Hardly five minutes had passed since I’d discovered the identity of the Boy on the Balcony, courtesy of a short email from Jazz Fest 2019 poster artist Scott Guion, when my phone rang.
“So, you found out my secret.”
It was him — the Boy on the Balcony.
I was all at once intrigued, excited and just a little dismayed — intrigued that he felt the need to call me as soon as he heard he’d been found out, excited that I was about to receive all the answers that I sought and dismayed that my initial guess was clearly wrong. The person on the other end of the line was, by all indications, still living, which meant that the Boy couldn’t possibly be someone’s dead relative, a theory that I’d entertained and favored since noticing the Boy.
What followed was a conversation perhaps stranger than the mystery itself — the Boy was willing to let me draw attention to his presence, and even to write about his identity, as long as I started the conversation on a larger scale. It wouldn’t do to just point him out, name him and move on, which would have been easy and admittedly boring. His reason for this was twofold: first, he simply wanted to have a bit of fun with the story, and second, he harbored a little insecurity that his inclusion would seem self-serving.
But while the Boy might have felt (and might still feel) that his place on the balcony might be undeserved, there is no doubt in my mind that he deserves to stand next to festival greats like Quint Davis and George and Joyce Wein. Without him, the Jazz Fest tradition would simply not be the same.
You all made some admirable guesses as to who he is, and I’d like to take a moment to highlight some of my favorites. First, here’s who the Boy is not.
- David Spade
I mentioned him as a joke in part one of this blog, and I guess that stuck with some of you because this was one of our most popular guesses. No one can deny that it looks like we have a young David Spade on our hands, but I’d be reaching if I tried to come up with any justification for his possible inclusion. That being said, I can’t stop you from dreaming of a world in which David Spade was an integral cog in the creation of one of our most significant festivals. Dreamers, I ask you: in that world, do we still have “Joe Dirt?”
- Harry Connick, Jr.
Listen, I love Joseph Harry Fowler Connick, Jr. as much as anyone who saw seasons four through eight of NBC’s “Will & Grace,” but he would have been about three years old when Jazz Fest was founded. It’s certainly possible that even then, the founders knew that a golden-voiced, perfectly-coifed legend-to-be was living just a few miles away, but he had nothing to do with the formation of the fest tradition (a trait shared by all subjects on the balcony). Connick is enough of a Jazz Fest great to be included in the poster, having performed there for the first time when he was 9 years old, and you can admire his fully-grown likeness in the poster’s front row.
Another good guess and another uncanny likeness, but Beck wasn’t born until July of the fest’s inaugural year — and aside from a few performances in the city, including the 2018 festival, he has no discernible connection to New Orleans or Louisiana. A good musician he is, but a Jazz Fest icon he is not.
- Keith Spera
I have no idea what writer and journalist Keith Spera looked like as a child, but his hair is still great, so I understand how this theory got its legs. After all, our mysterious Boy on the Balcony does have a well-maintained swoop. But as much as we enjoy Keith’s thorough coverage of all things New Orleans, he has yet to make his debut on a Jazz Fest poster. Don’t worry, Keith. There’s still time. Also, what conditioner do you use?
- Scott Guion
I also understand this one, as I’m sure I’d find myself inserting small pieces of myself into my work if I had any artistic talent at all. Would I do it with a client as major as Jazz Fest, and would I do it so literally? Probably not — and neither would Scott. My interactions with him have been limited, but he clearly takes his art and commissions very seriously. In fact, Scott says that the inclusion of the Boy was a last-minute change; the idea was presented to him as a joke, but he felt that the Boy was too significant to leave out and painted him in just before delivering the final product.
- Time-travelling Barron Trump / Ray Nagin
I combine these answers because my response to them is the same: really?
Of all the guesses we received, only two people were on the right track. One of you posted a link to the official Jazz Fest forums, which led to a deeply-buried discussion of the Boy that took place back in January. The identity of the Boy was revealed on page 60 of that thread, but the commenter was kind enough not to spoil it for anyone trying to puzzle it out themselves. Another commenter posted an actual photo of the Boy but did not include his name — however, a quick reverse-image search would have yielded the answer.
With all that being said, the Boy on the Balcony is —
I told you in part one that a clue was right in front of you — and it was. The clue is the poster itself.
In 1975, Bud Brimberg was a Tulane Law Student who was discontented to go into law. He signed up for a business class and, as part of a class assignment, was tasked with creating a pro forma business plan. He did one better: he created an actual business, one that would thrive and grow into a cherished New Orleans Jazz Fest tradition.
That year, Brimberg created his first Jazz Fest poster, and it served as a clear delineation from the aesthetic of the previous installments; Bud’s concept was to create a colorful, illustrative piece of art that could be collected and displayed for years to come. Unlike previous years, this poster did not serve as a call to sell tickets or even to promote the dates of the event — it was a call to sell the poster itself, creating an additional source of revenue to support the Fest.
Initially, Quint Davis dismissed the eager student begging for a chance to contribute an official piece of art for the festival’s use. “I’ve got a festival to put on, so get out of here!” he infamously declared. But his interest was piqued by an interesting proposition: Brimberg offered to pay off gross first dollar, effectively guaranteeing that Davis and the Fest served only to profit from this deal, even if Brimberg ended up losing money.
They shook hands and history was made: according to Jazz Fest, their annual poster series has become one of the most collected in the world, and Brimberg’s first poster has been resold online for several thousand dollars.
Since then, Brimberg’s company Art4Now has continued to produce the annual poster, tapping esteemed local artists like Terrance Osborne and James Michalopoulos to create stunning visuals that are now hung in over half a million homes. He’s also responsible for the annual BayouWear clothing line, updated annually with new collectible patterns, like this year’s Marshaling Grand by Theresa Davis-Shea.
It’s easy to see why Jazz Fest officials would have requested Brimberg’s presence in this year’s poster — it’s thanks to him that we have this collectible staple at all. Without his contributions, perhaps the Festival would lack some of the color and vibrancy we have come to expect.
I, for one, am glad he didn’t pursue a career in law.