Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Chris Rose on Jazz Fest

I've previously mentioned Chris Rose in this space. He's the award-winning columnist for the Times-Picayune, a veteran journalist whose writing about New Orleans post-Katrina has really captured the city's life and indomitable spirit.

With his recent column on Jazz Fest, he's done it again, really capturing the flavor of (IMO) America's best music festival. Here's a particularly resonant line: "This is the time of year when music falls from the sky like rain in New Orleans; just open your window and let it fall in."

Eight days to go -- and counting -- until we get back to the fest. So, as a pre-fest celebration, here's Rose's column, below, in whole. To link directly to the column, click here.

I've studied the positions. I've researched everything. I've talked with friends and others whose opinions I respect.

I want to make an informed decision. I want to make the right choice. It's important. You only get one chance at this thing.

The presidential election? Humbug. What I'm talking about is much more important than that.

I'm talking about the Cubes. The Jazzfest Cubes, those hallowed, nearly mystical linear graphic guides to whom is playing when and where at the Fair Grounds on any given day.

I've made my printouts. I've highlighted the "must-sees" and checked the "maybes" and scratched out the "been-there/done thats."

I've marked off the projected arc of the sun so I know when and where the shade will be.

I have noted with stars and asterisks where the coldest beers are sold and where those kiosks are in relation to the crawfish sack booth and which bathrooms are the cleanest to bring my kids to.

And I'm not going to share any of this information with you. It took me years to learn it and I don't want to encounter any delays by getting in line behind people who have stolen my secrets.

What is left, on paper, is a hieroglyphic amalgam worthy of the Rosetta Stone. Some years I laminate it, just in case of rain. It would mean nothing to anyone else but is sacred to me. My map. My Jazzfest map. My bible.

And here's the funny thing: I won't abide by a word of it. Not a lick. I never do.

Every day, I walk in the Fair Grounds with a stock and steady plan and a vow to follow it. And maybe I'll catch Susan Cowsill as scheduled at 11:20 Friday but then it will all fall apart, it always does.

At some point, I will hear some horn blowing out of a tent and say to myself: Don't look. You're supposed to be on your way to Big Sam's Funky Nation at 2:15 in Congo Square and it's already 2:25 (I have synchronized my cell phone to Gentilly Mean Time) but you're passing the WWOZ Jazz Tent and you hear James Rivers paying his bagpipe and who can resist a bagpipe?

So maybe you'll stop for just a second -- JUST FOR A SECOND -- and, well, might as well grab a beer and sit down and hey, look, there's your best friend from college, visiting from Chicago and one thing happens and then another and pretty soon it's 6:30 and you missed every act you came to see but saw five acts you'd never even heard of before and danced in the Gospel Tent with some crazy old lady with an umbrella and there's only one way to pronounce the day: glorious.

And plus, if you hurry, you can catch the end of Terrance Simien. But first, a quick bite to eat and, hey -- there's some more friends! -- and, well, now the security guys in golf carts are telling you that you have to leave. The music is over. The food and drink booths are closed. The festival is closed. Please find our way to the gate.

It's not fair. So tomorrow, you promise yourself, you're sticking to the plan. After all, you put a lot of work into this thing. You worked on this harder than your dissertation. Tomorrow you will follow the Cubes.

But tomorrow comes and, well ... you know how it goes. Crazy, how it works. The wonder of Jazzfest. The glory of it all.

I think most folks around here are divided into two camps: You're either a Mardi Gras person or a Jazzfest person but I fully believe it's possible to be both, to give everything you've got to both of the grand, defining celebrations of our city and then simply while away the rest of the year, reading blogs about one or the other and waiting, just waiting, for the Cubes to be published again the following spring.

This is the time of year when music falls from the sky like rain in New Orleans; just open your window and let it fall in.

There's music everywhere, busting out of the French Quarter, Wednesday in the Square, Voodoo, Essence, everything else giving this town a special pulse, a steady beat, the rhythms of life, energy and vitality that make you scratch your head when you read in faraway journals and periodicals that this town is dead and gone.

Well, if that's the case, you can just bury my heart in Congo Square.

Columnist Chris Rose can be reached at chris.rose@timespicayune.com; or at (504) 352-2535 or (504) 826-3309.

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