are being sold online, both as CDs and downloadable high-quality (256Ktwice the usual bit rate) MP3s. For those pinching pennies, recordings of the shows are starting to show up at various sites easily found by Googling "bittorrent and "New Orleans Jazz Festival.
The Sophomore Surge
Nothing can be said about the devastation here that hasn't already been written.
Much of the city still seems normal, so when one enters the flooded areas, any given block merely resembles the boarded-up slums of any city. But the mind boggles at the realization of how it goes onblock after block, mile after milewithout end.
Conflicting themes of rebuilding and destruction are rampant. There's something bizarre about men mowing the lawns in front of condemned homes with inevitable "for sale signs (not to make light, but nice grass isn't going to be a strong selling point). Hand-printed signs are a mix of communal ("Free Meal Center ) and anger ("CNA Insurance sucks ). The city's population is up 14 percent since July of 2006, but the school's superintendent just resigned after a frustratingsome said impossibleeffort to navigate bureaucratic obstacles to reopen classrooms.
Locals outside the festival said they are mostly encouraged by the event's resurgence and the spotlight it brings. There were complaints about whether media portrayals were playing up the disaster too much (argument: outsiders shouldn't just be thinking of it as a flooded city) or too little (argument: many don't know how much help is still desperately needed). It's worth noting that on a day when local headlines focused on the Bush administration turning down or rejecting nearly all of the Katrina aid offered from foreign countries, national headlines focused on something much less substantialthe Rev. Jesse Jackson leading a publicity march in the Ninth Ward.
As for the festival itself, some residents said they felt it isn't as accessible to locals as it once was.
"I think going from $13 to $45 (tickets) is a big jump, said David Comeger, 27, a lifelong resident of New Orleans, who said he was a festival regular until prices got out of reach. "I could see it if there was nobody (living) here, but there are people coming back and it ought to be easier for them.
Still, scanning coverage by others covering the festival, it was obvious that for plenty of regional attendees the festival is a chance to forget about the devastation (not to mention the beginning of another hurricane season next month).
"If you live in one of those little FEMA trailers for a year, you deserve a good time," Betty Lagarde, whose St. Bernard Parish home was washed away, told The Associated Press. "I wish it didn't have to end."
Jay Mazza, a columnist for The Louisiana Weekly, wrote the spirit of this year's festival was captured by the Mahogany Brass Band, whose "band's leader Brice Miller was barely able to perform without tears. His family, like so many others, lost their home and was exiled to Mississippi. In 2006, he channeled all that pain into a standout performance that was his first back in the city of his birth. This year, the emotion was still palpable, but the pain was gone. Towards the end of his set, which was packed with old friends and new fans, he announced to the crowd that the previous night was his first back in his home with his family.
Where The Crowds Aren't
Wandering the fairgrounds at large, it seldom seems like one is at a jazz festival.
Southern-tinged popular music dominates the main stages, interrupted by diversions of competitive volume, like the admittedly captivating entertainments of Congo Square. I originally dismissed this air of distraction as a fault of my misperceptions and expectations. But Pisano, in his summary of the festival, offers a harsh assessment of the declining role of jazz at the festival and how the disaster is contributing to the fall-off.
"The jazz tent this year, as if in acknowledgment of the periphery to which the music has now been relegated at the city that gave it its birth and the festival to which it lends its name, was situated in a far corner of the fairgrounds, the Gospel Tent now taking its previously centralized location, he wrote. "One also saw few minority faces in the jazz tent this year, a further indication, I think, of the African-American neighborhoods that are now for all intents and purposes gone.
Such an observation from a third party lessened the guilt for spending most of my time seeking the remote, quieter locations, which also almost always happened to be cooler and a chance to talk to whoever might be on stage or manning a table.
A few others expressed a similar preference. Steve Daub, a New York disc jockey who's been coming the festival since 1996, said he avoids bigger stages because many of the area musicians he likes frequently play elsewhere in the state.
"I try to see my friends, but I also try to go see bands I haven't seen before, he said. "I'm always looking for something new for the radio.
Inside the main fairgrounds building, located along the sidelines of the main action, the posters were for things not likely to appease die-hard music fanslike an art exhibit and cooking stage. But in addition to air conditioning, the hall of the art exhibit had wait-free lines for concessions, plus the occasional musician drop-in like Wesley Phillips, a New Orleans drummer willing to spend a few minutes playing and discussing technique, or to jam with passersby.
"I'm not sure people know what's in here, he said.
Sitting at a table that ironically was under a poster detailing the history of jazz funerals, Phillips said he was spending part of the festival working with various drummers to overcome their struggles with different musical styles, saying much of it is actually common dialogue.
"The technical part is what's hardto get the drummers to come in with it he said, noting they'll often know a few styles, but there's a lack of overlap in a group. Drumming is based on languages. I'm trying to get them speaking to each other.
Among those stopping for a few minutes was Troy Johnson, 11, whose impromptu drumming circle with his cousin, Dominique, 9, and Phillips could have passed for one of the child-prodigy performances scattered elsewhere during the festival.
"I've been playing for a while, Johnson said, including some appearances with local performers.
Speaking of which, the children's tent can be worth a visit, even without kids in tow, since it's both a chance to literally stretch out while hearing some acclaimed performersincluding some aforementioned youths with actual talent.
A few adult couples who were sprawled on the straw in front of the stage had ample space while listening to Latin, folk and world performers emphasizing unusual instruments. Among those on stage at one point were a couple of kids (no clue about their names) who didn't look even 10, doing a washboard/vocal Zydeco thing. True, it wasn't Buckwheat Zydeco or The New Orleans Klezmer All Stars with their various accordion madnesses, but the minimalist density was a lot easier to appreciate if you were up close and personal.
Others in the crowd were listening to family and friends doing shows for audiences small enough to be a cozy hometown bar gig, including Martha and Bart Chamberlain, watching their son, Burgin Sund, and his finance, Sherry Branch, perform with the Basin Street Sheiks.
There's not much family resemblance between the leisurely dressed Chamberlains, who moved from New Orleans to Key West, Florida., ten years ago, and their long-haired, clad-in-black son singing and playing a washboard, to say nothing of his fiancee, a professional clown dressed head-to-toe in pink.
"We saw their demo (video) tape earlier this week, said Bart Chamberlain. "It kind of freaked us out.
Their set, while obviously aimed at being simple enough for younger ears, also featured novel soloing on things like plastic bottles during songs with names like "Jug Band With Glockenspiel (described in the lyrics as "nothing less than total pain ).
"They made this song up two nights ago, Bart Chamberlain said. "We gave the glockenspiel player a ride over and he was still practicing on the way.
Of course, one person's discovery is another's longtime favorite. One online poster called Nicholas Payton "the future of jazz ; others at chat boards mentioned Tab Benoit as their favorite "find. But perhaps the most popular pick (and new to me) was Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, a guy still in his early 20s whose bio says he's been a bandleader since age 6. He plays brass band and mainstream jazz, but at the festival his attire was modern hip-hop and his repertoire funky ("standards in this setting was funkified remixes of "Back In Black ).
Andrews' recording of this year's set hasn't been released, but his shows from recent festivals are available. There's also a couple free MP3s floating around, but a more substantial freebie is a 2004 CD release party with The Bluebrass Project at the Internet Archive.
Those not needing to hear music all the timeor looking to gain insight when they didcould hear various discussions and interviews from featured musicians and historical experts. One of the more picturesque settings was covered seating and garden in front of the small Allison Miner Music Heritage/ Lagniappe Stage, where events included a tribute to Dick Allen, a festival co-founder and jazz historian who died in April at the age of 80 but not before recording decades of interviews with jazz legends.
In addition to hearing about his workdescribed as a blend of humorous and in-depth momentsand comments from audience members about memorable festival moments inspired by him, there were the stories that become lore among insiders. Among them was how, a few days before Mardi Gras, somebody apparently needed a place to keep a goat for a few days and Allen's temporarily vacant apartment was the chosen location.
"By the time Dick got in, the goat was eating books and generally causing a mess, said Joel Gardner, an oral historian who was part of the panel. Allen immediately put the goat on his balcony while trying to figure out what was happening, only to get arrested for housing an illegal animal when it defecated on a pedestrian below.
Trying to sneak a close encounter with bigger names occasionally led to letdowns. About half of maybe a dozen people left when Dr. Lonnie Smith cancelled a smaller planned discussion-demonstration two hours before his scheduled concert. Those remaining did get to see longtime Louisiana guitarist/bluesman Kenny Bill Stinson at a funky red Baldwin piano while discussing the works of Jerry Lee Lewis.
Meeting name artists was also possible during signings at the CD tent, but it was predictably packed and didn't seem like the place to do much more than buy the artist's CD, get a signature and get out. Next door at the book tent, however, there were few people by comparison and plenty of opportunities to chat with longtime festival workers and participants (even if impulse purchases there were a bear to lug around all day).
The nerdish instincts aren't just mine. Amanda Anderson, who with a couple of others did a bang-up job of covering the festival in-depth at Blogging New Orleans, writes "the book tent is one of the most-neglected spots on the Jazzfest grounds, but it's cool in there, and one of the best places to learn about what's really going on in our fair city.
A different sort of fondness for the academic was expressed by Angie Jacques, a Hartfield, Connecticut resident attending her third festival and among the few to say she goes out of her way to listen to some of the student and other amateur bands scheduled.
"They just put a lot of effort into it and they're not getting paid for it, she said.
Still, Jacques added, " I did have to check out Rod Stewart.