Saturday, May 21, 2011

Jazz Fest thoughts

I've been busy with the release of New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans, so I haven't posted lately. I did write some pieces about what happened in late April and early May in New Orleans for OffBeat's upcoming June issue, including a lengthy report on Chaz Fest. Overall the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival Presented by New Orleans Musicians was an obvious success due in no small part to spectacular weather, perhaps the best ever. I have to say I felt cheated by the presence of the likes of Kid Rock and Bon Jovi not so much because they watered down the music, which of course they did. There was plenty of great music to go around at Jazz Fest, though. The problem from where I stand is that the celebrity quasi-musicians at Jazz Fest distracted too many journalists from writing about the local music at this festival, which was shockingly dismissed or simply glossed over in many national magazine reports on the fest. I won't single anyone out but a casual glance will reveal who was more interested in the opportunity to weigh in on Entertainment Tonight regulars than to report on the magnificent music that is only available in New Orleans. National readers heard about who they already know and could easily see in their own town on the rest of the national tour that Jazz Fest was only a stop on. They did not read about Irma Thomas' heartrending recollection of her recently-deceased mother during her Mahalia Jackson tribute. The historic final Jazz Fest performance of the Radiators was sniffed at. You won't read anything about the joyous reunion of the Bluerunners at the Fais Do Do stage. Dr. John's stirring performances with Dave Bartholomew playing trumpet on "The Monkey Speaks His Mind" and Mac himself on guitar paying tribute to Earl King with "Let the Good Times Roll" went unremarked. Once again the eloquent warnings of the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars fell on deaf ears, which is one reason why Tab Benoit's speech urging listeners to bypass the media in dealing with this problem had such resonance. Anders Osborne's best big stage rock performance of the festival was an afterthought in most reporters' notebooks. I'm sorry I didn't do a more aggressive job of finding a way to report on this singular -- and very imperiled -- event myself. I'll add some posts on my personal highlights in the next few days.

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