Rhythm and Race in a Miller Lite Wasteland

I realize now that this title is extremely irreverent for the holy experience that is jazz fest.  (For more background on this feeling, please visit enjoy some uplifting, transformative music in the AIG Gospel tent.  And perhaps buy a homeowner’s policy for your half a million dollar + home.  Unless they’ve pulled out of the market here.  Then just go back to clapping and swaying…Amen to that!)

Loans, Life Insurance, and the Lord

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, 2006.  My first.  I got the last 2 days, Sat & Sun, May 6 & 7.  But I saw Lionel Ritchie, and how many of you can add that feather to your cap?  (“Welcome home, Ly-NEL,” an employee greeted him at Louie Armstrong International Airport, he told us.)  A woman I work with down here - an African-American former atty & transplant from CT – told me that jazz fest, more than Mardi Gras, was what I needed to experience to get a true taste of NOLA (if selecting b/w only these 2 cultural options).  I missed Fat Tuesday itself, but I see her point re: jazz fest.  Many attendees probably go from stage to stage sampling the music; sure, I did a little of that (most of the folks I didn’t know, though my local friend Jen did, but I did hear Doug E. Fresh, Special Ed and Big Daddy Kane; the Ohio Players; one of the Marsalis’s – I’m embarrassed I can’t remember which…one of the least famous ones; Paul Simon, The NO Klezmer All-stars, The Radiators, Bobby Lounge, Ly-NEL, and Jimmy Buffet.)  There were probably more, I can’t remember.  There are six or seven stages, set up all over the NO Fairgrounds, and crafts and art and shopping and drinking and EATING.  This is where I put my energies.  For every act I saw, there was an accompanying snack. 

There was Crawfish Miranda – a “cajun alfredo” pasta w/crawfish, then a little brass band at the Congo Square stage.  And a miller lite.

There was a soft shell crab po’boy, along with some jazz at the WWOZ jazz tent. 

There was a lime daquiri and some blues at the Southern Comfort blues stage.

There was some sort of blue crab salad or something, I inhaled it, when I got back on sunday before I headed over to Doug E. et al.

There was chicken and tasso over dirty rice, which is apparently some sort of chicken and ham mix but mostly was reddish and spicy and fabulous and also inhaled.

I had a root beer.  I haven’t had a root beer in years.

And then, a mini pecan pie.  Fit in my hand.  Just the most perfect l’il thing.

Mmmm...mini pecan pie....

Isn’t it darling?

And after that I joined Jen and her boyfriend Jake for the last of Paul Simon. 

All through the weekend I jotted down little notes to share here today, but by now I can just remember how blissful I felt wandering around.  You buy a ticket, and this little condensed world of people and music and shopping and food is your oyster for 2 to 6 days.  It’s hot and outdoors and a mix of people and sounds and tastes and corporate sponsors and it’s all just too much.  The miller lite in the first five minutes of entering was because of the sensory overload.  I wanted to split off in every direction.  I couldn’t sit still – it was hard for me to imagine standing and listening to one stage for more than 5 minutes.  There were maps to consult and tents to explore and artists to see.  I ran into some people I work with and avoided others, including one woman who recently got extensions, which look extremely odd jutting off the back of her head when she’s just a petite little thing.  Sort of like my pecan pie.

The concert attendees were pretty white (other than for Big Daddy Kane, etc.).  I have no pre-storm comparison.  The Jimmy Buffett finish on Sat afternoon was the inspiration for the Miller Lite wasteland.  It was your standard white, suburban, many college aged crowd.  He finished w/Margharitaville (the inspiration for my List: Function Hall Anthems I Hate), and I yelled, “Sing Drunk White People!” as the crowd chanted along and awkward 22 yr old boys finally let their hair down after 9, 10 beers. 

To be a young drunk parrothead...college is fun!

At jazz fest, you find one another via flags people wave.  I’m by the Rebirth flag, the Gay Pride flag, the Israeli flag, the inflatable Miller Lite beer by the sponsor’s tent.  This was one of Jen’s personal favorites. 

 I'm by the blow up doll

 And then Jimmy finished, and the crowd cleared out, and land mines of spent miller lite cans littered the field. 

 As we walked out, we enjoyed the “fried, spicy” smell of the food stands, where you could get everything from sushi to fry bread.  Then I drove Jake’s school-bus sized Ford pick up downtown and he and Jen and I went to Adolfo’s – a tiny Italian place on Frenchmen outside the Quarter.  A guy dancing on the side of the road while we sat in traffic told me a girl driving a pick up truck was hot.  Yeah it is. 

It’s funny, I felt like w/all the choices at jazz fest, your true cultural preferences are revealed.  I wish I was a foodie, so I could do descriptive justice to all the snacks.  But I’m not.  I’m mostly just an occasional glutton who chooses to get most of her calories from cocktails, 2-piece-of-cake birthday parties, and too many potato chips at family gatherings.  And it’s clear that a lot of the music was lost on me.  In NOLA, there’s this station WWOZ, a non-profit, listener-supported, volunteer-operated, fabulous, cool radio station that broadcasts live from jazz fest.  All my sophisticated music conoisseur friends (and the wanna-be’s like my vapid Phd roommate) listen to.  And I play it if others are in the car with me.  But if alone, it’s all DIVA 92.3 (is the DIVA in YOU?), with Disco Inferno and No Scrubs and Since You’ve Been Gone and other pop/dance favorites that remind me of wedding receptions, being on the treadmill, or alone singing loudly in my own turqoise w/fin phat ride in Boston.  This DIVA at jazz fest, I was in HEAVEN during Lionel Ritchie, and the rest was just pretty cool.  (I was trying to imagine being there w/my music affionado friends and thinking how disappointed they’d be in me.  I’d be drinking Lime Daquiris all alone in the book tent.  Yes, I spent a lot of time in the book tent.)

So Fats Domino was supposed to close the festival.  But he got sick, and they bumped Ly-NEL up to the main stage.  And he got up there, and he didn’t mix words.  “I’m going to play every Commodores song I can remember, and then we’re going to blast through the 80s like it was a rocket ship!”  Mixed race though still mostly middle aged white crowd goes wild!  And he sang Lady (my Commodores fave), Running w/the Night, Penny Lover, Easy Like Sunday Morning, Sail On, Three Times a Lady, Dancing on the Ceiling, Hello, Brickhouse, some more piano ballads I’m sure I’m forgetting, and of course, All Night Long. I spent some portion of the concert madly texting w/my very jealous aunt and stepfather.  Too too good.  (I used to joke to my friend Yakka that I was born 20 years too late, and was really a 50 yr old black woman, due to my taste in music.  I have seen Tina Turner, paid $75 to attend a Donna Summer concert by myself, went on a NY harbor booze cruise w/Jammin 105.1 where my date and me were two twenty-something white kids in a sea of older black couples, and now Ly-NEL.  If I ever see Diana Ross, I can die happy.)

And then I rode my bike home, satiated and all aglow, to pull an all-nighter writing a report for Oxfam America on immigrant workers’ rights in the Gulf Coast.  I had a work dinner last night w/a bunch of people and the CEO of Catholic Charities told me I still had the jazz fest glow.  Though so far, everyone else I know who went missed Ly-NEL.

 I leave you with this image, taken during the final set of the night, Lionel Ritchie!  The local young black man dancing had a long conversation with an older white guy from Cleveland about how race doesn’t matter in New Orleans.  He may be the only person on the planet that thinks that.  Turns out he was raised in a white community and dates women of all ethnicities – he listed off a few.  The dude from Cleveland, he plays soccer w/Nigerians, and told me one of the best shows he’s seen was a Bruce Hornsby concert at the Cleveland Zoo where it rained on the crowd for 2 hours while they danced to Bruce playing on his 19 foot Steinway.  Once the music started, these older white women pulled into this young guy and his dad on to their blanket and it was nothing but sweet harmony for the rest of the night.

Oh what a feeling, when you’re dancing on the ceiling (or grooving on the side of the stage, as was Ray Nagin to Penny Lover).

 Oh what a feeling...


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