Local attorney Chris Mann and his family were strolling the grounds of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on its first Friday when he noticed a woman in a big, fuzzy yellow hat and pink sunglasses carrying a parasol. His wife, Jen, recognized that this wasn't a typical fest-goer: it was pop superstar and "American Idol" judge Katy Perry, out and about in disguise 24 hours before she would headline Jazz Fest's main Acura Stage.
Perry, her small group of friends and a discrete bodyguard or two made their way from the Fair Grounds' dirt track to the Economy Hall Tent, where a tribute to the late traditional jazz banjoist Danny Barker was underway. "She and her group were completely into it," Mann said.
He offered his 10-year-old son, Sam, a $20 bribe to go over and ask to take a selfie with Perry. Sam was all too eager to take on the assignment. And Perry, who often takes selfies with fans at concerts, was happy to oblige.
"She said, 'Sure, Sweety,' and took the photo for him," Mann said. "She was just really cool."
It is not uncommon for celebrities, including Jazz Fest headliners, to take in the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of Jazz Fest incognito. Jimmy Buffett, a Jazz Fest regular even when he's not performing, has been known to get in line for Prejean's pheasant, quail and andouille gumbo completely unrecognized. In a baseball cap, aviator shades, shorts and polo shirt, he looks like thousands of other attendees. Both Eric Clapton and John Fogerty attended Jazz Fest years before performing there.
But Perry seems to have fully embraced her mostly anonymous day off at Jazz Fest. She posted pictures from her first day at Jazz Fest on her Facebook page a couple hours before her show.
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One photo showed Perry, in her yellow hat, flower-print dress and sneakers, in line at the Praline Connection booth, which sold crowder peas and okra, collard greens and other soul food delicacies. In another photo, she embraces a big, inflatable Tabasco bottle.
Her post also included a disclaimer that, if she were to move "like molasses on stage ... it’s cause I ate like it was a professional sport yesterday ok." (In addition to chowing down at the Fair Grounds, she dined that night at chef Alon Shaya's acclaimed Israeli-inspired Magazine Street bistro Saba.)
Chelsea Buchanan, a nurse who lives in Metairie, was at the Fair Grounds on April 26 when she saw "this group with some very stylish umbrella hats. I noticed one of the ladies had a fur hat on underneath hers, so I started paying attention to her different style." After noticing a couple of serious-looking men following the lady with the fur hat, Buchanan "said out loud, 'I think that’s Katy Perry in disguise,' and pointed her out to my friend, who is a big fan."
That friend, local hospital administrator Chantal Lorio, moved in closer to confirm the star's identity. She watched Perry near the hand-powered Chouval Bwa carousel from Martinique, and also saw her checking out the Free Agents Brass Band at the Jazz and Heritage Stage. "She seemed to be just soaking in the atmosphere," Lorio said.
Perry has local connections. She is close friends with Cleo Wade, a New Orleans native who, thanks to her inspirational poetry, has been hailed as the "millennial Oprah." Perry attended Wade's birthday party at Latrobe's in the French Quarter last October, and explored the city on a bicycle. The affirmations that were writ large across the pink backdrop at the Acura Stage during Perry's April 27 performance were Wade's, rendered in the same trademark font that decorates Wade's line of coffee mugs, dish towels and other accessories.
Already a fan of New Orleans, Perry took her Jazz Fest experience to heart. She wove references to the festival into her hugely entertaining Saturday evening show. Given the heat, she said ahead of “Hot N Cold,” she’d rather be “in the Gospel Tent getting misted.”
Katy Perry fully realized she was an unconventional New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival headliner.
She'd previously planned to attend Jazz Fest to eat and drink as a civilian, she said, before being asked to perform. She loves playing music, “but I love fried okra" too.
“I want to let it be known that I am not pregnant,” she said, indicating her okra-filled midsection. “This is (from) yesterday. And I’m proud of it.”
Mann watched Perry's Acura Stage show 24 hours after she made his son's day in the Economy Hall Tent. He came away as a newly minted Katy Perry fan.
"I was impressed yesterday," he said following Perry's show, "and today sealed the deal."
Perry, too, had a good time. The day after her performance, she posted a thank-you note on Facebook:
"We painted the town with love, light... and all that jazz. Thank you to #jazzfest50 for rolling the dice, the Soul Rebels and Gospel Soul Children for putting the heart back in the music and to Cleo Wade for setting the scene to bring the spirit."