I hadn't been to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival - Jazz Fest - in a long time, I guess.
I remembered once sitting with friends on the grass with lots of open space between the stages.
There was almost no open space this past weekend, and I soon realized there would be no way to race from the far east Gentilly stage where Charmaine Neville was performing to the far west ACURA stage to hear the Zydeco Twisters. I was going to have to choose.
This posed some tough decisions. Perfect weather and a fabulous lineup had converged to bring out record numbers of jazz fans. Not only did the crowds make it difficult to catch more than one performance per timeslot, but I soon learned I had to arrive early to get a seat close to the stage.
Fortunately, I'd brought my own camp chair to create a new row when all the seats in the Jazz Tent had been taken. Ushers tried unsuccessfully to clear the aisles, but people just happily plopped on the ground. I managed to hear Mose Alison up close as well as trumpeter Terence Blanchard and his combo. In between, I caught a little gospel, a bit of blues, some African drumming and Lousiana crafts and folk art.
I was not at all annoyed by the crowds for several reasons. First, everyone was in terrific spirits. Second, I was in good company with jazz lovers. And third, New Orleans needs crowds. I kept wondering if many had been waiting for the perfect opportunity to visit New Orleans and thought that Jazz Fest was the right time. If so, they'd made a good choice because the weather was so fine.
There was absolutely no possibility of seeing either headliner Rod Stewart or Nora Jones at 5:30 p.m. because a sea of people had already reserved the areas around their stages. I made my way instead over to the Fais Do-Do stage and waited for Kenny Bill Stinson & the Ark-LA-Mystics from Monroe, La., to start playing. Pretty soon, a crowd gathered and the dancing began. I don't know when I've seen so many adults having such pure fun - not giving a twit how they looked or how sweaty they were.
This is definitely the reason people come to New Orleans -- to have get-down good time.
Jazz Fest continues next weekend.