Four years ago, as my friends and I left the Fair Grounds on Jazz Fest’s final day of the weekend, a good samaritan offered us a free ride in a white convertible back to the Uptown area, where we were slated to see a show that night at Tipitina’s. As we slowed to a stoplight, another convertible, led by a seasoned, middle-aged gentleman alongside two attractive women in the backseat, pulled up beside us and offered an assuring glance. When I asked him how things were going, he quickly shrugged and muttered, “could be worse,” before ripping the pedal and peeling ahead into the city. Since then, those three words have been the mantra of our Jazz Fest crew, a state of mind worth striving towards throughout the year and achieved during the Big Easy’s annual bacchanalia.
This year, we arrived at the Fair Grounds early Friday morning with a new flag in tow boasting our new mantra. Within minutes, we started hearing positive feedback about our message from some friendly festivalgoers, but the best was yet to come. During Wilco’s set, frontman Jeff Tweedy acknowledged the festival’s good vibes, admitting: ”I don’t know how many times we’ve played here but this feels like the best.” Then, much to our surprise, he pointed out our flag: “Could be worse. That’s our motto. Did you know that? On our guitar picks it says: ‘It could be worse.’ We wanted to send a message that’s hopeful, but not too hopeful.” That message was loud and clear in New Orleans last weekend, especially as festivalgoers trudged through the mud and rain.
Yet we wouldn’t miss another year. To those arriving this week or sticking around for its second weekend, I envy you. Soak up as much as you can. Stay out as late as you can. Your weekend should be long, tough, and exhausting, but above all, fun and exciting. Just because the gates close in the early evening doesn’t mean the entertainment has stopped — not at all. The culture of Jazz Fest, both in and out of the Fair Grounds, is an addicting spirit that never ends and insists that you rise above any challenge, even the nastiest, messiest weather system.
Ahead you’ll find my 10 highlights of weekend one. To better outline my own adventures, I’ve also provided a list of the acts I caught late into the night. Once more, The Word ruled the wee hours of the morning with Sonny Landreth, Oteil Burbridge, and Johnny Vidocavich right behind them. Basically, once night fell, there were zero letdowns.
Late Nights Attended: Stanton Moore Trio at Blue Nile (Thursday), Greyboy Allstars doing Axis: Bold As Love at Tipitina’s > Sonny Landreth, Oteil Burbridge and Johnny Vidacovich at the Maple Leaf > Skerik, Oteil Burbridge and Johnny Vidacovich at the Maple Leaf (Friday), Dumpstaphunk at One Eyed Jacks (Saturday), The Word at The Joy Theatre (Sunday) and Tipitina’s Foundation Instruments-A-Comin featuring Galactic, Honey Island Swamp Band, Cha Wa, Al “Carnival Time” Johnson, Donald Harrison and the Tipitina’s Interns.
Fest Food / Drinks: Duck and Shrimp pasta (this year’s winner), fried chicken with jambalaya, Ya Ka Mein, Oyster Po Boy, crawfish mac and cheese, rum and punch, Coors Original/Miller Light and on and on.