Friday, May 04, 2018

Jazz Fest: Locals Thursday Should Be Renamed to Less Crowded Day

Melinda Palacio

The end of "Locals Thursday" at Jazz Fest

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festivals is spread over two three-day weekends with an additional day on Thursday, known as locals Thursday. Traditionally, locals Thursday offers a discounted ticket, $50 instead of $80 for the day pass and is meant to attract more locals. However, the general vibe around town is that Jazz Fest is no longer affordable for locals. The festival after all was once free. Now, corporate sponsorship has turned it into the a playground for the wealthy to enjoy with grandstands that take up prime real estate and block the views of folks who just want to throw down a blanket or dance on the lawn. When I started volunteering for the Carrollton Rotary Club three years ago, we had an unobstructed view to the Acura stage. Now a massive covered structure with shaded seats blocks the view. I met very few locals who were able to take a Thursday off to enjoy the festival. I met a woman who said she spent $40 on water alone before she figured out where she could refill her water bottle. Many of the people who came by the drink tent were from not just out of town, but out of the country. I think more locals are able to attend the festival on the weekends. Maybe, the fest should consider renaming a Saturday or Sunday locals day and offering discounts when locals can actually attend.

Old Crow Medicine Show

One of the best kept secrets of jazz fest are all the facilities located in the fair grounds grandstands. This is the big air-conditioned structure with the glass windows. If you go to the festival and find yourself hot, dusty, and dehydrated, head for this building. You might even enjoy a little lagniappe or an intimate concert at the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage, where interviews with many of the bands take place. So far, I've heard two of these interviews, one about the role of the accordion in Louisiana with three different styles of accordion represented by Savoy (cajun), Hartman (klezmer), and Ledet (blues). It's a treat to hear these intimate concerts from a comfortable seat inside an air-conditioned room. These interviews/concerts always have plenty of seats. Mr. Hartman talked about the wonderful Louisiana tradition of mashups and played a song that started with a Mexican Revolutionary song "La Adelita" and blended it with the Jewish folk song "Hava Nagila" on his accordion, an amazing medley. Yesterday, I caught the first interview on Thursday with Keith Spera from the New Orleans Advocate and the band Old Crow Medicine Show, famous for taking a Bob Dylan song that was never finished or released and turning it into the country hit, "Wagon Wheel." This band had so much energy and played everything from Blues to Cajun to Old Time Bluegrass to their original songs that I made sure to catch their performance at the larger Gentilly Stage.

The other two secrets about the Grand Stands at the fairgrounds is that it's the only place on the fairgrounds where you can find a real bathroom, no need to practice the portalet squat. There's also several full service bars. I can't tell you many people asked about cocktails in the beer line, where I've been volunteering for the Carrollton Rotary Club. People at the drink tent also want to know about all the festival food. As to what is the best jazz fest food, you'll have to try everything. I can vouch for the seafood stuffed mushrooms, the cochon de lait po'boys, the strawberry shortcake, maybe the ropa vieja (the rice on mine was a little undercooked, but the meat was satisfying). Judging by the amount of people leaving the festival with plates of food, I can tell that some attend jazz fest solely for the food.

The empty spot reserved for the now defunct book tent.

Although the jazz fest lacks a book tent and local attendees, there is something for everyone and it's worth trying to take a Friday off to attend when the crowds won't be as thick as Saturday or Sunday or try for next year on Thursday.

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