The Jazz (Fest) Age

Sure sign you’re a New Orleans kid: Your spring break is structured around a parking contract agreement for Jazz Fest. Normally, Ruby would have been off of school this week, but instead she is off today and then all of next week. Her school, which is temporarily located at the old Holy Rosary campus on Bayou St. John, has a large parking lot, and although I don’t understand the exact logistics, I do know that one of the stipulations of her school taking that space was that we would have to cede the parking lot to Holy Rosary during Jazz Fest. And so spring break moved back a week, and she gets an extra day off, too, and she couldn’t be happier about the whole arrangement. I don’t really care much either. If you get worried about little things like an extra day off during Jazz Fest, New Orleans may not be the best fit for you.

As a kid, I always was allowed to skip school on the first Friday of Jazz Fest; my parents figured I’d learn just as much or more at the Fair Grounds soaking up the culture than I would in a classroom. I loved the day off and the strawberry lemonade, but I mostly just hid under an umbrella and read books. In high school, I got more fully into the whole Jazz Fest experience – the food, the music, the people – and I came home for the fest a couple of times during my decade-long sequester in Missouri. 

When I moved home in 2008, though, I got really into Jazz Fest. In fact, as I wrote here in 2010, it was like a spiritual holiday for me. I planned for and anticipated it all year long. I strategized about the bands and the food and how to literally and figuratively fit it all in. I vowed I would raise my kid (I just had the one back then) to embrace the gooey joy of crawfish bread and the sacred wonder of the Gospel Tent.

Now, six years later, I don’t know if I’ve changed or if Jazz Fest (presented by Shell) has or maybe it’s just a gradual evolution of both, but my ardor for all things Fest is cooling.

As I walked back to my car after dropping Ruby off at school yesterday morning, I heard two Bayou St. John residents discussing it.

“I never used to miss a day,” the woman said, sitting on her front stoop with a sweating iced coffee cup in her hand. “I took off work and everything. But now, I don’t know – it’s just too much, really. I mean, Phish was one thing, but Eric Clapton? Bruce Springsteen? Christina (expletive) Aguilera? No.”

“Robin Thicke,” the man added bitterly. “He’s the one that sings that rapey song, you know? And for $70? I’m with you. Not worth it.”

“Yeah,” she sighed. “For $70, I think I’m just going to sit outside in my backyard, drink a decent bottle of wine, get drunk, get sunburned, listen to my iTunes, and then take myself out to a nice dinner.”

I’m not quite there yet. I still like Jazz Fest, even if I try to steer clear of the Acura Stage whenever possible. Even at $70 – which is pretty steep – it’s not a bad deal for a whole day’s worth of music, and the food is both affordable and fantastic.

But I definitely am not as deeply dedicated to indoctrinating my daughters to Jazz Fest as I thought I’d be. I took them both last year, and I’m not planning do that again any time soon. I spent more time coating everyone in sunscreen than I did at the actual Fest, I think, and all Ruby had any interest in was eating snowballs.

I am not saying I will never take them again – I am sure I will – but right now, at these particular ages, it’s just not enough fun to be worth the bother. And as for my $70 – well, as nice as a solitary sun-soaked backyard bender sounds, I spent that money on Disney on Ice tickets. That’s the reality of my life right now. And that’s OK with me. 

Happy Jazz Fest if you’re going. Happy Friday if you’re not. Honestly, having the option of Jazz Fest, even if we reject it, still makes us some of the luckiest people anywhere. 


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