Jazz Fest 2012: A Recap

On Friday afternoon I slammed my laptop shut right at 4 central time and booked it to the Fairgrounds to catch Bon Iver and The Beach Boys on the opening day of Jazz Fest 2012. The afternoon was pleasant, with an occasional cool breeze and just enough cloud cover to provide occasional refuge from the sun. I couldn’t have been happier.

Immediately upon entering I grabbed a frozen margarita at the daiquiri stand near the main entrance. I then headed straight for the food stands. (One must always eat right when you enter and just before you leave when attending Jazz Fest. This is commonly known as the “Cajun Boy Rule.”) After putting down some crawfish bread, a bowl of duck, pheasant and andouille gumbo and some crawfish enchiladas, I headed to meet friends at the stage Bon Iver was playing at, picking up another margarita on the way. When I got there Justin Vernon and the rest of his nine member band were just taking the stage.

It was kind of weird seeing Bon Iver live. I stayed for 45 minutes of his set and the crowd barely moved the entire time they played — it was “Skinny Love” at the 45 minute mark that got everyone finally moving around a bit. Figuring that this would probably be the highlight of the set, I made my way to the big stage on the opposite end of the Fairgrounds where the Beach Boys were playing. But I will say this for Bon Iver: the band was incredibly tight. Justin Vernon looks kind of hilarious when he’s trying to play cool musician/rocker dude on stage (I actually found myself laughing at his gyrations at one point), but I really enjoyed finally seeing them live.

Meanwhile, the Beach Boys were the freaking Beach Boys, along with some John Stamos tossed in (he played bongos with them for a spell). I will probably never forget catching the last half hour of their show. They sounded great — though they didn’t move around the stage all that much — and the whole scene was a sight to behold because of the scope people in the crowd. It was at this moment when I remembered why I love Jazz Fest so much more than any other music festival in the world — and I’ve been to many: it’s by far the most diverse. Young, old, black, white — everyone is there. It’s a great demographical representation of America, while most music festivals are attended mainly by under-40 white people.

Before leaving I grabbed a Jazz Fest poster — this one features Trombone Shorty — and some more crawfish bread. Rules are rules.

On Saturday I skipped going to the festival. I had sh*t to do and the lineup that day left me feeling “meh.” But one of the great things about Jazz Fest is all the shows that take place around New Orleans in small venues — even in people’s homes and backyards. Take, for instance, this: legendary bluesman Lee Fields performed in my buddy Ross’ living room that afternoon, a performance that was streamed live on Liveset. Below is a clip of Fields singing “Faithful Man” during that performance — seeing it in person made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

Later that night Fields and his band, the Expressions, played a packed show at One Eyed Jacks. Leo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx and Quentin Tarantino were all there, though the only one I saw personally was Leo, who sat by himself up in the elevated VIP area smoking something that produced a little green light all night.

On Sunday I grabbed some of Miss Linda’s famous ya-ka-mein (pictured above) immediately upon entering the Fairgrounds. If you don’t know what ya-ka-mein is, watch Anthony Bourdain fawn over Miss Linda’s culinary masterpiece in this recent episode of No Reservations. It’s probably my favorite Jazz Fest food item these days.

After putting down that, along with more crawfish enchiladas and gumbo (I know!), I caught Trombone Shorty’s typically stellar performance, then headed over to see Iron & Wine, where I encountered a lady doing yoga on a blanket during the show, because of course she was.

After Iron & Wine, I made a run for some strawberry lemonade, because it was hot as f*ck in New Orleans on Sunday. This stuff is impossibly delicious and it may have saved my life.

I then headed to see Springsteen play for an hour or so. In all the years I’ve been going to Jazz Fest, never have I seen so many people gathered at a single stage. It was utterly ridiculous.

I then went over to watch Al Green perform, which was a minor dream come true. He was everything I’d expected him to be, dressed in a black suit, which was unwise (though he lost the jacket after a few songs) and handed out yellow roses to ladies in the audience. And to top it off, when he began singing “Let’s Stay Together,” a man near me dropped to one knee and proposed to his lady. It was quite touching, even to a public proposal-hating dick like me.

I then grabbed some more ya-ka-mein and a Plum Street snoball and headed home. And that’s weekend one of my Jazz Fest 2012!

(All pics via me, except for the Springsteen crowd pic via Nola.com)