Come Rain or Come….More Rain: Jazz Fest Parties in All Types of Weather
For most festival goers who attend New Orleans’ Jazz and Heritage Festival, it is a single weekend experience. You wait for the lineup announcement, weigh weekend one versus weekend two, and make the nearly impossible decision about when to book the trip. This year, those of us who rolled the dice on weekend two at Jazz Fest got wet. And muddy. And soggy. And had an incredible time in one of America’s greatest cities.
Jazz Fest’s second weekend drew massive crowds to the Fairgrounds with one of the craziest festival line-ups you could ever hope for. From legends like Van Morrison, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, and Neil Young; to New Orleans staples such as Jon Cleary, Jon Batiste, Dr. John, Rebirth Brass Band; and everything in between, it was set to be a bucket list weekend of massive proportions. But then, the skies opened up. Fans gave it their best effort, sludging through shin deep puddles, cuddling together under raincoats and umbrellas, and taking shelter where you could find it. Inside the Blues Tent, Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen were in full swing on Saturday afternoon, until the waters started flooding into the tents and festival organizers recognized that conditions were too dangerous to endure and pulled the plug on the rest of the day.
The thing about Jazz Fest, though, is that the party does not stop just because the festival gates close. Sure, the masses could get their soaking wet panties in a twist about not seeing Stevie Wonder, but bad attitudes don’t last long in the Big Easy. In the live music capital of the world, you can be sure that a closed festival gate somewhere just means a wide open funk window everywhere else. As the masses flooded the streets outside of the fairgrounds, so did the music. Umbrellas jumped up and down to the sounds of horns and drums as un-phased fans danced in the rain outside of Luizza’s by the Track, making the best of a very wet situation with Bloody Mary’s in hand.
The real party starts when the sun sets in New Orleans, so despite the less than perfect days at the festival, the late night shows kept spirits high. Local favorites Naughty Professor crushed a late night set on Thursday night at 30/90 to get the party started. The Headhunters set sail on the Creole Queen Riverboat with Maceo Parker, Robert Walter, and Pat Casey on Friday night, while tributes and collaborations packed venues around the city.
As the weekend went on, the rain continued to roll in. Sunday was more of the same at the Fairgrounds, so many opted out of the mess in favor of staying dry at any number of solid shows for the last night of the two-week long affair. Unless you were among the lucky ticketholders for Irvin Mayfield’s Stevie Wonder tribute at the House of Blues, chances of seeing the man himself ended with the downpour; however, there were plenty of opportunities to get down to Stevie’s music late night. Live for Live Music and members of Lettuce and friends (Eric Benny Bloom, Nigel Hall, Adam Deitch, Will Blades, Adam Smirnoff) put on a killer Michael Jackson vs. Stevie Wonder tribute show Sunday that became a late night highlight as Benny Bloom led the band through funky deep tracks, while the crowd danced and sang the night away.
As the hours crept by on Sunday, it was clear that no one was ready to let go of the weekend. The music continued to groove until the wee hours of Monday morning, as Kofi Burbridge, Johnny Vidacovich and friends threw down one of the best sets of music of the weekend at 3am at Maple Leaf.
Looking around the room, we all knew that we had endured. We made it through the mud, we danced through the rain, and we made it to the other side of another magical Jazz Fest. See you in 365 days, New Orleans!