Terence Blanchard (Photo By Brenda Ladd)
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Fair Grounds Race Course and across New Orleans, Louisiana, May 5 & 6
If there's an event that lives up to the Blind Men and the Elephant fable, it's the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Whether you believe Jazz Fest is primarily about the music itself, international culture, or food, it's hard to imagine two people walking away from any one weekend with the same experiences or impressions. In fact, from just its length (two four-day weekends) and size (nearly 100,000 fans a day, 12 stages, and hundreds of after-Fest showcases), Jazz Fest becomes not so much an event you review, as much as an event you consume. Jazz Fest 2000's second weekend left plenty of room for consumption: from an interactive game of stop-the-music/audience-"freeze" with New Orlean's brass-hop troop Soul Rebel to a traditional parade with untraditional participants, Master P's No Limit soldiers. Although attendance was notably sluggish most of the weekend in the jazz tent, despite a scholarly performance from New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts dean Clyde Kerr Jr. on Friday and a much busier set from the Dirty Dozen brass band Saturday, it and the consistently rockin' gospel tent offered refuge from the far-as-you-can-see crowds for the main stage; John Hiatt's spirited reunion with the Sonny Landreth-led Goners there on Friday was followed by a nearly flawless Lyle Lovett Big Band performance. Lovett, a Jazz Fest virgin playing his first New Orleans gig in seven years, not only delivered on the festival's "heritage" by crafting a set noticeably heavy on the jazz and gospel, he also delivered the best unbilled collaboration/sight gag: Jimmy Buffett struggling to share a microphone with the long tall Texan for "If I Had a Boat." Lovett's second Jazz Fest appearance, a Saturday nightcapper at Municipal Auditorium with Ani Difranco, offered a brilliantly awkward bill and at least one genuinely dramatic and hair-raising moment; Difranco's anti-gun protest song "To the Teeth" more than hit its mark in a city plagued by gun violence. While there were also plenty of opportunities to simply free your mind and dance, from Los Van Van's roof-raising Cuban P-funk at the House Of Blues to super-slick R&B crooner Eric Benet's slinky Saturday set on the Fair Grounds, there was also some frustration: The mass appeal of Lenny Kravitz's Saturday afternoon show brought crowds that made stage-hopping almost impossible by mid-afternoon and organizers seemed to underestimate Diana Krall's appeal by booking her in the tiny jazz tent rather than the main stage. Then again, how frustrating can an event be that offers restaurant-quality oyster artichoke soup, crawfish bread, and blackened chicken pasta as a back-up? Not very. In fact, if there's one thing proverbial blind men like music critics, food critics, and joe fan can all agree on, it may just be that for sheer entertainment value, quality, and selection, a couple of days in New Orleans every May is pretty hard to beat.