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Musical Heaven or Congested Hell: Why I No Longer Go to New Orleans Jazz Fest

This morning I read in the paper how there have been complaints about the size of the crowds of the New Orleans Jazz Fest. OK, I know it’s really called the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival hosted by Shell, but here in the city we just call it Jazz Fest.

Musical Heaven or Congested Hell: Why I No Longer Go to New Orleans Jazz Fest

Massive crowds at the New Orleans Jazz Fest have many folks about the safety of the annual celebration.

Massive crowds at the New Orleans Jazz Fest have many folks concerned about the safety of the annual celebration.

Years ago when I was living in Washington State before I moved back to my home town, for the last several years I was there I would come in every spring to attend Jazz Fest. It was so great to be back in my hometown again around family and especially around our unique culture and music.

I usually went to the fest alone because, well, I had more fun. I could go to whatever music tent or stage I wanted to without worrying if a companion would want to go or not. I could wander in and out of different music venues, stay as long as I wanted, wander over to food booths, sit down on the grass, take a snooze if I wanted.

Usually I’d leave the house early enough to find a parking space near the Fair Grounds and walk the few blocks to the fest entrance. When they opened the gates I’d walk through with the streaming crowd and marvel at the wonderfulness of it all. I would remark to myself that this was truly the closest thing to heaven on earth.

Back then, and this was just only a few years ago, you could stroll around the fest and have no trouble getting from one end of the grounds to the other with the exception of getting within earshot of the Acura stage, especially if Sting or some big name was playing.

Then it became like walking through molasses, the crowd deciding how long it would take you to move forward or move at all. Frustrated, I usually would just turn around and make it on back through the crush and finally, after many minutes of patient maneuvering, pop out of the mass of human flesh near the edge of the crowd and go somewhere else where you could actually breathe and relax.

Being among that many people shoulder to shoulder, the flow of it dictating where it wants you to go, is not relaxing nor enjoyable. I’m there to have fun. Experiencing the fest in that way is not.

I remember one day several years ago when Dave Matthews and Ludicris were playing on the same day at the same time, there were 90,000 people there. That was crazy. I mean, what were the organizers thinking? Moving along the sidewalk even away from those two stages was like walking through a swarm of bees. I used to raise bees and have been in a swarm, so I know what it feels and looks like.

And forget about trying to get some food, lines are so long, the best place to escape all this is either near Economy Hall tent or in the air conditioned grandstands.

Now the fest really seems to be geared more toward visitors than locals. The big name acts like Elton John, Lady Gaga, et al, all seem to be designed to pull in out-of-towners, most of them, it appears, from New York. Not that there is anything wrong with that, with New Yorkers, you now. I’m just sayin’.

Unless you go on the second Thursday, the whole fest experience is not like it used to be. I got full up with the crush of the crowds, the long lines at the food booths. And for me the sound in the tents were just excrutiatingly loud. They’ve always been like that but just recently with the increase in my tinnitus, partially due, I believe, to standing too close to a speaker at the Acura tent years ago at a Jimmy Buffet concert.

Yes, listening to ole Jimmy hurt so much that in the middle of the concert I had to give up my back stage pass that I thought I was so privileged to have received. Listening to music and physical pain in the ear do not compute for me, especially being that I am a musician myself.

As I read this morning The Advocate some fans were calling the fest “musical heaven” while others were tweeting it a “congested hell.” I gotta agree with both of those assessments. But I think now the inconvenience and now the possibility of getting crushed near the Acura stage and the long food lines overshadows the heavenly part. It just ain’t fun any more.

More and more of my friends and family members who were hard core Jazz Festers just aren’t going like they used to.

For me the fest is a thing of the past. I have no plans to go again. If I ever do it will have to be on a Thursday when crowds are lean and you can wander and relax just like the old days of the fest when it was more for locals.

I can see that at some point the fest organizers are going to have to limit the amount of people that can attend. How do you that? I have no idea. You could restrict ticket sales on certain days when the big name acts are there, that’s usually Saturday and Sunday of both weekends.

Or the New Orleans Jazz Fest will have to be at much larger venue. Can we say New Orleans City Park?

Posted in New Orleans Culture, New Orleans Festivals, New Orleans Jazz Festival, New Orleans Life, New Orleans Music, New Orleans Videos.

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