Jazzfest - Collected Writings

Lift me won't you lift me
Above the old routine
Make it nice, play it clean, Jazzman!

When the Jazzman's testifyin', a faithless man believes.
He can sing you into paradise, or bring you to your knees.
Jazzman, take my blues away.

Okay, lots of folks go to Jazz Fest every year.  Most don't spend their spare time building a web site dedicated to it.  So why do I do it?  How to explain?   Okay, so it's not quite as hard as explaining color to a blind man, but it sure is hard to get the full flavor without actually making the pilgramage to the Crescent City.

Over time, I find I sometimes come across some writings on the Internet that do really seem to capture the spirit, the flavor, the emotions of Jazzfest.  But for some reason I don't understand (since disk space is really cheap), many sites let comments from the past disappear as new ones are added.  Lest the magical moments disappear, I've decided to collect and share excerpts of these memoirs here.  Readers looking for more are encouraged to follow the links to the source pages.

For the full effect, listen to Dr. John while reading this page.

"...for the rest of our lives"... by Blumie (posted 3/17/08, to Jazzfest Forum board)

In Memory Of...

Stevie Ray Vaughan -- my first year at Fest, I got off the plane, drove to the riverfront, and boarded a paddle boat with B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan. When I got off, I said to my friend, "We're doing this every year for the rest of our lives." That was 20 years ago and we haven't missed a Fest since.

"New Orleans is kinda like black licorice"... by BostonFestivus (posted 3/15/08, to Jazzfest Forum board)

My wife and I have been married for five years. I'd been to New Orleans many times before we met, and went to Jazzfest for the first time in 2003 for a friend's bachelor party. I was hooked.

I took Claire to her first Jazzfest (and first ever trip to NOLA) in 2006. She's kinda a neat freak, healthy eater, not a huge music fan, and definitely loves her creature comforts. New Orleans is kinda like black licorice, you either love it or you don't. So I was wondering how she would deal with all the smells, noble rot, and butter based cooking that makes NOLA my favorite place on earth.

But, after four days in NOLA and two at Jazzfest, she cried when she had to get on the plane to go home. She loved the rot, the heat, the smells, the people the food and the music. We camped our second day at the Acrua Statge under the "Make Levees Not War" flag and it was one of the best days ever, Sonny Landreth, Bluesianna, Alain Toussaint and Elvis, and when Bruce sang "Eyes on the Prize" we all lost it.

So our Christmas present to each other is to go back again this year for second weekend. Several nights a week after we put the kids to bed, we discuss what we want to do each day and get ourselves psyched up; breakfast of debris biscuits and bloody mary's at Mothers, streetcar to the fest, camp or wander?, cochon de lait or soft shell crab po boy? Something sinful, then off to the gospel tent for some churchin' up, then some mud bugs and cold cold beer, try to get a spot for one of the end of the day big acts, then off to liuzza's for the after party, a few juleps and more food. Then to Rock n Bowl for the Rebirth Brass band, dancin, stepping, drinking, home to bed, wash, rinse, repeat.

We can't wait!

Jazzfest is My Drug"... by RossVegas (posted 3/11/06, to Jazzfest Concierge board)

Jazzfest is my drug...

Although I was never much of a stoner, I know that I have never sampled any drug that even comes CLOSE to bringing me the euphoria and range of emotions that Jazzfest does. When I'm on a Jazzfest "high", there is nothing that can compare. Absolutely nothing.

When I walk into the gospel tent, I know what that "drug" will do to me. When I'm second lining around Economy Hall with a conga line of complete strangers at 2 in the afternoon, I'm on a high that very few people - except us - would ever understand. And when I see Chief Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias respendent in feathers and beads, bringing the badass funk like no others, I know that there is no place else on the ENTIRE PLANET where this could be happening at that very moment.

Jazzfest is my drug, and I never wanna come down.

For Those Who Don't "Get It"... by lostcajun (posted 2/15/06, the day the annual Performer announcement is expected, to Jazzfest Concierge board)

As I sit here on the 15th of February, why would all my thoughts be distracted?!?!? Why would I have have trouble concentrating? Why do I "chat" with people from all over the world (new and old friends) about a late spring weekend (or two) experience in a "devistated city?" Because, even though I have a very good life with people who love me, I have this fling, this pilgrimage, this obsession. I crave, like an addiction, the feel of the sun, the sound of the floating music, the smell of trampled grass, boiled crawfish, fried shrimp and softshell crab. I crave seeing the sun kissed faces of friends who meet one or twice a year. I crave the intoxication of the CULTURE we all refer to as Jazzfest. Yes, I am and it is pathetic, but those few days in the spring are one of the vital spices that make my world a better existence. I have family to love, and faith to anchor, a job that provides, but there is nothing like walking throught the gate with the jazz tent on the right the gospel and blues tents to the left and a musical gumbo to experience for a few days in the spring. How can it feel so good? For those who don't "get it" I wish I had the words....

A Fest So Fine... by columnist Chris Rose (written 4/26/05 in the Times Picayune )

In the end -- or maybe it's just part of aging -- it turns out that it doesn't matter what bands are playing on any given day. It's the other things -- the weather, the vibe, the humanity, the children, the karma, the chakra, Vaucresson's crawfish sausage po-boys and the indecipherable mélange of reggae and zydeco colliding in the trees -- that take you away in a rapture.

Ah, Jazzfest.

You may THINK... by swamp girl (posted 12/19/04 to Jazzfest Forum board)

and, as I have discovered, You may THINK you are going to see Lenny, or Bonnie...but next thing you know, yer gettin' down to some funk!! (that drumbeat called you from the Mango Freeze booth, yer body started to groove, and there you are, front and center, doin the funky chicken...trust me, it can happen!)

Forecast Called For Rain by chili palmer (posted 1/12/04 to Jazzfest Forum board)

Mine is this: Don't know what year, but that Sat. was a total washout (Santana played, and I think I saw Keb Mo in a downpour as well that day.) As a result of the downright scary conditions, most of my posse skipped plans to go to the Fest Sunday and went home because the Forecast Called For More Rain. My brother and my future sister in law were determined to go that morning even though it was still raining- they had come in just for that day. Intently watching the radar screen we made our own meterological decision that there was indeed a speck of clear sky coming to N.O. that looked like it was going to free up the clouds just over Gentilly and the Fairgrounds. So we went over to the Fest in a downpour, parked two blocks from the entrance as there was no one else going in, and then walked in just as the rain stopped. The sun came out just as Johnny Adams opened up at the Polaroid stage in front of only about 200 lucky people. From there we went to Beau Jocque at Congo Square. Sadly enough, both Johnny Adams and Beau Jocque died within the next year or so after that. Divine intervention allowed us to see them one last time.

Initiating the Rookie by loupgarou (posted 1/12/04 to Jazzfest Forum board)

Here's an "only at Jazz Fest" experience from last year. Young dude (21?) is behind me before Rebirth Brass Band. He's never been to Jazz Fest, doesn't know any of the music, just walked in, and has no idea what to do. I tell him he's GOTSTA GOTSTA GOTSTA give Rebirth a shot --- he's never heard a brass band before. Rebirth comes on, immediately levels the joint, and the next time I turn around, the kid is bopping around with an ear-to-ear grin. Then he asks me if they have beer at the Fest... (Insert drunken nod here).  I tell him I'll buy him all he wants if he goes and gets it, so I give him $30 (he looks at me like I'm nuts), tell him to buy as much beer as he can with the cash, and come back. And he asks "How can I carry all that?" And I say "The people in the beer tent will show you how." And then he looks at the huge crowd and asks "How am I going to find you again?" And I said "Trust me, you'll make it back here." Off he goes. And 10 minutes later, he's back, with a big carton of beer, cold ice and all, and we crack two open, toast the Fest Gods, and get back to dancing. Yassssssss...

One Long Smile by reygreen (posted 3/05/03 to Jazzfest Forum board)

Last night of the last day.... sittin' in that sweet wind on the Fais Do Do stands as the last fellow festers leave the grounds... cicadas just beginning to sing behind me - their buzzing matches the happy thrummm in my head from four days of musical bliss. The poignant end buoyed up into the last red of the clouds... had to climb the fence to get my bike out, one long smile on the ride home

Fais Do Do by carolnabeadhead (posted 3/05/03 to Jazzfest Forum board)

2nd Sunday last year:  Sitting at the back of the crowd at the Fais Do Do stage, listening to the cajun music of Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, it struck me that here was a widely diverse group of people who probably never would have never ended up at the same place at the same time any place else but Jazz Fest.  From where I sat I could see cowboys, goth chicks, old bikers, yuppies, babyboomers, phishheads, little kids, frat boys... young, old, black, white... tall, short, fat, thin... all smiling, all dancing... all there because of the music.   That's when I understood the true meaning of a "Jazz Fest Moment".

Leaving the Fest by mick (posted 4/09/03 to Jazzfest Forum board)

6th year coming up. always a large group, always different experiences. that's what it's all about. every year, so many stories. every year the same question arises. "what was your epiphany moment?" what was that one point in time where you proclaimed, "it doesn't get any better than this!" each and every one of us has that moment every single year and we think, "this feels so good, it feels so right, how is this possible?" for me, every single year, its that time when the dayfest is over, we reach the outside of the gates - 7:30 pm, everyone is in the same spirits: the day is over, we're all in ecstacy, those around us are as well - for the same reason - for the music, the food, the people, most importantly the vibes.  I walk outside the gates, I hear the next generation playing the "buckets" on the streets, i purchase a cold beer out of a cooler from, I swear, the nicest lady i ever did meet - $1 dollar please.  I recall the absolute beauty of the day i just witnessed, I long for the entriguing night that lies ahead.  I relish the positivety of those around me, I say, holy fucking shit. ephiphany. 

Think back - hard - of all jazz fests in the past, think of that one moment during the dream, that epiphany moment. yes, hard to narrow down, yet we all yearn to reach that moment once again, and yet we manage to each and every year. jazzfest is not a place it's a feeling. We all have slightly different tastes in music, yet we all leave with the same satisfaction. So, i don't digress, the music we heard, although very inspirational and uplifting, does not describe, and could never discribe a jazz fest moment. a jazz fest moment requires not only moving music, but moving people, and moving vibes, and moving trains of thought, and - well - a series of moving moments that eventually come together in the great realization that this was my "jazzfest moment". each and every one of us has it each year. what was that one point in time where it all came together and you said, " this is it. it doesn't get any better than this." it matters not our opinions of such moments, it matters only that we all had such a moment. all of us. god bless you. i love you all! jazzfest!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Getting married at Jazzfest by larrybalto (posted 1/23/02 to Jazzfest Forum board)

I saw some friends of friends get married during The Iguanas set a few years back at the Radiator stage(I refuse to use the corporate names) on the last Sunday.I watched the sun go down from the bleachers after watching the Nevilles close and who should come stumbling through all the debris and carnage that is the leftover from jazzfest but bride and groom, hanging on to each other through their wedding,jazzfest,alchohol induced buzz walking off together into the sunset trailing veil and tail. Sublime.

Get Your YA YA on by pscat (posted 4/02/02 to Jazzfest Forum board)

I'm ready for sunshine, a good time, dusty fairgrounds and musical sounds. Ice cold beer, bright blue sky and quite a few Natchitoches meat pies. Anders is playin' and Pete Fountain too, to my worries I will bid adieu. My rump will be a shakin', my groove will be found and a copacetic vibe will abound. The Fest is a state of mind as well as a place that helps me escape this silly rat race. This is an event that will help you stay content,fond memories will not relent, psychological disorders it will prevent, my enthusiasm is hell-bent. Hard on the body but great for the soul, my Festival brothers and sisters please meet me there I'll be at the flag pole. Who's with me?

Hee-hee by Moonlitemile (posted 2/01/2001 to PDKK Public Forum for Inane Commentary board)

A Jazz Fest flashback to '91, my buddy and my's first fest. We were way towards the back of the RayBan stage crowd waitin' for the Neville Bros., and Frankie Beverly and Maze were on stage. While we were stretched out on the warm grass, this girl, 17 or so, plops down next to us, Indian-style and asks for a beer. Of course our consciences were commanding us not to contribute to the delinquiency of a minor, but we were too buzzed to listen. As my bud was passing her a M.G.D. (the only beers they had that year were M.G.D and M.G.D. light...ugh!) I noticed a big ol' COP in uniform standing right behind us! The cop is a dead ringer for the fat black cop from "Die Hard", and as he picks up his walkie talkie, I figure we're busted for sure. Then he starts SINGING to whoever's on the other end: "Joy...and pain...Sunshine and rain!" He was just a big Frankie Beverly fan hanging out in the crowd to get a closer look! Whew! Only @ Jazz Fest!

The Fever by Maggalicious (posted 11/13/2000 to PDKK Public Forum for Inane Commentary)

It starts with a thrush of memory of Jazz Fests of the past. You remember the paths crossed with friends seldom seen but never forgotten. You share incredible hugs, and then dance your way to the next act of choice…sometimes together…sometimes apart…but always with the feeling of warmth that your meeting offered. You recall the food, sweat and party favors shared and those incredible moments of joy that only the heavens can recreate as you share an uplifting music experience.

With the anticipation of the coming Jazz Fest your senses heighten. Your smiles become more frequent and you can’t stop humming Jock-I-Mo.

You start reading the Pet de Kat chat board more often as you glean the music picks of your friends and add the information to your itinerary that you started back in December.

You start cooking more Cajun cuisine and say yeah you rite after every sentence.

You play more of the Louisiana music that inspires you and cherish the compilations created by your JF buddies. Your computer at work is constantly on WWOZ and your new co-workers are beginning to look at you strangely.

You begin walking and drinking more to build your endurance though not at the same time. You dance by yourself in your living room with your eyes closed shaking your Neena shaker as your money maker bounces off the ground.

Then Mardi Gras approaches and you go through your bead collection deciding which you can throw without losing any sentimental value. (Yes, I’m even talking about the beads I earned at the Rio Hotel in Vegas). You throw parties and bake king cakes and hope someone will bare their breasts off of your balcony again to the clueless suburbanites.

You reread and read again the lineup off of the official website until your certain that you’ve managed to fit it all in. Neena’s grids change so quickly that you simply can’t keep up with the excitement.

You start planning parties and dinners months before you arrive in New Orleans. You’ve already bought your sunscreen and can’t wait to buy that new crocheted hippie top. You start planning your seats to Denver and clean your luggage.

Yep, I got THE FEVER! So how many more days until the Fest?

Aliens in the Jazz Tent by Happy Dog Potatohead (posted 6/07/2000 to WWOZ Jazzfest Memories and Adventures board)

I was trying to get in the McCoy Tyner tent and I bumped into this guy. He says, "The Outerspace Overlords told me to tell you to go see Rosie Ledet, because ain't no way you gonna see McCoy Tyner today." Observing the standing-room-only crowd I decided he was right and headed for the one and only Rosie Ledet & The Zydeco Playboys. She was dynamite, even better than the last time. She just keeps gettin' better every year. Props to the guitar player who blew my mind out by doing a Hendrix solo over washboard and accordion! Props to Rosie for wearin' the short shorts also. The Aliens Were Right! I loved the washboard player for the band. Rosie let him handle all the in-between song patter and you couldn't understand anything the guy said except for "Yeah you right!" which he said just about every time he said something. So after a while everyone in the crowd would wait till he said "Yeah you right!" and say it right back after him. What a great set, one among many I saw that day. All I got to say now is that if you run into aliens at Jazzfest and they tell you to go see Rosie Ledet, better do it! The truth is out there, and it sounds like ZYDECO to me...

Better Every Year by Bandini (Posted 5/10/2000 to Jazzfest Forum board)

"It doesn't get any better than this!" Where have I heard that before?

Over and over, this year, last year, and every year past. In the wake of yet another festival, as I sit in the warm glow of my computer monitor, trying to get some work done, I continually find myself wisked away to the hot and spicy Fairground of Funk, the mysterious and initmate French Quarter, to the dark and smoky enclaves where I always find the music and friendship that revives my spirit each and every year.

I love the music, and I know those around me, whether I know them or not, feel much the same way. Whenever I look around at one of the stages, and I see people lying down in the sun at the Festival, I always smile because there is real dedication there. These are the people who hit it hard the night before, but drag themselves out of the comfort of their hotel rooms, happier to get some much needed rest on an old tarp or bedsheet thrown on the grass at the festival rather than miss a single beat of the music.

I've never seen a fight. I've never felt anything but good will in this crowd of fun worshipers. I've been given a hand when I've fallen down and I've helped others get their "funk-up" when they were feeling the heat. Each and every year, for the rest of my days, I will dance in the sun and groove through the night in the beautiful, crazy, smelly, funky Crescent City. I will do it with people I love and I will think "It doesn't get any better than this." And I'll know that it really doesn't.

They call it the Big Easy but anyone who has thouroughly enjoyed a JazzFest the way my crew and I have for the past 5 years, knows it ain't easy to see it all, to do everything you possibly can with as little sleep as possible - all for the music. It ain't easy but so few things in life which are worthwhile ever are.

Turns out I went on a boat ride this year. Two boat rides to be exact. I ushered in JF 2000 with String Cheese Incident on the Cajun Queen and ended it just as strongly on the same vessel, moving on the same Old River, funking and grooving the night away with Medeski Martin and Wood and New Orleans' own Galactic. Even got to joke with some of the musicians, artists I revere, in the mens room of the riverboat, about something as silly as taking a piss. I laugh now becasue I know they are us and we are them. I feel a sense of community, not just with the other Fest goers, but with the musicians themselves. I know how they feel about music and they know how I feel.

It is a language which is always there, floating around us, waiting to be pulled down in a given way, on a given night, a spontaneous creation of art just for the musicians and the audience. Whether it is free form jazz or pure unadulterated Funk - the medium is the message.

I spent 5 hours of the morning on Sunday, from 3AM to 8AM getting worked on by Deep Banana Blackout. I couldn't believe they could outlast me. Then I couldn't believe the sun had returned, that JazzFest had turned from a 5 day vacation into a single, unending, beautiful journey through the music and the endless waves of the VIBE that pervades every nook, every corner, every alley, in the city. Sleep is to be used as wisely as alcohol on this trip. Its all about the music and that magical point where the music and the people all come together as one Funkin', Jivin' Thrivin expression of what it means to be uniquely human. It resonates within you, reminds you that any individual is capable of greatness at any given moment - and that moment comes when we are feeling that realization of our humanity. The music helps us all along.

The feeling, and the VIBE, will fade, like charity does (someone once said) but I know its out there and I struggle to hold onto it, at least for another 357 days. Remind me of this feeling when I spill coffee on my new shirt, when I sit in rish hour traffic, when the cat wakes me at 5AM, when my car breaks down, when my computer crashes, when money is tight. Remind me of the feeling. Remind me that a straight line exists between me and "The Good Thing". Remind me please.

Thanks to my crew - a merry cavalcade of misfits and maniacs who do my heart proud every year. Thank you Mark, thank you Tracy, Thank you Rewdy. Thank you Glenn. Thank you Erica, Jeff, Chris, Thank you Sam and Sara. Thank you Matt, Thank all you Funky Punker Sluts!!! I love ya all!!!

Thanks for reminding me how important it is to make this trip. Its just a festival. Its just some music. But somehow, we all know, its so, so much more.

Thanks to the guy I met at Laguardia Airport at the bar before our flight, thanks to the people at the Chateau LeMoyne, Thanks to Jon Fishman, John Medeski and Chris Wood for giving us some more stories to tell. Thank you to all the musicians, those at the festival and those in the street. Most of all thank you New Orleans, I'll see you next year. VIVA NAWLINS!!! Wooo-Hoooo!!! It gets better every year!!! (I love you people, I really freaking do...)

False Gods and Action Heroes by Shimsham in NYC (posted 5/10/2000 to WWOZ Jazzfest Memories and Adventures board)

For those native New Orleanians such as myself who live elsewhere, attending the Jazzfest every year has become the closest thing to an annual religious pilgrimmage as we can get. The Fairgrounds is our Mecca; we worship at the altars of Congo Square and the Fess Stage (not the Ray Ban Stage nor the Acura Stage, or some other false god). And it doesn't really matter how many times we must recite "Iko" or "Fiyo on the Bayo," or hear "Big Chief": they are the spiritual hymns in the greatest ritual on the face of the earth. My soul is cleansed until next year.

Dorothy Dig This by Mr. New Orleans (posted 4/5/2000 to Jazzfest Memories board)

After a torrential down pour with everything and everyone soaked to the bone. Leon Redbone launches into his version of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" and mirraculously a huge rainbow forms directly over the fairgrounds, as if to let everone know everything is going to be alright. A dreary rain soaked morning turned into a beautiful day that continued for the entire weekend.

magical moments - 1997 by neenatlanta (from Neen's 1997 Fest page)

... After watching lots of other good music, we went back to the hotel for HOT showers and DRY clothes. Joe was reading the Offbeat, and found the Dirty Dozen listed at a club called The Funky Butt. Well, with a name like that, we had to go! In the old days, my brother always told us to avoid Rampart, especially around the entrance to Louis Armstrong Park. But since Joe is a big guy, I felt safe enough. We were delighted to see that the prosperity of the Quarter was inching out to the borders, and Rampart had lots of pedestrians, bars and restaurants. We had dinner at the 'Butt and then we headed upstairs for the music. Our first hint of the remarkable night to come was encountering three very drunk guys running down the stairs to the bathroom chanting "We're at the FUNKY BUTT! We're at the FUNKY BUTT!"

What a surprise to arrive upstairs and find such a small, intimate room. By the time the Dozen took the stage, some of the musicians were actually spilling onto the dance floor. We were on our feet dancing from the first song, and it was, without exaggeration, a Memorable LIFE-EVENT to be that close to all of that brass. While dancing, we had to nimbly avoid the trombone slide as it slid out between us on the low notes. The entire set was a blur of rhythm and joy. After that, all we could do was just walk around the quarter for awhile before heading back to the hotel.

Sunday 1997 was a "magical" day (my brother still talks about it in hushed tones). We picked him up early at his hotel in the Quarter and headed for what we thought would be another miserably rainy day. We grabbed some beers (this drinking early in the day was getting much easier to do, now), and caught the Wild Magnolias at the Congo stage. As we stood there in the constant, drizzling rain, shin-deep in mud and water and rotten straw, we were a little dispirited. But the Magnolias announced a rain dance and got us all chanting. And what do you know – the sun started to actually peek out. We looked at each other in amazement and were instantly back in the mood for a final festival day. So we headed over to the Fais-de-dos stage to catch Balfa Tojours. A bunch of nuts dressed in crawfish costimes made out of brown paper grocery bags were having a great time dancing up a storm in the enormous puddle in front of the stage. To top it off, the sun came totally out and all of us in the crowd were transformed into one large, dancing, grinning, ecstatic unit. The rest of the day was one joy after another. We had had finally reached the state of "Fest Bliss"! The Funky Meters set was just icing on the cake at that point. Funky, funky groove music (they kept telling us "we put the unk back in funk") and we stood at the back of the crowd near the track, dancing and swaying and blissing out.

Have you come across writings that capture the Jazzfest essence?  Drop me an email at .

Take me back to Swag's Jazzfest FAQ.