The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival celebrated 39 years this past month and returned to its normal seven days of music and entertainment lineup – a first since Katrina and a very big deal to the locals.
The Festival is the source of $300 million dollars to the city’s economy, as jazz enthusiasts travel from all corners of the globe to attend this two week celebration. People bring with them a rich appreciation for community and a love for music that transcends the festival’s fairgrounds.
I knew very little about what to expect when I arrived; for a first timer, I was a bit naive. But when I walked onto the grounds, I brought with me a genuine love for live music, and at a festival like this … that’s all that matters.
May 2, 2008
Throngs of jovial musics lovers (enough to populate a small city) crowded the entrance gates. Storm clouds overhead threatened to dump on this day of the second weekend yet no one seemed to care. The ominous forecast didn’t stand in anyone’s way of having a grand ole’ time, even if it meant tracking through sticky grass and wet mud.
Soon after my ticket stub was counted, I stumbled into one of the Festival’s many side attractions — a parade featuring the Scene Booster and Old N Nu Fellas Social Aid and Pleasure Club. Crazy booty shaking and dancing ensued. I couldn’t believe how fast some of the dancers could move their bodies. It looked unreal.
With my Festival guide and map in hand, I navigated to the Jazz and Heritage stage where the Pinette’s, an all female brass band, were taking to the stage. The lead singer/ trumpeter addressed the crowd and shared a story about how one club owner once gave them grief. “We … all … women!” she said. “Does that make a difference?!?”
The crowd shouted an emphatic “NO!” at the same time Ms. Pinette lead the group in to what seemed like an endless jam session. They pumped the crowd, blew their horns and got everyone moving!
It wasn’t long before I found the AIG Gospel Tent where a seat in the front row called out my name. Literally, I believe God opened up the front row for a reason. I don’t attend church on a regular basis, but something about Gospel music speaks to the very center my spirit.
On today’s line up was The Greater Antioch Full Gospel Baptist Church Music Ministry. Before long, this choir had me shouting Halleljuah’s left and right. I praised Jesus; I caught their Holy Spirit, and I looked on as the choir didn’t stop. They belted song after song after song with energy, passion and emotion. All members seemed to exhaust their vocal chords but then managed to become energized for the next verse and song.
Near the end of their set, they began a version of Alicia Key’s “No One,” which I always thought was a song about her love for some guy. The choir’s pastor brought new meaning to the song when he revealed the lyrics to be about her relationship with God. (You can imagine what kind of “A-Ha!” moment I had! Looord!)
Stevie Wonder closed the day’s festivities, and naturally he drew the largest crowd. Hundreds of thousands of people crammed into an open field in front of the stage and then thousands more behind that. Flags blew in the wind as Stevie began the show and the rain began to fall.
I didn’t fear anything bad happening. “Not today,” I thought. “Because when the rain is pouring down, and my heart is hurting, you will always be around. This I know for certain.”