I'm exhausted after Jazzfest and have so many competing thoughts I'm going to wait a bit to write about a number of subjects including Stevie Wonder, Art Neville, Widespread Panic and Sunday's finale, as well as some of the extra curricular activities, notably Chazfest. Here's an account of Saturday's highlights. I might add that James Andrews put on a typically great New Orleans revue show at the end of the day. Andrews, the older brother of one of the city's fastest rising stars, Trombone Shorty, always delivers at the big events.
Saturday at Jazzfest started out in a sea of slop but the sun soon came out and baked the crowd relentlessly. The Gentilly stage was a mini-piano night, with people set up on blankets and in chairs to the edge of the grass but with plenty of room to move around in the spongy mud in front of the stage. After a dazzling set from Henry Butler Ms. Marcia Ball capped off a spectacular week of performances with a great set, augmenting her regular band with local keyboardist Joe Krown on organ. Her ode to the New Orleans party ethic, "That's Enough of that Stuff" moved through a sprightly second line rhythm and featured the updated lyric: "down in the city that Bush forgot." She played some new material from her best album since Sing It!, Peace Love and Barbecue, and got great response from a song she wrote with Tracy Nelson, "Where Do You Go When You Can't Go Home?" Diana Krall followed with a mellow set of easy listening jazz that was pretty low on the dance quotient but satisfied the festgoers who basked in the late afternoon sun.
But the day belonged to Jimmy Buffet, who was introduced by Quint Davis as "the captain of the ship." Fair Grounds was packed stem to stern with Parrotheads, an interesting demographic that transcends age groups. There were Parrotheads from the old days, card-carrying AARP members who delighted to hear Buffet play old tunes like "I Wish I had a Pencil Thin Moustache" and there were groups of young girls wearing Margarita-glass hats who appeared barely old enough to be served. Buffet's popularity runs across sex and age if not color lines and his timeless appeal to lovers of sandy beaches, tiki bars and permanent vacations of the mind was evidenced by the number of resort t-shirts from Key West and Cozumel in the crowd.
Just before Buffet's set Quint Davis told the crowd at the Acura stage "150,000 people are at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby. You are now the second largest crowd in the world watching the fastest two minutes in sports!" The giant screen switched to Churchill Downs and the crowd started buzzing like the racetrack crowd. There's a new star in the sports world, an undefeated colt with the easy to remember name of Big Brown, and his name was on the lips of the fans. It was interesting to see how the crowd, which had been milling around seconds before, suddenly became riveted to the action on the screen. As the horses were being loaded into the gate people in the crowd were making proposition bets, just looking for action. "I'll give you 2-1 on Big Brown," said the guy next to me. When the gates opened and 20 horses came charging across the screen the crowd shouted in excitement, and cries of "Big Brown," and "Go, Big Brown" rang out as he settled just off the early leaders going into the first turn and stayed in that position down the backstretch. As the field approached the stretch announcer Tom Durkin cried "and here comes Big Brown" and the crowd roared as Big Brown surged past the leaders and hit the front, extending his lead through the stretch. Fans called out his name as Big Brown crossed the line. Horse racing has fallen on hard times in recent years, but the continuing appeal of the sport was very apparent on this sunny afternoon in New Orleans. Many thanks to that irascible interlocutor known as the Colonel for describing Big Brown as "unopposable" to the readers of this blog Friday, giving them time to get a bet down on Big Brown in the Derby.
The broadcast cut off right after the first few finishers passed the finish line, so none of the viewers at Jazzfest were aware that the second place finisher, the filly Eight Belles, broke down while galloping out after the race and had to be euthanized on the track. Just as a magic horse appeared on the scene to capture the public's imagination a horrible tragedy occured that brings home the fact that these animals destroy themselves for our pleasure. Plenty of lip service is given to bromides like "that's horseracing" and "bad things happen" but the truth is the throughbred strain in the United States has been inbred for generations to favor horses who can run faster at a younger age. Soundness and distance ability, factors that would keep the breed much healthier, have purposely been bred out of young horses in order to maximize the return on the investment. It's about time the wealthiest people in the game -- the owners and breeders -- were held responsible for this purposeful cruelty to these magnificent creatures.