New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

By c d kaplan

It is always gray at the New Orleans airport. And it's certainly fitting, because this city is full of as much voodoo and mystery as Creole culinary excellence and music. As you enter the city, a sign warns that one should be wary of traffic delays for a parade may break out at any moment.

It's a city where the cabbies are never reluctant to tell you how much of an inconvenience it is for them to take you where you want to go. Cholesterol is not a dirty word in the crescent city and you can wake up in the moming to America's best radio station, WWOZ, to either Duke Ellington or Slim Harpo, depending on the whimsy of the DJ.

And if it is possible, it is, beyond all that, the birthplace of American music. And so the yearly sojourn to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is a trek to mecca. And, since it always runs from the last weekend in April through the first weekend in May, it gives one a joyous alternative to the Derby folderol.

For seven days on two consecutive weekends, the infield of the Fairgrounds Race Track becomes wonderland, with nine stages, crafts booths and enough incredible food to make you laugh at the next offering of a com dog or polish sausage.

In the evening, there are concerts which serve as punctuation for the more than three hundred and fifty acts that play during the daylight at the festival site.

It's the musical equivalent of your childhood dream of being locked up in the ice cream store overnight and getting to gorge yourself on milk shakes and sundaes.

I didn't make it down for the first weekend, instead dodging the rain drops at the Cherokee Fair, so I missed performances by Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint, Wynton Marsalis, Beausoleil, Marcia Ball, the Iguanas, Gatemouth Brown, Tay Hogg and Dixie Pride, Sonny Rollins, not to mention the Allman Brothers and Bob Dylan among many others.

But, oh my, on my first night there, the McCoy Tyner Big Band just crackled especially with dueling solos by John Stubblefield on sax and Steve Turre on trombone. And Nina Simone was ever the diva as she mesmerized the Sheraton ballroom with many of her standards including a magnificent rendering of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne." Not a bad start to a weekend of mudlucious bliss.

Thursday at the Fairground was highlighted by Daniel Lanois, whose status as a performer shall soon equal that as a Grammy-winning producer. His rendition of "Beatrice" from his latest album still haunts me. It was a glorious cap to wonderful gloomy New Orleans day.

On the big stage, Boozoo Chavis proved once again that Terry Adams is right and he is the best of zydeco; the subdudes grabbed all the young girls' attention with their blue-eyed Cajun soul; and my heart was lost to the jeune fille hula hooping to the Indigo Girls.

The dilemma of choices was most profoundly exhibited at four on Friday when one had to choose betwixt and between Lloyd Price, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and The Meters. We eliminated the first, caught a few great tunes of brass and did the funky slop in a major rain storm while the Meters did some cookin'. The music was greasier than a Big Daddy Platter and twice as tasty.

The true joy of the fest blasted through early on Saturday, where at the Fais-Do-Do Stage, Paky Saavedra's Bandidos from Honduras had us all dancing to "Kingston Town" and "The Banana Boat Song." We're talkin' F.U.N.

Well, guess what? It seems as if space is getting short here, so let me just mention that Buddy Guy was great, Los Lobos, Santana and the Nevilles met their usual high standards and the Gospel Tent once again proved itself to be as spiritual a place as exists on God's green earth.

The weather was atrocious. The festival was great. Next year can't get hear soon enough.

And, oh yes, did I mention the Ben Hunter Plantation Posse, L'il Queenie and Friends or the lshangi Family? How about Po' Henry and Tookie or the Voices of Praise Choir? Or how about the Song Dogs or ….