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JazzFest 2024

DISCLAIMER: This post has been written for posterity as I have a shoddy memory. I make no claims that any of this would be interesting to a reader who isn't my wife or mother.

Thursday May 2nd

Woman deep in background facing away in fear is wearing same shirt.

We fly out of Philly. Mary wears her Violent Femme’s T-shirt on the plane and looks adorable. We land in NOLA, and as we’re waiting I see a woman with exactly the same Violent Femmes T-shirt and I scream at her: “Hey miss, hey! LOOK!!!” while wildly pointing to Mary's chest. The woman looks at me as if I'm on meth and having some kind of psychotic episode. She finally sees Mary’s T-shirt, acknowledges the coincidence, and walks as far away from me in our uber Zone as possible.  This begins our weekend of awkward social interactions. And I wasn’t even drunk!

We check into our cute little Airbnb in Bywater, and zip straight over to the Country Club, our favorite hetero-friendly spot for pool lounging. We swim and have happy hour margaritas and I'm already unreasonably happy. (NOTE: There is a picture of Mary and I in the pool at the Country Club but the Wix editing tool won't let me post it because it violates their "pasty middle-age man in pool" policy. You're welcome.

We strategerize our entertainment options for the evening. We arrived too late today to see the Rolling Stones at Jazzfest, an decision I don’t regret. Love the Stones but the way this was set up it was going to be an insane crush of humanity (later confirmed--many paid $250 to see them on monitors). So we decide to see a tribute show called Shitty Stones at BJ's, a dive bar in our neighborhood. This plan was cinched when I read the online reviews of BJ’s:

  • “Clientele was mostly falling down drunk old men”

  • “Literally the worst smelling men's room in town, and that's impressive given the number of gross men's rooms here.  “

It really was the perfect venue for Shitty Stones. It was a song-for-song set of what the real Stones played earlier. The band is solid, clearly good musicians. The lead singer is a short, schlubby lawyer dressed in a leotard bodysuit. He cannot sing. But he more than matches Mick’s energy. One of the highlights was him bringing up this woman who was standing next to us: “It’s shitty Lady Ga Ga, everyone!” They do an absolutely incomprehensible duet together. This is all profoundly fun. Here's a few seconds of "Get off of my cloud." (No joke I didn't post this clip directly because the leotard is even more disturbingly revealing than I remembered. It also goes without saying that the Shitty Stones can ONLY be properly enjoyed when shitty drunk)

Note Shitty Mick's knee pads

After the show we start chatting with the guitarist and it turns out he went to Princeton High School and is a protege of Jersey folk/rock luminary Chris Harford.  

Friday May 3rd

First day of the fest! Coffee, ibuprofen, check. We walk around the Bywater a bit. It feels like every house has some kind of artistic/floral statement. And it smells incredible: honeysuckle, verbana, notes of sidewalk vomit. (4 second clip of standard Bywater sidewalk).

New Orleans has e-bikes called Blue Bikes, which go way faster than is safe or sane. Mary has profoundly bad luck and there is almost never any E in her e-bike. I offer to switch bikes, but she doesn’t take me up on it. This happens all weekend. We bike around and get caught in the rain, end up in the French Market and talk with a guy selling his book/DVD about his experience getting clean from drugs while riding freight trains. Interesting dude. Weather clears, we get to the fest a little on the late side. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

Early Friday highlights include a big brassy trombone band called Bonerama, and the adorable Charlie Gabriel in the Economy Hall tent. Writing this I just learned Charlie is 91 years old and still wailing on the sax. (The clip to the right has Charlie on sax and a tune from his trumpeter who I loved.)

We have our first crawfish bread (a crawfish grilled cheese – sounds gross but it’s one of my favorite things in the world).  We see a bit of Galactic featuring this incredible singer Angelika Jelly Joseph, super expressive/funny. 

The big decision for this night is Foo Fighters versus Hozier. I really liked the first Foo Fighters album but have been meh about them ever since. But I was curious to hear them live. We got ourselves a good spot. They sounded good, rocking and loud but the songs sort of ran together for me. No shade to my Foo-loving friends. Grohl is a cool guy. But after four Foo songs we make our way over to Hozier on the opposite end of the fairgrounds.

Ero is a big Hozier fan. I always liked Take me to Church, but in a guilty pleasure kind of way. Sort of felt he’s a little poppy and overproduced. But I was really impressed with him live. He could go from an acoustic Irish busker vibe to these big synthy epics without missing a beat. He spoke eloquently about the importance civic demonstration in general and peace in Gaza specifically. I am a Hozier convert. (Clip has a few seconds of "Church")

Post Fest street party

Fest ends around 7 and the entire neighborhood is a party. Jello shots, bands playing from their porch, etc. We migrate down to Treme neighborhood to Kermit Ruffin’s Mother-in-Law lounge (one of my favorite names of a bar ever).

They’re not serving food but I shake Kermit’s hand and tell him we’re looking forward to seeing him at the fest tomorrow (he’s a big jazz/brass star). He was super nice.

We eat some good Thai and then head to Poor Boy’s bar, where we meet up with Mary’s cousin Milan and his wife Karla, whose friends are playing music there. Karla is an artist and tells us she helped make a mural in the Colombian section. (You can see it to the left, she made the alligator!)

Me, Karla, Milan and Roy (Chicken-catching guy)

As we wait for their friends' band, their other friend Roy tells us this story about spending Mardi Gras in farm country near Lafayette, LA. It's sort of its own rural version of Mardi Gras, called Courir de Mardi Gras, where there are these epic traditions, wild costumes/masks, and this massive, violent-sounding hunt to catch a live chicken. I can’t do this story justice other than to say this guy caught the chicken and it is clearly the thing he’s most proud of in his life. The chicken was called Pleasure and he had it in his house for four months and loved it like a pet. But the day his girlfriend broke up with him,  the chicken disappeared. He thinks it’s a coincidence (local dogs?) but Milan is not sure. I want to make a movie about this.

The band came on, super fun (Prince vibes). He had two mics, one which sounded regular, and another that went through a vocoder and sounded all synth-squished. I told Mary that I want my own vocoder and anytime she asks me to do something that I don’t want to do I will respond back in an unintelligible synth voice. 

Saturday May 4th

We wake up and Mary realizes she’s lost her license. We do some googling about whether you can get on a plane with an expired license (the answer seems to be: maybe if you get a cool TSA agent in a good mood). 

We take a morning bike ride to the Garden district where we visit the last Airbnb we stayed at called the Parks Bowman Mansion. The lovely proprietress (who has a Princeton connection) is having a coffee outside and we have a nice talk with her. She recommends we check out a Haitian band called RAM the next day and we agree to try to see her there.

We arrive at the fest and are greeted by the  New Orleans Diocese Gospel Choir. We duck in and while we have no spirit or soul ourselves, listening to this incredibly rich, full sound, we feel like we do for a little while.

With the Lord’s spirit inside us we head over to the Lost and Found, and miracle of miracles, they have Mary’s license. Do you see the light?!?!?!

We make our way over to the Gentilly stage and see this woman named Maggie Koerner. Deep, smoky/bluesy voice with a kind of great psycho ex-girlfriend energy (kidding!). Really good songwriting and super expressive. (Song in this clip is "If I Die" and I think it sounds great)

The next band we are expecting to see is called Fuefollet. They typically play on the local stage called Fais Do Do. We saw them the first time we ever went to Jazzfest and love their mix of Cajun blues and funky indie rock.  We look at the schedule and they have been taken off for some reason. Kind of bummed. 

We bounce around to see blues (Freddy King), jazz (Kermit Ruffins, Preservation Brass), and then go back to Fais Do Do, to see another cajun band named Beau Soleil with Michael Doucet (clip to the right). A couple years ago I reconnected with an old friend named Missy Moyer, who I met on the set of Dead Poets Society. She had told me she met this amazing Cajun singer and moved to Louisana with him. When I saw the schedule I remembered the name and we were so psyched to see him. He’s great, band is amazing.

I find Missy after the show and she’s so sweet. Big hugs, we catch up. But she tells us that the reason that Fuefollet didn’t appear was that the lead singer, Chris Stafford, was killed in a car crash two days earlier. The whole Cajun music community is crushed by this. Sorry the travelogue takes such a bummer turn here, but we were so saddened by this. More about his story here. You can see some of their music here.


Next, we see Rhiannon Giddens. Another showstopper, soulful voice, great band. This is  in the blues tent, but she crosses many genres, plays many instruments. Really good (our video of her is meh).

The Shitty Stones may think we're stalking them. They may be right...

But then we have to rush the hell out of there to get over to see Neil Young. Well, no, first we go get our frozen margarita slushies which provide both hydration and 191 proof alcohol to get us in the Neil Young demented spirit. Also, on the way over we run into the guitarist from the Shitty Stones (a big Neil fan).

Neil sounded great.  When you really listen to Neil’s songs, you realize how much of them are about pain and people making profoundly bad decisions. This is brought home when you find yourself enthusiastically singing out “Down by the river. I shot my baby!!” with 10,000+ people.  Yayyyy! An amazing show. (Clip has some instrumentals from Down by the River)

After the fest again, more Jell-O shot wandering (short video to the right of the general post-Fest madness). We have a hard time finding an e-bike and wander random streets finally find our way and go back to the Quarter to our favorite restaurant in New Orleans called Coops. It holds up.

At one point one of the bartenders, (large, somewhat intimidating) calls out to the quiet bar:  “One of you jazz daddies get over to that jukebox and play some music! No Buffett!!” I decide to take up the challenge, put in my $5 and take my chances on a mix that includes Bill Withers, Beastie Boys, David Bowie and some others. Scary bartender woman tells me I did okay. Phew. (short clip shows me sweating my juke choices and a quick vibe check of Coops).

Sunday, May 5th

Last day! As we enjoy our coffee at our favorite of Bywater’s adorable overpriced breakfast places (Satsuma), we reflect that at our age three days of festing is rather a lot. But we’re psyched and decide to get up to the fest early. 

When we do, the entrance line is longer than normal. Many people go to the fest with chairs and I guess they get in early to stake out a good spot. As we near the entrance gates/detectors, the staff guy manning the handicapped entrance on the far side calls out: "If they's somethin' wrong witch you, come down here!"

We start with Mia Borders. Soul/funk NOLA rock, socially conscious, she had some of the smartest between-song banter. We skip around to blues (John Mooney–looks like he’s a Sopranos Character) and more old school jazz (The Hot Plates).

We land back at Fais Do Do to check out a Columbian band called Cimarrón which I’d heard good things about. Holy shit. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into with this band. The sound is intense, but it is some of the most theatrical, artistically inclined music I’ve heard/seen. Very memorable. About a minute long compilation clip of favorite moments to the right--but this is the kind of thing that has way more impact in person.

More bouncing around, then back to Fais Do Do to see Dwayne Dopsie & the Zydeco Hellraisers. We’d seen them before and loved them but they were even better than I’d remembered. Dwayne said they played with the Stones on Thursday. For us they did a funky/zydeco Beast or Burden. Here I've got a little clip with two bits including their Hey Joe cover. The most pure fun show of the fest. 

The Sunday night lineup of closers is insane just in terms of the number of recognizable acts. Before I tell you what we chose, here are the options in order of how big the stage is (which is a factor because it’s fun to see these bands on the small stages).  What would you choose? 

Festival stage (headliner): Trombone Shorty 

Gentilly: Bonnie Raitt

Congo: Earth Wind and Fire

Blues: George Thoroghood.

Jazz: Tower of Power

Fais Do Do: Wallflowers

The Wallflowers: "We're seriously not that bad."

We were already at the Fais Do Do stage so we stayed in place and watched four songs from the Wallflowers from right in front of the stage. It was almost embarrassing as we were surrounded by Wallflowers fanatics and I kind of wanted to be like: “I just think they’re okay”. I also kept looking to the side of the stage where VIPs stand, and had to remind myself that Jakob doesn't have the kind of dad who would be really supportive and show up for your gigs and sing along. They sounded good though, and they played “6th Avenue Heartache” just before we left.

We went over to see Bonnie Raitt as our Jazzfest closer. She was great. So much history, such a pro, guitar sounded amazing. Her Angel of Montgomery was off the charts (some of it on clip to the left).

On the way out of the fest we see a van that apparently can do it all and consider whether we should be in touch with them about getting to our 6am flight the next morning. We decide not to but you better believe next time I'm in town looking to move livestock or go to a prom, I'm calling So Classy, Yer Sizzling!

We meet up with Milan and Karla for Haitian food on our last night (good!) and head back stupid early on Monday morning. I didn't have the presence of mind to take video as I was in some still drunk/hungover/tired stupor, but the Uber driver had on this music on that seemed to be the same riff/beat on repeat, but every 20 seconds or so a guy would come on and say, pretty loud, "!" (or something like it). It was like a watermark but with music. Surreal exit music for a crazy great trip.

Ecstatic greeting with Ginger six+ hours later. Happy to be back, grateful for those who let this happen (they know who they are). Laissez le bon temps rouler!

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