Six years later I have been six times, missing only 1 year. Needless to say, when I made the decision to come back to the US my timing was dependent upon 3 main events: my cousin's wedding, my college roommate's wedding, and Jazz Fest. Lucky for me, the timing couldn't have been better. I could fly LAX to Boston for wedding #1, Boston to New Orleans for the 2nd weekend of Jazz Fest, and still get back to Philadelphia in time for wedding #2. My travels were far from over!
For those of you who haven't been to New Orleans, I urge you - GO! Those music lovers who haven't been? Go during Jazz Fest! You can enjoy music nearly 24 hours a day during Jazz Fest and many international acts are in town. I tend to spend a great deal of time hanging out on Frenchman Street as well, home to many of the city's live music venues and where you can usually find a brass band performing on the street.
This was my first year traveling solo to Jazz Fest, but I was excited to have the freedom to wander a bit. I flew in and took the public bus down to the Convention Center, where I switched buses and headed towards my AirBNB. I got off bus #2 around dusk and headed up the street with my pack when a tall, intimidating man stops me and says "What are you doing around here? You shouldn't be here - it's a dangerous neighborhood!" Not the start I was hoping for! I make my way up the street and find the key waiting for me, as promised. I enter the home of my host and no one is there. I was a bit shaken by the man, and did not get the best of vibes in my newest home. It was a messy shotgun house, and the bed was in the middle room with no privacy. My gut said - leave! I called a friend in Baton Rouge to ask his advice, and within a few minutes he hooked me up with 2 of his friends that were willing to host me for the week. I hopped in a taxi and headed to the Chart Room in the French Quarter to meet them. A smiling New Orleanian #1 greeted me and handed me an Abita, and New Orleanian #2 introduced me to everyone at his table. Life had gotten exponentially better! They both lived Uptown in great places. Over that week I was shown the best hospitality and welcomed into their lives with open arms. I will be forever grateful!
Wednesday night there was music on the square, this year featuring Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormans. I ran into some of the Baltimore music crew here, and then headed off to a private party to hear Trombone Shorty. My night continued with Honey Island Swamp Band, Cris Jacobs Band, and DJ Williams Projekt at the Little Gem Saloon - what a night. I met R#2, someone I would be lucky to reconnect with throughout the week, and hung out with a big crew of music friends. I ended the night at One Eyed Jacks, but Checkpoint Charlies is also a good option :) A great start to a music-filled weekend!
The 2nd weekend of Jazz Fest is 4 days of music that can last from 11am until 6am (if you have the stamina!). Perma-grin starts as soon as you walk through the gates - there is nothing that compares to that Jazz Fest vibe! Each day was full of great music. Thursday I rode bikes to the Fairgrounds with my new friends - a gorgeous day. We heard Dirty Dozen Brass Band, The Wailers, String Cheese Incident, and wonderful sounds just walking around the track. I ran into R#2, and met his three other wonderful friends who welcomed me into their JF camp with open arms. Festival day was followed by the 10th Anniversary party for Krewe De Blender - a fun group of fest goers that carry a disco blender flag. Costumes were encouraged, and my new group of friends did not disappoint!
Friday New Oreleanians #1 & #3 and I biked over to Fiya Fest - music festival / crawfish boil / benefit for the Roots of Music. We feasted on crawfish & local beer by the river and heard great music. Marco Benevento, Mike Dillon Band, DJ Logic, a local marching band, and even more. Part 2 was a riverboat cruise with even more music. This City doesn't stop!!
Saturday was a day at the Fairgrounds (did I mention you need stamina for this?!). I headed over with my friend (and recent savior) from Baton Rouge. We began the day in the Gospel tent, and it just got better from there. Fais Do Do, Head and the Heart, and a long set from Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band with a visit from John Fogarty- a definite highlight of my Jazz Fest. I was once again welcomed in by R#1, R#2 and crew, where I was spoiled with plenty of dancing room most of the day. Very important with those guys! R#1 also took me to the First Aid tent to tend to my busted big toe, and held my hand while the doctors "operated". So nice, and it turned out to be a great move before dancing in all of that dust!! I cannot wait to see this group again next year. An early night ensured a little stamina for the rest of my stay!
Baton Rouge and I started our Sunday early, and had time to enjoy a bloody mary at Liuzza's. YUM! Once inside we began with the Gospel Tent, a lemonade, and crawfish ettouffe. The food at the Fairgrounds is amazing, and I suggest trying it all - especially if the word 'crawfish' is involved! We followed that with Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes (featuring John Gros on french horn?!), George Porter, Jr., Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk, Arcade Fire, & John Fogarty - of course with some parades, snacks, and sounds sprinkled in. I filled my soul with music nearly 24/7, and it was magic. That night I ended up at DBA for Stanton Moore, where I ran into more old friends and also met Alabama #1 - another musical soul I have a feeling I'll see next year at the Fest! Be forewarned - 6 days in Nola feels like a month, and you likely trade a year of your life, but it is totally worth it and you will return home with a smile in your heart! I cannot wait to go back, and hope to be able to return all of the love and hospitality I was shown by new friends and old. I love you New Orleans :)