By Louis Kahl
Spanish moss still hangs from the oak trees that line the roads to New Orleans. This time of year Magnolias begin to bloom with spring flowers. The weather is perfect, unlike what it will be in three to four weeks when 100% humidity wraps its sultry arms around the “Big Easy.” But for now, for seven days in late April and early May, ideal weather welcomes all to the 45th annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
In the late 1970s I experienced the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival from atop the stage, looking over the crowd, while backing up soul singer Lee Dorsey. Dorsey and SKOR played several Jazz Fest events, including the large stages at the New Orleans Fair Grounds, which is the 3rd oldest horse track in the U.S. dating back to 1872. This year, however, I’ll be going as a spectator.
Upon entering the festival I was overwhelmed by the pleasant smell of food. Jazz Fest is not only known for great music, but also its food. From jambalaya to red beans and rice, crawfish etouffee to crawfish monica, it is a smorgasbord representing the best of traditional New Orleans cuisine. Every booth I stopped by delivered beyond expectations.
After eating I secured a refreshing beverage and made my way to the stages. The beautiful thing about music is that it truly touches the soul. At each music tent, no matter the genre, what stands out is all the people smiling, dancing, and having a good time. It’s a beautiful thing.
My favorite performances were by Carlos Santana, Boz Scaggs, Irma Thomas, John Cleary, and Allen Toussaint. Phish was the closing act Saturday evening. There were many other artist performing on stages throughout the day. But, without a doubt, the highlight for me was an old favorite, Eric Clapton. It was Clapton’s first time playing at Jazz Fest.
Great show and great first weekend. But though I would love to stick around another weekend here in “N’awlins,” I have to get back to my home in the Smoky Mountains.