Jazzfest. New Orleans 2003 and 2005
I guess the reason I put this together is because I would like to share some of the experiences I had at Jazzfest in New Orleans in 2003 and 2005. Ultimately it is what inspired myself and my mate Kieran to start our band, “Second Line”. Firstly though just a little background as to how I found myself there.
I, like most teens in the late eighties was listening to bands like INXS, Poison and The Choirboys. I was watching a video hits program one day and a song came on that was on the soundtrack of the movie, “Back to the Beach”. The song was called “Pipeline”, a classic surf tune. It had Dick Dale and Stevie Ray Vaughan playing guitar. I was totally blown away by Stevie’s playing and ended up buying his album, “Texas Flood”. After listening to that album I found myself hooked on blues music. Since then I have been exploring the sounds and styles of many different blues artists.
I always had a vague idea in the back of my mind that one day I would like to head over to the USA and see some of the blues country and hear some blues artists on their home turf. Finally in 2003 I had saved enough money to head overseas and started to put together a plan to head to the USA. I am not sure how I found it but somehow I stumbled on the website for The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, http://www.nojazzfest.com/
. After checking out the site I decided that Jazzfest was going to be the focus of the trip. I convinced a mate of mine who was also into blues to come along as well.
We started our USA adventure in New York and managed to survive the Big Apple no probs. The people were generally very friendly and we had no shortage of helpful locals offering directions as soon as they saw the tourist map unfolding. There were no real blues adventures in New York although we did stumble into a bar one night and caught a set by a jazz band that had been together for about 30 years so that was pretty cool.
After a few days in New York we boarded a train to New Orleans. The Big Easy is a unique place. The blend of cultures makes for some great food, architecture, art and music. The French Quarter is geared towards tourists but has a definite charm about it. Bourbon Street is a great place to go and party but has an element of sleaze to it. I was stopped and asked if I would like to buy drugs one of the street corners. I couldn’t believe it as there is a very heavy police presence too, obviously for a good reason.
As for Jazzfest itself, it is hard to describe the feeling when you first walk into the Fairgrounds in New Orleans. There is a massive buzz in the air when the fest is on and it is impossible not to get caught up in the atmosphere. One of the first things I heard walking in was a gospel choir belting out a tune in the gospel tent near the entrance. About 40 metres away was some cool jazz and then further down the blues tent where I spent most of my time. I guess as far as size goes I reckon the set up is probably double what you get at a Big Day Out with four main stages and about half a dozen medium to smaller venues spread out through the fairgrounds. In between the different stages is a host of different food stalls (I kept going back day after day for some genuine southern fried chicken...). There are also heaps of souvenir stands and a tent where you can buy cd’s from most of the major artists playing. One of the odd things I noticed was how popular Fosters Larger is over there. No accounting for taste I guess. Since there was no Cooper’s Pale we generally stuck to Budweiser or Miller.
The festival generally runs Thursday to Sunday over 2 weeks so that’s about eight days of music. There are a massive amount of artists that play over that time. There were a few stand outs for me the first time I went to Jazzfest. Chris Thomas King played an awesome set in the blues tent mixing some hardcore deep south blues with hip hop beats. Buddy Guy cut loose and left nothing behind during his show. I had never heard much of John Mayer prior to seeing him but I left with a huge respect for his playing. He is a phenomenal blues player. We were a fair way back from the stage for The Black Crowes but they sounded awesome. We were lucky enough to catch Australia’s own, The Waifs and were right at the front of the stage for their show. I remember Vicki Simpson launching into her harmonica solo at the start of “Crazy Train”, the crowd were blown away. I was in the CD tent after their set and saw Donna Simpson. I said g’day and asked if I could get a pic. She seemed pretty surprised to hear an Aussie accent and was happy to pose for a pic with me. She even got me and my mate Kieran up at their CD signing later on to have a photo with the rest of the band. They were really nice, down to earth people. Good on you Waifs ! They were probably my standout memories of my first trip in 2003.
In 2005 I was fortunate enough to make it back again. This time the standouts were, Lil Buck Sinegal. I had never heard of him but was totally flawed by his playing. You can check out some of his stuff on Myspace. BB King has some kind of special aura about him. So humble and gracious, he sounded amazing although I was so far back I couldn’t even see him ! The Funky Meters pumped out some monster New Orleans funk grooves. John Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen did the same. John Butler played a great set in the blues tent and managed to offend the bloke next to me when he made a derogatory remark about George W. The bloke shouts out something like, “You can’t say that you aren’t even from here pal!” Hmm got a funny feeling JB might have been born in the USA but as the guy was about six foot five I decided to let it slide ....
As a side note, one night after a long day touring around New Orleans we were looking to get some food and a few brews under our belts. I’m not sure how we found it but there is a little bar on Chartres St in the French Quarter called “Evelyn’s Place”. It didn’t look much from the outside but I walked in and was greeted with a loud, “What you want? Food or booze?” The lady behind the question was Evelyn herself. Small in stature but big on personality! The bar was deserted except for us so we got talking to Evelyn and found that she was an amazing, generous lady. She told us that she was a white witch amongst other things and had all she needed within the French Quarter and rarely went beyond its borders. She gave us food and booze and then refused to charge us because we got along with her so well. We practically had to force her to take some money from us at the end of the night. Evelyn taught my mate Sam how to gamble on dice at the bar, all the while keeping one eye on the door to make sure no police came in as it is illegal in Louisiana. Evelyn also organised for one of her friends to meet us the next day and escort us to a free concert in a local park. We had a great time there too. Sadly I found out that Evelyn passed away not too long after hurricane Katrina. I am sure she will be missed by the many people who came through the doors of her bar.
I do hope to get back to New Orleans again some day. I, like most people was horrified by what I saw after Hurricane Katrina had been through and devastated the place. I just hope the spirit of the Crescent City is still alive as it really is a special place. If you have a love of blues and jazz music I recommend you check out New Orleans as I have never been to any place like it. I would love to hear from anyone else who has been over there, particularly since Katrina as I would like to know how the place is now.
You can drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
if you like.