Jazz Fest Adventures

       Hello to all my homies and homettes. Here are the latest updates from the Deep South pilgramage I am currently embarked uppon. After Phoenix I drove my butt through this other dimension called Texas where the normal rules of time/space no longer apply. After several lifetimes I finally reached the other side of that sucker. I really did like hangin’ in Austin though. A great city that I had to breeze through quickly cuz Jazz Fest in New Orleans was about to start. Austin had some great food, a great collective sense of weirdness, some really cool black college radio, and was surprisingly  green and lush. I pretty much tore through the rest of the drive to get to N’oleans for the start of Jazz fest.

       One of the wiser things I have heard in my Life is the phrase “Life is like licking the honey off of a thorn”. My amazing week and a half in New Orleans very much embodied these words. Never have I been somewhere more crazy, dangerous, fun, hilarious, Soul suckingly hot/humid, musical, better tasting, better-and worse-smelling, difficult, frustrating, rewarding, loving, confusing, and insanely alive than this giant sauna of FUNK. Every corner I turned I was hit upside the head with an insanely funky sound, a ridiculously good smell, a ludicrous looking/behaving character, incredibly soulful art, or some definite reminder that the poverty and desperation there for so many is extremely intense. Throughout the south I have to say the Blues aint no joke. It is the Soul’s response to a painfuly raw and difficult set of economic and social conditions.
       Southern music in general seems to derive its intensity from the fact that it is one of the few things that people own and can take them away from the crap one must put up with on a daily basis. It took me three days to find a neighborhood that was not in the heart of the Ghetto in New Orleans. There is no such thing as a good place to park there. The first night there It took almost an hour to find a reasonably safe looking place to park the van and crash. First thing next morning was this insanely loud knock, the likes of which could only emanate from someone packing a gun. Sure enough, it was the fuzz. I guess in the few places that don’t look so bad the people are real paranoid and immediately report anything that looks unusual to the cops. I dealt with the local p on several occasions because of this situation. I have to say they were really nice every time, and I was impressed with how cool they were given what an absolutly crazy job they have.  Maybe that helps make them cooler somehow.
       N’Orleans feels more like Europe and Africa than America. No where is there a more pronounced collision of cultures in this country(although NY comes to mind as a close second.) The spirit world seriously is bubbling over there, and it leaps into the music whenever any is played which is pretty much all the time everywhere during jazz fest. Even (and espescially)the Funerals are better jams than what most people are groovin to elswhere. While I was there local legend Earl King died and they had the most amazing second line funeral party for him. For anyone that does not know, a second line is when they have a huge parade through the streets with a seriously funky marching band at the front and back of the parade. It is like a mobile block party that funkitizes the way of the deceased so they may enter the afterlife with a nice fat groove to pave the way. That is how I want to go out!
       What I like most about the South is that you are ambushed by not just one or two roots music traditions you normally don’t get to hear in undiluted form but rather by a whole gang of them. Blues, Soul, Funk, Second line, Gospell, Southern Rock, Soul, Jazz, country, bluegrass, zydeco, cajun, all spank your brain constantly while here. It is all so real and unpretentious. Music is more than entertainment in the South. It is the survival of the Soul. Even the commercial bar oriented music has more Soul than what you will hear in bars outside the South. Even the crickets and frogs are funky. While I was at a bayou swamp state park on the South side of town(a great, safe, and cheap way to stay during Jazzfest) I recorded the craziest orchestra of frogs, insects, and crickets of every conceivable pitch and rhythm imaginable. I swear it is in these sounds that inspired the start of Jazz. It was one of the baddest jam sessions I have ever heard.
       Musical highlights from N.O. included Bernie Worell from p-funk with Will Calhoun and Doug Wimbish from Living Coulur, and Leo Nocetelli from the Meters. This was some of the baddest and heaviest funk I have ever witnessed. They even shredded some live drum and bass on a scale I have never seen before. Also kickin it was Garage a tois-This group is so much more enjoyable to me than its members other projects-Galactic, Charlie Hunter, and Critter’s. With Mike D in the mix they have just taken their punk jazz go go funk slam grooves to another level. They had a 4 piece horn section at the end and it was BAD. Speaking of horns Soulive w/ a 7 piece horn section(incl. Fred Wesley), Bill Summers from the headhunters and Ivan Neville was quite a throwdown. Even cooler than that though was seeing all my Seattle homies Reggie Watts, Dale Fanning, Jessica Lurie, and Brad Hauser mix it up with Grant Greene Jr.(bad as Dad), and Bernie Worrell. What a groove that was. Seeing Bernie kiss Reggies enormous fro was definitly a beautiful site to behold. Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe also threw down a great late nighter and Maktub put in a respectable set as well. Muchas Gracias to all my musician friends who hooked up the guest list action-Yall made the trip 100 times cooler.All the jams I just mentioned was 1/2 of 1% of the music that was going on there those 10 days. This was just the after hours stuff-I havent even got to the fest yet.
       Jazz fest itself is unlike anything I have been to. It is like what all the other music fests wish they could be. The food is out of control, the people are amazingly cool, and the music-well they book everything imaginable as long as it has soul. Joe Cocker tore that sucker up in a way I had no idea was possible. So did Robert Randolph-a must see if you have not. The dimensions of Faith Choir was bad as was just about everything at the Gospell tent. It was nice randomly bumping into Steve Taylor to, a friend to many on this list. (He is doing good.) I saw so much music that I did not even know who or what it was that Words seem kind of silly trying to convey any of it in. I will say that it is interesting seeing how Jazzfest has some cultural obstacles that it did not used to have and how it deals with them.
       When I first went I felt like pulling all of those musics out of the culture that spawned them(the churches, juke joints, porches, and backyards) and into a festival setting was kind of wrong. The audiences were definitly stiff at some of the shows but then there were other times and shows where the whole place became a church, juke joint, or a backyard. The spirit of what was happening transformed the environment and  those attending and brought them into the spiritual place that the music originates. It was as if the power of the music and culture would not give way to the festival environment and instead took over it. Each stage feads on the energy of others, and every band tries to outdo every other. The environment is like a pressure cooker of serious Soul in Sound. The coolest thing about it is you see how interconnected and related all these different styles of music really are. The differences in them add their depth and complexity but ultimately it is all about Soul and taking people to a higher plane of experience. JazzFest definitly did that for me.
       The people in New Orleans are some of the nicest anywhere. Everyone was really friendly, social, and helpful. I found myself getting into great conversations about everything with everybody I met. People would start going off about their favorite recipes and how cooking is a religion in N.O. and how there are feuds and wars over the best way to make a gravy or sauce. The metaphors are hilarious. An empty bag don’t stand when the wind blow. I was telling this woman how special I thought New Orleans was and she laughed really hard and said” Special!-oh we’re real special down here, really special-little yellow bus special!” referring to the less functional aspects of life in N.O.  They say the South is more segragated than in the North and in some ways that is true. But I have found there are incredibly cool opportunities for people to mix it up down here that do not even exist in the North. Music is a huge part of that, and where music is concerned, the South is vastly more integrated than the North.
       Other fun stuff was busking on Bourbon Street on a Saturday night after J.F. let out. That was crazy-that street takes partying to a whole nother level. There are some great ways to check out the regional scene as well like the Louisianna music factory, an independant music store featuring local stuff. There was also great radio too. People seem to take a lot of pride and work to keep the traditions and history alive. This was also true of my next stop, Memphis.
       I took the beautiful Natchez Trace drive up through Mississippi(did I spell that right?) and cut over to Memphis. I spent much less time in Memphis than N.O. but it revealed its living spirit of soulful music to me on day one. I stumbled into Memphis music, a great music store with a deep, deep selection and an incredibly knowledgeable and helpful resident”bluesologist”, Malcolm. He hooked me up with some great jams, clubs to check out, and historical sights to see. I checked out the Rock and Soul museum which was way cool. Memphis is so key to the history of not only rock but Soul and Blues as well. Think about it. It was Memphis that spawned or produced the first records by Elvis, B.B. King, Isaac Hayes, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ike and Tina, Al Greene, Staples singers, Bar Kays, Johnny Cash, Booker T and the M.G.’s, Albert King, the Memphis horns, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and a whole lot more. It is a lot more subdued than it used to be, but it is still one soulful city with a ton of stuff hidden in the woodwork. I got to see this great country blues artist Richard Johnston playing this double necked cigar boxed jug band instrument called a lobow. He was tearing it up at a joint called the Flying saucer. He did this song called I got the dog with me where he was barking like a deranged hound. He got the whole place barking and howling like dogs. It was very inspiring and I got to say people really give it up for good music down south.
       The next town I went to was Nashville, a very vibrant and diverse music scene. It has tons more going on than country and Blue grass. It is also one of the mellower towns I was in and seemed fairly liveable, though like all of the South it gets way to hot. In May already. Anyway It is worth a visit if you’re in the area. After that I drove through the gorgeous Smoky Mountains to Asheville, NC. It is as if someone took all the coolness of Portland or Seattle and mixed it up with southern vibeage and through it into the mountains of NC. What a beautiful and hip little town. It reminded me a lot of Ashland OR. Definitly a good place to do a show if your band is in this neck of the woods. South Carolina in general has a ton of cool towns with funky flavor, good radio, and a nice amount of natural ambience. I think I like it most of the Southern states so far. That is where I am writing from now. I am currently visiting my dad and doing some R&R following all the craziness. I am not sure what happens next but I have a feeling it will be interesting. Until then,
Boycott McLife,

1 Response to “Jazz Fest Adventures”

  1. 1 Sah July 22, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    nice adventure! I hope to be able to take part in a jazz fest next!

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