Monday, June 01, 2015

Big Easy

I recently visited the New Orleans International JazzFest and had the pleasure of watching to five different bands. Of the newer generation of bands were the Mississippi Rail Company which was a small brass band and piano. Lively and smart music. The second was Marcia Ball who plays like she’s had way too much chicory coffee. That woman would be hard to keep up with!

At the other end of the spectrum was the “Tribute to Bessie Smith.” Bessie Smith is the matron saint of southern blues. A tragic life but a legacy of soulful music and warm lyrics. That was the kind of music you expect to hear in the background of any movie or show set in New Orleans. I only stumbled on this great show because I was overheating, because Taj Mahal had cancelled, and I unbelievably missed noticing that Aaron Neville was about to play.

Serendipities and epiphanies abound sometimes, because, “Greg Stafford & His Young Tuxedo Jazz Band” performed next. The band was neither young nor wore tuxedoes. What made this performance so New Orleansian was that the Jetsetters Dance Group made up of three women in red or pink tops and black shorts and delightfully gorgeous crowns came dancing in from off stage.This was unplanned. This is the tourist view of New Orleans maybe at it most historic and as advertised. The crowd went wild. This is what they’d come to New Orleans to see. They didn’t need to see an aged Elton John or an antique Jerry Lee Lewis, they wanted spontaneity and they wanted to see where all “this” the JazzFest, the Dukes of Dixieland, Pete Fountain, all came from. We were on the scene of the beginning of Louis Armstrong and every bluesman and jazzman from the late B.B. King to Alan Toussaint and Duke Ellington. For thirty minutes it was being back in time to a place we might not want to return but certainly wanted to sniff the flavor.

The old timers of the jazz band, Tuxedo was the name of their streetcar, played on and on getting a bit more tired with each tune. They played the dirge of farewell and the get-happy of Rampart Street.

The next night we visited a bar in the Quarter that had a trio of guitar, standup bass, and cornet. Good music in the open air. Folks just hanging around listening and being free for a moment. Lively, unstructured, no endless chatter from the lead pitchman. Which made me think of being back in Johnson City.

People visit our neck of the woods expecting to see sights and sounds, as advertised, just like when we visited New Orleans. Folks dance at the Carter Family Fold when they wouldn’t dare dance anywhere else. They whoop “hee-haw” at the Dixie Stampede because it’s part of the fun for a moment. Do we let our hair down out of the town so we won’t be spotted having fun?

In the “Big Easy” I tried to be conscious of my being a tourist and found there were two different locals just like there are here. There’s the born-and-bred-native and the moved-in (like me.)

I was told the other day that it is possible after many decades to become a native. I asked, “Where do I apply?”


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