Saturday, April 19, 2008

Friday, May 4th, 2007: The Great Flood

Friday morning at the Fairgrounds began with a double-pronged mission: eat Creole's Stuffed Bread and try the Boudin Balls. I had not had Creole's Stuffed Bread once on this trip, and I was starting to become weighted down with tremendous guilt for betraying my principles. I had long believed that Creole's Stuffed Bread is the perfect Jazz Fest breakfast, and it was finally time to dig into that incredible bread bursting with andouille sausage, cheese, seasonings, and slathered in a delicious jalapeƱo sauce. After I ordered my breakfast, I thanked the woman profusely and then shouted, "I've been waiting three years for this moment!" She nodded her head, smiled, and then slowly backed away from the counter fearful that the crazed, rabid foodie before her might accidentally gnaw off her ring finger. The flavors exploded in my mouth, and it was everything I'd been dreaming of. Oh, Creole's Stuffed Bread, someday I will make you an honest woman. Until that time, we will continue our torrid love affair once a year.

After being impressed by Cochon's Boudin Balls, I wanted to see what the Fairgrounds had to offer. This offering was quite good, smothered with hot sauce and Creole mustard. Come to think of it, it's not often that a heterosexual man can be impressed by two sets of balls in two days, so that's a feather in your cap, City of New Orleans.

Suddenly, it started to rain. This was not unexpected, and I already had a poncho on in preparation. However, I did not want to get my balls wet because I'm told that wet balls taste kinda funny. I grabbed my balls and hightailed it for an eating tent. There I stood, balls in hand, watching a downpour unleash its fury on the Fairgrounds. Rain blew sideways and the wind whipped with ferocity. It came down hard and fast, and within minutes, there were huge, deep puddles everywhere. All across the infield, geysers shot up from overloaded drainage pipes. I even watched in amazement as a garbage can just floated away.

After about 30 minutes, I had stopped playing with my balls and just swallowed them. Now that I no longer had any balls, I wondered what I was doing here. Sure, it was pouring, but Jazz Fest was still happening, so I decided to wade out to find a tent with music.

The water was mostly about ankle-high (deeper in other areas) as I made my way to the Gospel Tent. It was too crowded, so I waded over to The Blues Tent, which featured a surreal scene. The water was about knee-high, which rose just up to the chair-line. Everyone was sitting in chairs, their ass barely above water with their legs completely submerged. Nobody seemed bothered by this, although it was very weird.

Wondering what fantastic diseases and bacteria were lurking in the water, I opted to find higher (and dryer) ground. The Jazz Tent was very crowded, but it had to be on more level ground because it was a lot less wet. Ellis Marsalis came on to deliver some swinging tunes, but it wasn't holding my attention. I kept thinking about the odd image of those submerged people in the Blues Tent and I wanted to see what other weird shit was out there, so I ventured over to the Acura stage.

As I crossed into the infield, I noted that the drainage "moat" was a raging river with large black bugs swimming around. The area in front of the stage had a huge puddle, and feeling like I was 4 years old, I just knew that I absolutely had to run through it. I started plowing in before I was getting bogged down. In the deepest part of the bog the water came up to mid-thigh.

I then stood in front of the Acura Stage for about 45 minutes, waiting for Dumpstaphunk to come on. During the entire time we stood at the edge of the stage, the crew, which was well within earshot, did a great job of ignoring our inquiries about what was happening. They left us in the dark as we waited and waited and waited...before I finally gave up. I'm told that Dumpstaphunk eventually did come onstage, but I was long gone. Thanks so much for all of your help, Jazz Fest.

Now pissed off and soaking wet, I walked until I heard some music, which wound up being a portion of The Stooges Brass Band's unamplified set.

After the ark had departed, the flood had stopped, and the sun began to come out. I decided to celebrate this development by eating, so I grabbed an $8 combo plate, which featured Gratin Louisiane (a congealed yellow thing with crawfish, crab, & shrimp with cheese in hot mixture with a little spice), Spinach Artichoke Casserole (standard fare not all that different from what you'd find in any chain restaurant in America), and Sweet Potato Pone (a tasty fruit cake-like thing with rummed-raisins and ginger crisp topping). These were all Jazz Fest firsts for me, and I was especially surprised at how much I enjoyed the Sweet Potato Pone.

I noshed on my plate while watching the traditional Lousiana Dixieland of The Last Stand in Economy Hall. When the food was depleted, it was time for a change of pace, so I stumbled over to the Fais Do Do for Lil' Nathan and the Zydeco Cha-Chas. This was the perfect, upbeat music for what had suddenly become a sunny day. Lil' Nathan runs a family affair, with his Dad sitting in and selling CDs from the edge of the stage, while his 7 year-old brother entertained on both the drums and washboard. It was a lot of fun.

The last time I had seen The Dirty Dozen Brass Band in New York was really disappointing, so I figured I'd give them a brief shot as I traveled across the Fairgrounds. They were swinging on the Congo Square Stage, but I don't think they had any guitar with them. I may have watched them for a grand total of 3 minutes before moving out of earshot on my way to see one of my favorite singers, John Boutte.

John Boutte has such an incredibly soulful, smoky voice. I sometimes think he sounds just like a good rack of beef ribs tastes. And the guy can truly rip emotion out of a song. Ever since Katrina, he's really been singing with so much more pathos.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to hear John Boutte because there was some little clever switcheroo at the Jazz Tent as he had flip-flopped sets with the World Saxophone Quartet and his set was long over. How did I learn this? The news was delivered via a small 8.5 x 11" sign that appeared as if it had been written by a child and then crookedly taped onto the outside of the tent. Gee thanks, Jazz Fest! You really went that extra mile to keep us informed!

Now royally pissed, I stormed over to the Gospel Tent in hopes that some old time religion might suppress my boiling anger. Once inside, I found Paulette Wright and Volume of Praise. The sound was very loud and very bad, but the group had lots of energy. At end of her set, Paulette did something I'd never seen a gospel singer do: she thanked God for gastric bypass surgery. Now more amused than anything, I went for some food.

Praise Jesus for the miracle of gastric bypass surgery!

This day was starting to look like a literal and figurative wash, as I was missing the acts I wanted to see. I decided that if I was gonna save this day, I had to think outside the box and transcend cliches to do something exciting and new. I looked at the art and crafts. I stopped and smelled the roses. I taste-tested the two kinds of jambalaya.

Jambalaya #1, which is just billed as straight-up Jambalaya, was a mixture of tomato, celery, onion and garlic with crawfish and chicken. Jambalaya #2, which is known as Cajun Jambalaya, had a brown roux with a very smoky, earthy flavor and no seafood. Each had their merits, but I leaned more on the side of the Cajun version.

Now that my riveting experiment was concluded, I opted for some music. Congo Square featured the interminable boredom of George Benson and his penchant for horrible smooth jazz. It was so awful that I couldn't stick around for more than 2 minutes before running away, hopes dashed of hearing "On Broadway."

I decided to opt for something unfamiliar, so I found myself in the Economy Hall tent, which featured the longest name of an act I'd ever seen at Jazz Fest:
Bob Wilber & a Tribute to Soprano Summit Remembering Kenny Davern featuring Dr. Michael White. This was a really interesting blend of soprano sax and clarinet on a plethora of Dixieland-style numbers, many of which were written by the great Sidney Bechet. It's always nice to hear the soprano sax played as it was intended, as a swingin' cousin of the clarinet and a far cry from the evil work of Kenny G. Unfortunately, Bob Wilber's watch was off by nearly 20 minutes, so he had the band end their set way too early. After a little debate, they did come back, but I was already on my way to the next venue.

There were lots of options, but since this day had become all about familiarizing myself with the unfamiliar, I opted for Walter Wolfman Washington and the Roadmasters, a band that I had inexplicably never even heard once over the past seven years. I'm glad I had the chance to rectify that in the now dry Blues Tent because Wolfman and his band played a fun, hot set of rocking blues and funk, bedecked in red and black outfits. It was a nice way to end a bizarre day at Jazz Fest.

On the way out, I saw the TLC Brass Band once again playing for much-deserved tips.

Seeking to avoid a really long cab line, I ponyed up for a round-trip ticket on the more expensive bus straight to my hotel.

The sun sets on Canal Street.

After a much-needed shower and nap, I made my annual pilgrimage to Rock 'n Bowl. Apparently, several hundred people had the same idea because there was a long, slow-moving line to get inside. Of course, waiting 45 minutes in line can be kind of fun when you meet some friendly locals, and that's exactly who I found in Sheril and Rosylyn. They were both really cool, and we had a blast talking about Jazz Fest and Nola. For some reason, they were surprised how much I knew about Nola music. Maybe locals don't realize how many outta-towners are addicted to the Crescent City?

We finally made it inside, but unfortunately, we had missed Snooks Eaglin's set. Tab Benoit was up, and he played a solid 90 or so minutes of his patented swamp guitar rock. The Rock 'n Bowl was really filled to the rim with Brim, and I'd never seen it anywhere near this crowded. We found a place far in the back to drink, chat, and strain to see the guy on stage.

Rockin' Dopsie was up next, and he was yet another guy I'd certainly heard of but had never seen before. I think it's best to describe his sound as zydefunk. Sure, that's not really a word, but I'm going with it anyway. It was pretty fun. A very strange moment occurred when Rockin' Dopsie introduced Jerry Rice's wife and daughter. He didn't introduce them by name but just called them "Jerry Rice's wife and daughter." Jerry Rice's Daughter lent some nice vocals to "Proud Mary." The legendary wide receiver was not in attendance, as rumor has it he's preparing to come out of retirement to play his 38th NFL season for any team that has low enough standards to sign him as a 9th stringer.

It was late, and there were some good shows still happening on Frenchmen. However, I was once again faced with the dilemma of trying to find a cab back to the French Quarter when few cabs were coming to the Rock 'n Bowl. Just then, I saw my friend, photographer Gary Firstenberg, who was headed out. If there's one thing I know about Gary, aside from the fact that he takes great photographs, it's that he always has a car nearby. Sure enough, he did, and as always, he generously offered me a ride. It was a Godsend.

I made my way over to Frenchmen, where I had the honor of paying a $15 cover for the last 30 minutes of Idris Muhammed, Robert Walter, Wil Bernard, Wil Blades, and Eddie Roberts. Working out to 50 cents a minute, this was some expensive souljazz. Afterwards, the upstairs area was open, so we had a quick drink up there before one of Frances' friends gave me a ride back to the hotel. There my night ended at 5AM with the thumping sounds of James Brown laying down a sweet block of thick funk grooves on WWOZ.

Good God, I love that radio station.


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