Wednesday, May 25, 2011

New Orleans Jazz Fest 2011

"Only in New Orleans" - the phrase used by Irvin Mayfield at the
concert on Wednesday before Jazz Fest: The same
could be used for the fest as a whole. Where else can you wander
for 3 days between 12 stages with nonstop performances from
11Am to 7PM including Zydeco, Gospel,blues, main stream jazz,
folk, Haitian drumming, storytelling, Mardi Gras Indian
performances and more all while viewing a Contemporary Craft
Show, a Louisiana Art Show and a Haitian Art Celebration. Not
to mention spend the evenings in New Orleans listening to more
music! Then, return on Thursday for four days to start all over
again with different artists and performers. I had heard of friends
participating in Jazz Fest before, but did not understand its scope
and incredible richness!

New Orleans has long felt a special connection to Haiti. This year
Jazz Fest showed support and involvement by inviting Haitian
artists and musicians to set up in the Congo Square area of the fest.
Didier Civil was one of the artists there:

The Contemporary Craft Show tents are set up by the WWOZ Jazz
tent, the Gospel and Blues tent and behind the main Acura Stage
There are only 60 Contemporary Craft exhibitors which makes for
a intimate show in a huge setting. There is no electricity and
creativity in display is encouraged. I brought along some bright
material to spice up my booth. We lucked out this year with the
weather - not too much wind (read dust...jazz fest is at the race
track), no rain and not too hot.

Awards are given. "Most Unique Work" went to Woody Jones: Woody was there with his wooden
"Mechanical Amusements" including his big Head which filled
up most of his corner booth. You can see it on his link.

"Best of Show" went to Lewis Tardy for his steel sculpture: Here is a snapshot of his booth:

The show includes photography and painting. We enjoyed
the photography of Frank Relle:
especially his houses encrusted in vegetation. That's his photo
on the cover of the book : Nine Lives:Mysery, Magic, Death and
in New Orleans by Dan Baum.

With jazz reverberating all around and an enthusiastic energetic
eclectic crowd, I felt more at home at Jazz Fest than at
many shows. I've often thought about the connection of the
improvisational way I approach my work and the passion my
parents had for jazz and imbued in me. As with jazz, in
my approach to art making, you listen, build on experience,
but mostly trust in the flow that propels you forward.

The most surprising part of the fest for me was watching
the Mardi Gras Indians walk by in their amazingly
crafted feather and bead regalia. The costumes are exquisite.
I was unfamiliar with the depth of tradition they represent
and have been doing a lot of reading about the story behind
the Mardi Gras Indians since I came home. (The photo at the
top of this post is of one of the many performance by these
groups. )

Just when I think my work is getting intricate, I look at
their work! Talk about inspiration to incorporate story
and really go for it!

I'll definitely apply to Jazzfest again next year. If accepted,
I hope we can arrange to attend before or after having
a booth. I'd love to wander, savor the performances
and absorb the energy in a relaxed fashion.

Next week's blog post - our trip to the warehouse
where the Mardi Gras floats are made!!

Adventure on! Wendy

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

New Orleans - prelude to JazzFest

"Only in New Orleans" was Irvin Mayfield's frequent refrain
when we were listening to him at Lafayette Square Wed.
eve before Jazz Fest. We arrived in New Orleans a day
and a half early to explore and savor the city a bit before
setting up at the Contemporary Craft Show section of

During one part of the concert, students joined
him. The 10 year old trumpet player and 16 year old sax
player pictured above with the band show the future of jazz
is alive and VERY well in NOLA. At the end of the concert,
a brass band led the crowd through the town down to the
Royal Sonesta Hotel where Mayfield's club is located. We all
became part of the classic "second line". One image I won't forget:
a woman on a bike twirling her purple parasol brought from
Colorado, hoping she might have a chance to dance with it.

Sights and sounds in New Orleans are complicated,
sobering and celebratory. We saw the excellent exhibit
"Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond" which just
opened up this past October in the French Quarter
at the Louisiana State Museum :
The experiential exhibit plunges one into the reality of the
experience for New Orleans residents, details exactly what
happened and why, gives historical perspective, and highlights
the resilient character of the people who live in the region.

There is new construction and rehabilitation of structures
in many neighborhoods, but plenty of areas where damage is
still very apparent. As we wandered in the "Garden District"
I looked at the ancient oak trees whose gnarly roots were
protruding and seemingly taking over the sidewalks.

These are trees which are there to stay, hang on deep
and persistent. I reflected on the depth of connection
and persistence of the folks for whom New Orleans
is home and will always be.

Thanks to the suggestion from Boston artist friends that
the best gumbo in New Orleans is served at Dooky Chase's
restaurant at 2301 Orleans Ave, we went there for lunch.
We expected and tasted the excellent gumbo, but had no
idea we would be walking into a place so steeped in history
and tradition, especially for the African American Community
in New Orleans. The restaurant was flooded, as was much of
the immediate Treme neighborhood during Katrina, but Dooky
and Leah Chase , not exactly youngsters, did not give up.
The restaurant, open since 1941, reopened in 2008...only for
lunch and special events for now while they wait for the rest of
the neighborhood to catch up. Again those deep roots that hang
on tight holding the fabric of community together.

This includes honoring and displaying extraordinary art.
Eating in the restaurant is like eating in a museum.
My favorite was this one by Dr. John Biggers (1924-2001)
entitled "The Upper Room" :

I plan on spending some time investigating the work
and imagery of Dr. Biggers. This trip made it clear how
many well known artists I had ashamedly never heard of.
But after all, learning and discovering is the point of travel.

We entered our hotel that night preparing to set up for
the show the next day filled with story and music, but also
feeling extremely fortunate. That Wednesday when we were
savoring New Orleans, massive tornadoes were sweeping
through the path we had driven through the day before.
Another reminder of how quickly life can change.

Next blog post.. Jazzfest!

Adventure on! Wendy