there. In my sundress. Getting my feet filthy. Eating a Patton’s combo plate. And not taking a single second of any of it for granted, ever again.