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Jazz Fest, Day 2: Dancing In The Ruins

May 9th, 2006 - 3:22 pm

It doesn’t matter if we turn to dust
Turn and turn and turn we must
I guess I’ll see you dancing in the ruins tonight.

Blue Oyster Cult

Our hotel was in Metairie, and we drove down Veterans Boulevard looking for breakfast on Friday morning. That was a poor choice; there wasn’t much there beyond fast food even before Katrina. These days there isn’t much of anything. When we crossed over the canal, we pretty much lost our appetites altogether.

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This was on the edge of the residential parts of Metairie Lakeview just beyond Veterans. It got much, much worse a block later. We didn’t take any more pictures there, but just to give you a sense of what we saw, take a look at this shot from Thursday, taken on the very edge of the Lower 9th Ward, just off Claiborne Avenue:

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Okay, some damage there, you’re thinking. Spray paint markings from the survey teams, but hey, there’s scaffolding up, so at least repairs must be going on, right?

Then you drive around the block, and see the back of the same house…

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… and you look around, and it hits you that it’s like this everywhere for miles and miles and miles.


On the way to the Fairgrounds, we could see the LSU Dental School’s building, just off the highway, it’s damaged sign ironically looking like a mouth missing a couple of teeth.

After parking in a friendly front yard (for a nominal fee, natch), we were finally, finally at Jazz Fest itself. First order of business was food, so we headed straight for the first of two massive lines of booths. And brother, just because there were plenty of LSU fans around, you did not have to settle for corn dogs at this place.

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The best thing there? I’ll always think it’s the Combo Plate.

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From the top clockwise, you got your Crawfish Sack, your Oyster Patty, and your Crawfish Beignets. Aaa-eee!

Thus fortified, it was at long last time for some music. We ambled to the Blues Stage and caught the bulk of Joe Krown’s day-opening set.

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After roughly 30 hours in town, it was a blessed relief to concentrate on riffs instead of roofs, but even in the midst of the Festival, all you had to do was look over, just past stage right, to the surrounding neighborhood.

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Some of it had been repaired, some had not, but everything had a scar of one kind or another. We learned later that the Fairgrounds themselves had been under five feet of water last September.

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After Krown wrapped up, we went to the Jazz Tent, sponsored by NOLA’s indispensible WWOZ, for the New Orleans Nightcrawlers, who proved conclusively that white boys can play some Second Line.

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The Jazz Tent, as usual had about the best atmosphere at the Festival. The jazz-focused lineup attracts people who are there more for the music than the festival, if you follow me. They come in all ages, shapes and shades, and they have both a concentration and an warmth about them to put your soul at ease and heart in gear. The tent has a special vibe that you don’t often get at the larger outdoor stages, and if you haven’t been in there, you shouldn’t bother saying you’ve been to Jazz Fest.

But of course, there was still more to see and do. We eventually moved on to the Acura Stage, the largest of the venues, where Louisiana wild man Doug Kershaw promptly burned the place down.

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As an aside, is it just me, or were Kershaw and Bubbles from “Trailer Park Boys” separated at birth?

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Anyway, he played a great set. Little Feat was up next, accompanied by tomorrow’s headliner, Jimmy Buffett, on an extended jam of “Dixie Chicken.” Feat opened their set with “Callin’ The Children Home,” a new, as-yet-unreleased anthem to post-Katrina New Orleans. I’m not a huge fan of the band’s post-Lowell George material, but that one sounded very good to me.

Back to the Blues Stage then, for an incendiary set from south Louisiana guitar legend Tab Benoit. A big stage and a large audience aren’t exactly Benoit’s best venue (catch him in a club for the real deal), but he was playing and belting them out with so much emotion that the surroundings didn’t matter–or rather, the surroundings beyond the Fairgrounds gave his performance an even heftier punch.

Benoit was our last act of the day. I’ve got a bit more to tell about Friday, but this is already too long for one post. More tomorrow, then on to Day 3.

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