“Never forget where you come from”; Jazz Fest at 50 is true to its roots

Irma Thomas reminds our festival beat reporter Taylor PIttman what Jazz FestIval means to New Orleans

View from crowd while Irma Thomas performs

Story and photos by Taylor Pittman, sophomore at McDonogh 35 Senior High School, mentored by Nick Boulet (boulet.photo)

“Jazz Fest is one supporting factor for every art form in the city of New Orleans. Especially music, because for older musicians it keeps our music alive and maybe even us a little,” says Irma Thomas in our interview. When Jazz fest first began you could always feel the passion of the singers and love of the fans around. In 1970 George Wein, the man behind the Newport Jazz Festival and the Newport Folk Festival (beginning in 1954 and 1959) was hired to design and produce a unique festival for New Orleans. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, a local nonprofit organization, was asked to oversee the festival. This year like many other years the smells were exactly the same sunscreen, sweat, and fried and sweet smelling foods.

Backstage View while Irma Thomas performs

This year for Jazz Fest 2019 was interesting because there was many different aspects to look from as a student. One way you could pan into you an exciting festival would be to focus on the fashion. During Essence Festival weekend people choose to wear white but this year people decided to wear all white for Jazz Fest. Usually people have the same floral and princess preset outfits for festivals. This year, fashion took an interesting turn and focus  to neon outfits even at Coachella and BUKU festival in New Orleans. Another common outfit that’s worn at Jazz Fest is usually a dashiki which is a colorful garment for women and men, worn mostly in West Africa. It’s usually a cool and collective way to breathe and still manage to be comfortable while walking around the muggy weather.

Once Jazz Fest 2019 doors opened this year, they had new foods and dishes for travelers to try and savor the flavor on their way home. One dish that is particularly popular is Crawfish Monica. The ingredients include pasta, crawfish tail meat, onion, garlic, creole seasoning, cream, wine, salt, pepper, and butter. It was created by chef Pierre Hilzim who is the head of Kajun Kettle Foods. He named it after his wife Monica Davidson. The Jambalaya and Fried Chicken stand actually had a combo deal with Cajun jambalaya and fried white and dark meat. Other dishes include, red beans and rice with sausage, fried pork chop sandwiches, boiled crawfish, Louisiana crawfish etouffeé, spinach artichoke casserole, red beans & rice w/ sausage, boudin, and cochon de lait po-boy..etc. The Jazz Fest food lineup doesn’t change too much, which is just fine for many seasoned Jazz Fest veterans. The picks encapsulated in these cubes are based on consistent past experience. There are a few new, modified and returning dishes at Jazz Fest this year, which I’ll be sizing up in due time.

This year’s artist for the main lineup of Jazz Fest 2019 on Sunday April 28, 2019 included Van Morrison, Al Green, J Balvin, Bonnie Raitt, Irma Thomas, The O’Jay, and Ellis Marsalis Family Tribute featuring Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo, and Jason with Ellis Marsalis. All of these artists gave an interesting and entertaining performance that pleased the diverse and eclectic crowd. One act that particularly interested me was the “Queen of Soul” Irma Thomas performance because it brought a classic Jazz Fest feel to the crowd. In my interview Irma mentions, “I grew up in music, in every neighborhood that I have ever lived in there was music playing around filling the air. My dad used to play a lot of old records and that led me into a interesting career of music.” Thomas followed through with her words, because she gave a very impressive performance at Jazz Fest. Crowd participation was amazing and it made people who were at other stages decide to come see what all the noise was about. During my Jazz Fest experience I got the opportunity to sit with Irma Thomas in her trailer and we talked before and after her show. Everytime I see her I ask about her music and just the history of what Jazz Fest did for her career and she told me, “Never forget where you come from because it can lead you down a path of excellence. I could never forget my first Jazz Fest performance, everybody was cheering me on and I had the support of friends and family everywhere.”

In sum, Jazz Fest, Sunday April 28, 2019 was a major win for the city of New Orleans . It gave just the right amount of soul, Jazz, and tradition that you would expect to get from New Orleans. The music was amazing and crowds were packed, yet you still could feel like New Orleans was your home even if it was not. Though I am not an festival expert, Jazz Fest has never disappointed me in any way possible besides the inevitable weather of New Orleans in the spring. Next year, I can expect the same love and energy that was distributed throughout this year’s festivities because I will be attendance and for many more years to come.