A slightly different version of this is running in the print edition of the Washington Examiner Magazine.

By Quin

America’s quirky cultural treasure that is the city of New Orleans now celebrates the 50th year of its cultural treasure that is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, with a jambalaya of music, food and crafts perhaps more spicily enjoyable than any other gathering in the world.

The Fest (as it is more colloquially known) began April 26-28 this year and continues May 2-5 with a mix of local and national musicians ranging from community Gospel choirs from Morgan City, La., to pop-rock royalty such as Diana Ross, John Fogerty, Dave Matthews and Widespread Panic. The latter were a late addition after the Rolling Stones cancelled due to Mick Jagger’s heart surgery, followed by Fleetwood Mac bowing out due to a serious flu bout for Stevie Nicks.

At some point, everybody who is anybody wants to play at the Fest, and a half-century of Fest memories include plenty in which superstars joined each other in inspired collaborations.

On one of my walls hangs an early-year Fest photo of B.B. King, the city’s famous late piano funkmeister Professor Longhair, George Porter of The Meters, and blues men Bukka White and Roosevelt Sykes (The Honeydripper). From another Fest, maybe 15 years ago, my memory will forever be enthralled by a radiant sun low in the sky as, in the midst of a brilliant Paul Simon set, the tenor majesty of Aaron Neville unexpectedly joined in the refrain of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”


What’s best, though, is how as one wanders around the Fair Grounds, from a local craft tent to another delectable food line, the sounds waft in first from one stage and then, just a few steps away, from another instead, providing a gumbo of traditional jazz, Cajun, zydeco, R&B, funk, African, Caribbean, rock, and who knows what else. In the Economy Hall traditional jazz tent, as New Orleans native maestros such as Dr. Michael White and Gregg Stafford try to keep alive the music of Satchmo and Jelly Roll, a little white-haired guy named Eddie spends hours dancing, twirling umbrella in hand, at the front of what T-shirts say is his “Half-Fast Marching Club.”

(Say it fully fast, please.)

Those who don’t dance will likely be sitting in rows, braving a hot bowl of alligator sauce piquante or savoring an herb-creamed Crawfish Monica washed down with Rosemint iced tea. Or maybe duck and andouille gumbo, chased by an ice-cold beer.

The sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes: Nothing can compare, ma chère – pas du tout.


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