The final day of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell was marked by heavy thunderstorms, threats of hail and bits of lightning, none of which stopped festivalgoers and vendors from trudging on anyway.
“We are here through thick and thin,” said Pamela Goldfarv Oren, a social worker who came in from Israel to see Neil Young and wasn’t about to let the weather stop her. “I remember one time I went in the rain and mud, and I’m willing to do it again.”
On Saturday, thunderstorms canceled shows by Stevie Wonder, Beck and Snoop Dogg, and left patrons with a headache as they attempted an early mass exodus amid flood conditions and traffic jams.
The forecast again seemed ominous the following morning, as patrons lined up to enter the Fair Grounds before 11 a.m. At that point, a large squall moving east was threatening dangerous conditions, and forecasters were urging New Orleanians to take shelter as ticket-holders were just beginning to get through the gates.
But Oren and others trudged on, unabated. The squall came, leaving festivalgoers to dash under tents and run out of the rain, and then it left.
From then on, a steady but bearable rain beat down, and soggy patrons danced and splashed their way through the day as vendors shrugged at elements they couldn’t control.
Several had figured out creative solutions to braving the elements. One man was wearing a helmet, so as to avoid being harmed by hail, he said. Others had brought their own little “pods,” or one-person, clear-plastic camping tents, to sit in and stay dry by the stages.
Still others threw care to the wind and could be seen wrestling in the rain, sloshing barefoot through puddles and waltzing in the mud at the Fais-Do-Do stage.
“I’m having a great time,” said violinist Julianna Chitwood, adding that the pouring rain didn’t bother her. She had come to New Orleans from near Washington, D.C., to attend the festival for the first time.
Over by the Lagniappe Stage, a family of six gathered to hear the Hot Club of New Orleans as they dried off and chowed down on some red beans and rice, fruit salad and alligator bread.
“It’s wet, dry, wet, dry,” said 62-year-old Maria Burkett, about how she dealt with the elements.
Burkett was with her four school-age grandkids and her daughter. They had come to see the young ones perform at the Kids Tent as part of a Mardi Gras Indian tribe, the Young Guardians of the Flame.
After safely getting the feathered costumes out to the car, they trekked back through soupy grounds for more fun.
A few steps away, Houston resident Brittainy Stone had another coping strategy: margaritas, followed by Ellis Marsalis at the Zatarains/WWOZ Jazz Tent.
“If there’s no tornadoes and there’s no hail, I’ll be here,” the 34-year trumpet player and stay-at-home mom chuckled.
Arguably, it was the food and art vendors who had the toughest time dealing with the rain, and in many cases, it meant little business.
But even they managed to put on a smiling face and enjoy the last day of the annual seven-day festival, as they sold what they could and shrugged off what they couldn’t.
“I consider it a badge of honor and a rite of passage,” said Renee Dodge, the maker of wearable wire sculpture, about the rain.
By the Gentilly Stage, the workers at the Cee Cee’s Snoball stand said owner Chuck Marks had had only about five customers all afternoon, after having a productive few days the first weekend.
Even John Ed Laborde, who sells crawfish bread, reported maddeningly slow sales on the wet afternoon, despite the fact that the bread is served warm and wrapped in tin foil.
He feared a repeat of Saturday, when he had to throw out unsold products — something he said had never happened before in his history of being a vendor.
Regardless, he had a good attitude about the weather and the loss of business.
“It’s just a roll of the dice, one of those things,” Laborde said, smiling. “You just gotta put on your boots and ponchos, and you learn to roll with it. That’s Jazz Fest.”