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Columns > John Zinkand - Improvise

Published: 2002/04/22
by John Zinkand

Jazzfest Part I: Expectations of a Jazzfest Virgin

Ive got my plane ticket, a hotel reservation, tickets to the actual Jazz and Heritage Festival, as well as tickets to several evening and late-night shows. I get into New Orleans from Portland, OR on Wednesday, May 1st around 9:00pm and I dont think its possible for me to be more psyched. The sheer volume of music would have any certified music junky bouncing off the walls with anticipation for this most monumental event. 4 full days and 5 wild nights of jazz, rock, funk, zydeco, blues, cajun, and every other kind of music under the sun and moon. But whats a Jazzfest virgin to expect? Ive heard the stories of the extensive amounts and styles of music, the tasty regional food, the party atmosphere, and the generally good times. Will I run out of steam or be able to make it through the many consecutive days with energy to spare?
Ive got tickets for all 4 days of the Jazz and Heritage Festivals second weekend. Some of the bigger names at the Festival that I plan on seeing over these days are: Govt Mule, Blues Traveler, Delbert McClinton, Leo Nocentelli, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Jimmy Buffet, Ratdog, The Radiators, Phil and Friends, and The Neville Brothers. But these are merely the higher profile acts that readers are most likely familiar with. Im even more excited for some of the smaller acts and more regional music like cajun, zydeco, and gospel that one can only take in while in the city of New Orleans. I want to pick some acts to see at the festival purely by their name or random chance. Ill figure that with a name like Alvin Batiste and the Jazztronauts, it has to be good!
Of course theres the other Jazzfest, too. You know, the one that happens at night and caters directly to the jamband crowd? With the help of folks like Superfly Presents, theres an entire other musical festival that happens in the evenings and wee hours during the same time as the festival. In addition to the tons of great local music that happens in the bars and clubs of New Orleans on a nightly basis, there is a high density of jamband acts over Jazzfest time. Ive heard that this is one of the best parts about the festival so I locked in on a bunch of tickets already. I hear the only real problem is battling the sleep deprivation and the torture of so much good music happening around the clock that you just cant stay awake for all of it. Im heading to New Orleans with tickets in hand for the following shows: Will Bernard and Motherbug, moe. and the Jazz Mandolin Project, Karl Denson and Robert Randolph, Disco Biscuits, Govt Mule and Les Claypool, The Funky Meters and DJ Logic, and Umphreys McGee. I dont expect to see all this music, though.Im realistic. I may snooze through some of it or sell my tickets and go to a small bar and see some Dixieland. Who knows?
Then theres the great food and the serious party atmosphere. I know I can expect parades, dancing in the street, hoots and hollers, drunken revelry, street musicians, colorful sights, and enticing smells. Ive heard that drinking in the street is not only acceptable, but very ordinary. There are drive-thrus where you can order a freakin Margarita! This could be dangerous. All that alcohol and merriment could drown my aspirations of taking in more music in a concentrated time than I ever have in my life. But if I have to fight a battle, I guess this is a good one to fight!
Now, Im not a small man. I love food and I love to eat. From what I hear, New Orleans is a great place for people like me. When I ask New Orleans veterans to describe the delicious food and get responses like anything you order is delicious and you can do no wrong with the food in New Orleans, I must admit that I get excited. After partying in the streets and grooving down at a show, I can get some seriously tasty grub. From red beans and rice, jambalaya, crawdads, fried catfish and a ton of other great stuff, I hear I wont go away hungry. And how bad ass is that? I can relax at the festival and wake up with some jazz and a Bloody Mary, then I can see a funky parade, take in some local Native culture, eat a great meal of spicy local cuisine, go see a late-night show, and do it all over again the next day.
I hope that reality and my expectations are pretty much in line. If anything, Ill probably be more impressed with the whole deal than I can even imagine. Next month Ill describe what went down, who I saw, what music I enjoyed most, the food, the party, and my general impressions of this great event known as the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. How much music, food, and fun can one 29 year old take? Hopefully quite a bit. Ill let you know.

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