Saturday, February 10, 2007

An Open Letter to Music Lovers - Jazzfest

I’m currently reading The Great Deluge, a frustratingly accurate portrayal of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and its devastating effects on the Gulf Coast. Historian Douglas Brinkley painstakingly shows us the pain and suffering of Katrina’s victims, and how the government, at all levels, failed to protect those who needed it most.

In that light, and since Mardi Gras is upon us, and after that, Jazzfest, I thought I would bring back an open letter to music lovers I wrote that was printed in the April 2006 issue of Playgrounds Magazine.

One last thought: Does anyone else find it unsurprising that President Bush didn’t even acknowledge the issue of Katrina in his State of the Union address? Out of sight, out of mind is his motto apparently.

This is just as relevant now as it was a year ago. Unfortunately.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

April 28-30 & May 5-7, 2006

An open letter to fellow music lovers:

Katrina was a bitch. She was a hurricane that finally, inevitably, brought her horrific force to bear down on the Gulf Coast, destroying lives by the thousands, and yet, even after her apocalyptic aftermath was fully realized, the first thing I heard was… “Well, I guess you won’t be going to Jazzfest this year, huh?”

Never mind that my enjoyment was the least of my worries, but I will admit that I’ve been considering taking a break from the New Orleans festival after going every year since 1990 or thereabouts. The early spring brings out music festivals as thick as the pollen on our cars, and many conflict with Jazzfest. I had been eyeing Merlefest ( in North Carolina, for example, but post-Katrina, I knew I had to go back this year. For the city, for the residents, for the merchants, for myself.

After landfall, I watched the levees break, and I kept watching as the news channels broadcast hours and hours and scene after scene of destruction and rescue and despair, and finally, as I watched the dissolution of an entire city, I watched myself sink into a kind of walking daze of depression where I shielded myself from the truth that this could happen in a city in the United States of America. Where were the people I knew? Were they okay? After many phone calls, emails and message board postings, one by one they got back in contact with each other. Some were in the Northeast; one couple was in a hotel somewhere in North Mississippi. One photographer stayed behind, but he was finally, thankfully, located. My friends escaped without harm to anything but their property, but I can’t say the same for the friends of my friends. I do know the first time I saw a “504” area code on my cell phone, I about ripped the cover off trying to answer it!

Things are not back to normal by any definition of the word, no matter how liberally that word is used in New Orleans. It will never be the same.

But one thing about New Orleans is that it will carry on, the spirit will prevail. Mardi Gras was by all counts a success. People came, people partied, and people spent money. And the locals needed that.

And now they need Jazzfest.

This year, the festival has been scaled back by one day, some of the stages have been rearranged, and corporate sponsors have jumped in to an unprecedented degree. The promoters aimed with a shotgun, scattering several large draws over the two weekends, including Dave Matthews (who brought in the largest ever single-day Jazzfest crowd), Jimmy Buffett, Bob Dylan, rapper Juvenile, Bruce Springsteen (in his first Jazzfest appearance), Keith Urban, Lionel Richie and Paul Simon. And although most of the treasured Louisiana artists are playing, the quintessential New Orleans band The Neville Brothers will not be closing out the final Sunday night.

Will things be different? Without a doubt.

But for those of us who have adopted New Orleans as a spiritual and musical home, how can you not go back and partake of the amazing sounds, the wondrous array of food, and reconnect with the people who feel the same way?

Come to Jazzfest. Spend money. Talk to people. Donate your time, money or energy to help out.

New Orleans needs us. And we need New Orleans.


Curtis Lynch

Music Lover


Brad Barnes said...

The wife and I were just tormenting ourselves about this. I've been to Jazzfest twice, and neither of them in this millennium. Crowds make me itch, and Bonnaroo last year pretty much sealed it.

Still, we've been planning a trip back to N.O. to add just a bit to the city's tourism numbers. And now I'm wondering if it's better to go on a weekend when they'll definitely have a crowd -- to help the festival get back on its feet -- or to go on an off weekend, when they also need help.

Maybe the answer is both.

TybeeDawg said...

the answer is indeed both.

We're thinking about possibly going down in the late fall this year. Jazzfest crowds are a bit different from Bonnaroo crowds, but I know what you mean.

You should come down to Live Oak for Springfest or Magfest. Great music and laid-back crowds.

Chailyn said...

Good post.