Every year as predictable as the blooming of the jasmine, when the Jazz Fest line ups are released you can hear a collective groan in some quarters about how commercial the Festival has become and how far it has strayed from its original roots of just showcasing Louisiana music and the vast multi-ethnic heritage of New Orleans. I tend to take a different view. While I cannot for the life of me see what Pearl Jam or Nick Jonas have to do with New Orleans music, I do understand the logic of having them perform and support the big tent philosophy behind adding performers who have no discernible connect to our musical genres. In this era of niche marketing , from the news stations, streaming choices, and Facebook advertising, it is refreshing to see a large event which seeks to break down this segmentation through exposure. Folks who are drawn to hear the Red Hot Chili Peppers probably would not plan on going to a music festival where on their way to the stage to see their band, they are going to hear a full gospel choir, pure zyedco and a hot brass band and may or may not choose to linger and bask in a new form of music expression. I applaud the jazz fest for their never ending quest to expose new people to the gems of musical expression which are indigenous toe southeast Louisiana. Jazz Fest does not just preach to the choir. By bringing in the Government Mule fans they are giving them a chance to hear Big Chief Boudreaux or the pine Leaf Boys. I applaud the Festival or continuing to book acts which will expand the demographic of attendees and convert more people to the music of the Crescent City.
I am one of the old Jazz Fest attendees. I remember when the entrance fee was 425 and you could get 16 ounce Schlitz beers for $2 and there was no corporate sponsorship. Yes I think the price of a ticket ($75) has increased tremendously, but where else can you eat amazing food and hear music from 11 to 8 at 10 different stages? Feel like it has gotten too crowded? Go in the first day or each weekend and stay away from the headliner stages. Wish it was not so hot? That is what snowballs iced café au lait and maybe that beer is for. Hate the food lines? Eat early or late, especially if the weather is a little rainy when food vendors are grateful for your support. What a more intimate experience with the musicians? Go to the Allison Miner stage and hear amazing interviews with the performers or catch them in the clubs later that night. Feel like you need to get a sense of the ‘real new Orleans”? Grab a seat in the grass and watch a second line complete with Pleasure clubs and Brass Bands go by. There is something for everyone every day. I have spent Fest days rushing from one stage to the next and others in a chair in the shade outside Economy Hall in bliss listening to traditional jazz all day long. And like any day on the city itself, you can start out with one plan of action and happily jettison it to follow something you just saw, just heard, just ate. There is nothing like it anywhere. Come for the Van Morrison but stay for the Creole String Beans.