Jazz was born in New Orleans about 100 years ago, but its roots can be found in the musical traditions of both Africa and Europe. In fact, some people say that jazz is a union of African and European music. At the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival “Jazz Fest” every genre of Americana music is represented–blues, R&B, gospel, Cajun, zydeco, Afro-Caribbean, folk, Latin, rock, rap, country, and bluegrass. And, of course, there is lots of jazz, both contemporary and traditional.
The festival is a celebration of New Orleans’s unique and recognizable culture; the food choices are endless, but you are mostly surrounded with Cajun specialties. The vendors are from area restaurant and serve such favorites as shrimp po boys, cochon de laits, crawfish Monica, Boudin balls, and mango freezes.
Artists bring their works to display and sell. The Congo Square African Marketplace contains pieces from local, national, and international artisans, and has the atmosphere of a bustling bazar. Many of the artisans utilize ancient crafting techniques. In the Contemporary Crafts area, there was handmade clothing, leather goods, jewelry, paintings, sculptures, and musical instruments, and visitors could watch demonstrations of metal, painting, pottery, and fiber works. Lastly, the Louisiana Marketplace contains baskets.
One unique aspect of the festival is the allocation of large areas to display cultural and historical practices unique to Louisiana. These dedications depict many cultures that exist in the state, including both the Cajun culture and the culture of the descendants of native Canary Islanders, as well as many others. Some of the areas include the Louisiana Folklife Village, which focuses on state art and culture, the Native American Village, and the Grandstand.
In addition, parades are held throughout the duration of the event, including ones by the Mardi Gras Indians, as well as by marching and brass bands and various social aid and pleasure clubs.
Jazzfest is filled with randos. If you like to people watch, the opportunities here are endless. There isn’t even a best place; everywhere is great. You’ll see old ladies in outfits they shouldn’t be wearing; old and young guys in ridiculous hats; people dressed in warm clothes despite the 1000-degree heat.
Even if there are no bands playing that you like (which should be impossible) just walk around and you will find something you’ll love. I fell in love with all the bands I barely knew, mostly NOLA groups like Kermit Ruffins and the BBQ Swingers, Galactic, Rebirth Brass Band, Trombone Shorty, Dumpstaphunk, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, John Boutte, Meschiya Lake and the Little Bighorn, Hot 8 Brass Band, Soul Rebels, Shamarr Allen, and many more.
It doesn’t matter who the headliner is. Trust me on this. I don’t care if they form a power group with the ghosts of Elvis, Tupac, Biggie, The Big Bopper, and Johnny Cash. I’ll admit I am not a dancer, but when a group of Mardi Gras Indians are performing, you’re bound to at least sway side to side. Other sure bets are the tents. Even if you don’t like blues or gospel, the tents are cooler and have places to sit. You’ll enjoy yourself even if you are just looking for a place to rest.
I like to discover new music at the Jazzfest, this year a band called Vintage Trouble: I was not sure if I was listening to ’50s rock and roll or a newer version of it but the lead singer Ty Taylor blew me away. Jerry Lee Lewis sounded as good this weekend as he did 40 years ago with songs like “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” and “Great Balls of Fire.” No Doubt with Gwen Stefani was high-energy performance. Lenny Kravitz was the ladies’ man for the day. Sir Elton John had the stage presence of the current king of rock and roll. In his five-decade career Elton John has sold more than 300 million records, making him one of the best-selling music artists in the world. It was an honor to be standing 10 feet in front of “Rocketman.” The jam band Widespread Panic played on local’s day Thursday. The “Nite Tripper” Dr. John, an iconic name in New Orleans, was one of the few closing out the festival on Sunday. A few other bands worth noting; Alison Krauss & Union Station, Macy Gray, Ed Sheeran.
Once you experience the New Orleans Jazzfest, you will keep going back.