The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival!
Imagine the feeling of music reverberating off of every fiber in your being and swelling your soul to a point where you cannot help but dance along to the sounds pumping through your veins. That is quite possibly the best and only way to describe my first experience at The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, where 12 different stages housed a variety of genres and bands to rock away two weekends. Held from April 28 to May 7 for the last 47, Jazz Fest is thrown annually by Shell with this year’s line up ranging from local jazz bands to larger names like Stevie Wonder and Snoop Dogg.
While tickets were not necessarily pricey, plenty of options allowed for people to volunteer at the copious amounts of local food tents to obtain free entry for the day. I managed to finagle my way into a volunteer position with Mango Freeze, a food tent sponsored and created by the local radio station WWOZ to serve heaping servings of mango sorbet. Two ten ts were placed on opposite sides of the festival, and I hired onto the tent next to the Sheraton Fais Do Do stage. As I slowly felt the early onset of carpel tunnel from the monotonous scooping motion, I listened to grammy winning cajun band, BeauSoleil, and the americana group, The Lone Bellows, pick away on stage to a crowd of nothing short of two hundred people. To think this was one of the smaller stages attracting such a large crowd, compared to the Acura or Congo Square stages, was mind blowing.
Upon finishing my sentence and eating my fair share of glazed pecans, mango sorbet, and sautéed liver I wondered through the maze like structure they called Jazz Fest. One of the truly beautiful things that I noticed about this festival that set it apart from the numerous others is its dedication to bring heritage to the forefront. Everything from the local cajun oriented food to the Louisiana bred artists, the culture bled from every tent and booth. Taking time to stray away from the main stages though allowed for a breather from the larger crowds while also giving some of the lime light to smaller artist playing shows at the Economy Hall like Debbie Davis and the Mesmerizers. However, even the quainter tents like the Culture Exchange Tent shook the dance floor as Cuban artists like Adonis y Osain del Monte and El Septeto Santiaguero managed to get the crowd on their feet and cavorting across the room.
Despite not being as culturally relevant, the headliners drew the largest crowds. Thousands of people poured in front of the Acura stage just to hear the guitar licks and press of the piano keys by Stevie Wonder. For me, at least, it was one of those surreal moments where the legend met reality, where the thought of seeing Stevie Wonder had never even crossed my mind, but now had imbedded itself into my memories as one of the most breathe taking moments ever. Forget that he is blind for moment and you heard some the most intricate and soulful music that has ever graced your ears, but remember he has been blind for practically all of his life and you hear the passion and dedication behind each note. The other end of spectrum was met on the Congo Square Stage where Snoop Dogg bounced up and down on stage. Not as musically inclined as Stevie Wonder, Snoop Dogg knew how to get the crowd moving instead of staring in awe. (The giant dog mascot helped) There was not one song he played where the crowd was standing still or bellowing out, “SNOOP DOGG!”
Atmospherically, Jazz Fest stood apart not only inside its walls, but outside of them as well. Exiting with
the sea of people onto the streets of New Orleans lead to even more music and art lining the streets.
I managed to snag a copy of Ray’s debut album, Revelations, and appear in his music video being shot. People were selling lemonade and ice cold water to all the dehydrated people staggering out from a long day of partying. Local artists flooded the streets providing even more on a insight into the southern art style, but one lady stood out in particular. She was a puppeteer who was manipulating the strings of the puppet to paint astonishing portraits.
Culture filled and simply the root of Nola, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival brought out exactly what its name implied. There was no shortage of inspiring artwork, soul dropping music and an array of people looking to enjoy themselves. If you did not make it this year, check this one off your bucket list next year.