“April showers bring May flowers!” That’s true for Mother’s Day, but sometimes, unfortunately, for Jazz Fest, as well!
While I don’t think that my late mother ever made it to a Jazz Fest, I can’t help but think about her around this time of year.
How can I forget some of those first festivals that I attended in the late 1970s in my beloved hometown of N’Awlins with my buddy Neal. This year, many folks took in Jimmy Buffet, The Who, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga on the first weekend and Elton John, Jerry Lee Lewis, Steve Winwood and locals like the Meters, Deacon John and Dr. John during the second weekend of this 45th anniversary for Jazz Fest.
Those formative years of the festival at the New Orleans Fair Grounds — when you could drag in your own food, like red beans and rice, Popeye’s Famous Fried Chicken or jambalaya and even an ice chest filled with longneck Dixie Beers in your kid’s red wagon — were wonderful.
While at any Jazz Fest you will be showered with so much culture through arts, crafts, food and music, you also have to prepare for when you are showered with heavy rain, as had happened to me a few times in those early years, and I had to walk through some muddy pathways.
Quint Davis, one of the main founders of the festival, has always done a great job of preparing for and putting on Jazz Fest, and they would employ wooden planks and pine needles or mulch to help folks navigate the “Swampy Grounds” as they can come to be known. Memories of attendees joyfully slipping and sliding purposefully into those puddles are etched into my head — and probably my shoes still.
My wife, Maria, and I treasure recalling past Jazz Fest events where we would always fit in the Neville Brothers, but also the late Roy Orbison, whom my late father-in-law loved — especially his “Crying,” “Pretty Woman” and “You Got It” tunes.
We also loved taking our children to all kinds of fun and music geared to them at the Kids Tent. “Dennis” was a folksy singer who made up some super song that kids loved, like “The Doughnut Man.” One of his fun singalongs was “I’m at the (Audubon) Zoo!” Maria and I also loved attending the Gospel Tent for all kinds of neat church groups.
In 1980, before I got married, I was able to work with a health-oriented entrepreneur, “Dr. Banana,” who pioneered smoothies in the Big Easy and for whom I worked at Loyola. At Jazz Fest, he had us cut a refrigerated pineapple into four long pieces, which we trimmed to just the fruit, put on a wooden stick and sold for $2 apiece, including a “Dr. Banana” sticker.
So as I also reminisce now about my beloved late mother during these Jazz Fest times, it sure would’ve been neat to have asked her out as my “pre-Mother’s Day date” to go to this year’s festival for us to see Tony Bennett, whom she liked! I don’t quite think she would’ve been so hyped up for Lady Gaga.
Happy Jazz Fest and Mother’s Day to all.
— Horcasitas lives in Baton Rouge
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