Anticipation is everything. At least, in my opinion. Whether you're waiting for Santa to come down the chimney, or for that girl to decide if she'll go out with you, or if you're just waiting for some dumb blogger to finally put out a post that was due weeks ago; anticipation is everything. It's what makes life exciting. It's what makes you not able to sleep the night before. It's what makes you want to hug and needlessly tickle everyone around you. OK, maybe that last part is just me. But the point is, anticipation is the honey of life.
One of the sad realizations of getting older is learning that rarely does the moment itself live up to the great anticipation leading up to it. (Another sad realization is learning that most people don't like to be hugged and needlessly tickled, but that's a discussion for a different post).
One of the reasons I was so excited for Jazzfest was because I didn't know what to expect. For unlike my partner in crime, Shorty, I had made no effort to learn what would be going on during the festival. For all I knew every band I had ever wanted to see would be playing there. Every desire or whim I've ever wanted to indulge in would be available for indulging. There was no limit to the possibilities, no constraints to my imagination; and there was no way the actual festival was going to match my anticipation.
At least, this was what I told myself the morning of the opening day of Jazzfest, in an attempt to reel in my excitement. But then, as we walked from my cousin's house to the promise land, I came across this scene, and promptly forgot about reeling in my excitement.
But could you blame me?! Look at all these people, going to the same place we were going, with the same desire to experience something great, something unforgettable. Who knows how many of these people will end up being my friend, I wondered. Who knows how many will end up being more than friends?
I tell you, I was so excited that it was all I could do to not hug and needlessly tickle each and everyone of them.
Then we came across a series of street vendors who were selling Jazzfest-related merch. This got me even more excited as I realized that I couldn't make heads or tail of what they were selling. Loud, colorful clothing? Why would I want that? I wondered.
We continued to walk with the rest of the pack, which was getting louder and louder as we were getting closer and closer to the jazz. All the while, I was just imagining what kind of insanity I might see in only a mere matter of minutes.
And then we reached the fence that surrounded the entire festival. And that's when I saw something that gave me my first real clue as to what kind of environment I was about to enter.
We reached the entrance and came to a security checkpoint.
I know what you're thinking, you're thinking that if they had a security check than surely it couldn't be as lawless as I had assumed. But just like the sign against bike parking, this security check was just a joke. I mean that literally. When we reached the front an old woman with a security hat on laughed at us and said, "Just kidding, this isn't a real security checkpoint. See, I'm not even going to look in your bags, I'm just gonna look you over once and then send you in." And she did. She just sent us in without even looking at our bags, and she did that for everyone else too. Which meant there were thousands of bags and backpacks inside this festival of Jazz and there could have been anything inside them.
Jesus Christ, this really was the Wild Wild West, I thought.
And then I noticed this sign and couldn't help but reminisce.
Back when I used to be a little shit, when I used to come to New Orleans for the summer and hang out with my older cousin, I would always point out these signs to him and say: "Isn't it funny that a city as corrupt as New Orleans calls it's police department NOPD!"
He never laughed, but I always did.
And I couldn't help but chuckle when I saw it again.
It was too perfect. It would be the ultimate sign of irony, if it was actually ironic. But I don't think it was. I think for it to be ironic the acronym would have to read GREAT PD. Right?
In any case, it seemed like a good omen at the time, and, yes, it made me even more excited for what was to come.
And so were all my best friends that I hadn't even met yet!
The first thing we came across once we were inside the festival was this seemingly infinite row of eateries; each one offering a different type of classic Southern food.
As we walked alongside the row of eateries, I read off all the different types of food and realized I was basically reading off a long list of food I had never tried, some I hadn't even heard of.
Like a chicken sandwich, what the hell was that? (Just kidding, I totally know what a chicken sandwich is. I can be so silly sometimes.) Anyways, the point is, we were only five minutes into the festival and I had already been besieged by numerous opportunities to try something new. So far, this place was living up to the anticipation.
But neither of us were hungry at the moment, so we kept on moving. I could tell Shorty was just as amped as me at this point, so I suggested that we walk around aimlessly and just see what else Jazzfest had to offer.
Now, at this point it was still morning, so I didn't have much interest for the shade that we passed by. Would this change later? Am I foreshadowing something here...Only time will tell.
This is a picture of an art sale we came across that was really awesome. All the art was by local artists of the community. Most of the art was authentic photographs and paintings pertaining to the life and times of the Big Easy.
There was one beautiful photograph that I found so impressive that I wanted to take a picture of it. But when I went up to it with my camera, a woman came up to me and told me I couldn't take pictures.
No pictures? Does that mean there are actually rules here that people enforce? I worried.
But then I noticed that she wasn't wearing a security hat, so I asked if her if she was indeed security. She laughed.
No, she said, she was the artist who took the picture. Ah, my spirits rose. This wasn't a rule established by the authority, it was simply a request from the artist. And not just any artist, but I cute artist, I realized. There was only one thing to do. Make her laugh.
"OK, I won't take a picture of it, but what if I paint it instead. I have a canvass with me..." She laughed delightfully and we separated amicably.
As we continued our meandering, I came across this little scene:
After that spectacle, I found myself coming across more and more interesting people.
That last picture nearly got me killed, as Dr. Dave turned out to be no fan of picture takers. And by nearly got me killed, I mean that he gave me a wicked sneer that still haunts me to this day.
But things quickly got better when I walked up to a stage and found this musical man:
Blue feather man was definitely a high point of the day. His band played great music and he had impressive moves. Also, he was blue and feathered. Two things that I am a big fan of. The crowd seemed to dig him too, I noticed.
I also noticed that the crowd for the most part seemed hot and sweaty.
And then I realized I was sweaty too.
I looked up at the sun and realized it was kicking the shit out of me. My sunblock most have worn off. (Does it wear off, or does it melt away?) I looked down at my watch and saw that it was only noon, which meant there was another good four hours of ginger ass kicking to go.
Some people might point out that New Orleans is known for it's heat and brutal humidity and the fact that I was surprised that I was sweaty proves I'm a moron.
Well smart guy, what you don't know is that for the last week or so New Orleans was hit by a random wave of nice, cool weather. And everyone had told us that this would last throughout Jazzfest. It had been the conversation topic everywhere you went. "How lucky is it that the weather is suddenly so nice and pleasant, just in time for Jazzfest!" People would say.
And yet, I sweat.
And while I couldn't detect even a hint of humidity, that was but a small comfort for your humble and sun-delicate narrator.
But I had a plan for this, it was a solid plan that I had developed after years of being ravaged by the sun.
First, I would have apply sunscreen every thirty minutes. This wasn't a problem as I had a whole tube of it in my backpack.
Next I needed to drink a bottle of water every hour to keep hydrated.
Lastly, and this was most important, I had to start preparing my stomach for an onslaught of booze that I would rain down upon it in the near future.
Of course, I wouldn't start drinking heavily right away, I would only start at the moment when I grew so fed up with the sun and all of its bullshit that I just washed my hands of the whole situation. That's when I would dismiss the first two steps and just get really really drunk. And then, I would burn. I would burn badly. I wouldn't notice the burn at the time, thanks to the booze in my system, but I would feel the effects of the burn and the heat stroke in a couple of hours, just as the sun was coming down.
And when the combination of the heat stroke and the burning and the booze finally hit me, that's when I would turn into the dreaded lobster madman. And the lobster madman was hated by all. Even those who currently resided in this lawless land. For he would spend most of his time belligerently shouting at the sky and cursing the ones responsible for making him a failure of evolution.
He would also be red, like a lobster, and that would frighten everyone, especially the boozed up children.
But maybe it wouldn't come to that, I thought. I wasn't the lobster madman yet. For now, I was just sweaty. Sweaty and concerned.
So concerned in fact, that I felt that the only thing that could help calm me down was a nice cold beer.
While in line for a beer, I bumped into these two love birds. In case you can't read it, their' shirts say: 20 years ago we feel in love at Jazzfest. And there is a picture of them from twenty years ago. The whole thing was very moving, and I remember wondering if I there was a chance I might meet my future wife at Jazzfest. Then I remembered that pretty soon I would be too red for any women to love, so I ended up buying two beers instead of one.
After I bought the beer, Shorty suggested we finally try out some of that authentic southern food.
That's a picture of me eating a box of crawfish. You eat them by savagely ripping their bodies in half and then sucking on the ass end. It actually is really tasty and I wish they were available nationwide. But just like all the rest of the delicious food down there, you can only get it down there. What a shame.
You can see here that I'm starting to come undone by the heat. The beer didn't help things, and frankly, neither did the spicy crawfish. But on a plus side, I did end up meeting two other lovebirds, and these ones were five times crazier than the previous ones.
I can't recall their names, I do recall that they told me they were part of a watermelon cult. No joke. They explained to us that this cult consisted of going to different events and smashing watermelons over each and every cult member.
They told me the watermelon smash would be going on in two hours near the Conga Stage. I asked them if I could join in on the smashing. The man laughed and told me of course, I could be an honorary member.
After they left us, I vowed that I would make it to their cult meeting and smash watermelons over every one of my new lawless friends.
After we ate, Shorty and I continued to wander from stage to stage. However, as we were walking, we found ourselves in the middle of a marching band!
That's right, not only was there music all around the crowd, there was also music literally going through the crowd. And man, these guys were having the time of their lives. Everybody was jumping and jiving and shaking what their mother's had given them. It looked so enticing I couldn't help but join in.
This was a blast for a good five minutes; and then I realized I was close to death, as all the shaking, jumping and jiving left me a withered, expiring man who didn't have much more sweat to give.
"We need to seek shelter!" I exclaimed to Shorty. He pointed to the giant tent that was behind me. Perfect, I thought. But first, I needed to rehydrate.
There are those who believe that daiquiris dehydrate you, rather than hydrate you. These people are fools who are clearly unfamiliar with the delicious power of the daiquiri.
On another note, do you see how my skin is beginning to resemble the color of the daiquiri. That's the first sign of lobster madman, and it's the reason why I needed to head to that tent behind me. But my only question at the time was, what kind of tent was it?
" A gospel tent?!" I said to Shorty as I read the sign. "Oh man, this is going to be stupendous!"
And it was. Admittedly, at first, the best part of the tent was the fact that I was able to escape from the sun. But it didn't take long for me to understand that this tent of God had another appeal all it's own.
This is a picture of a high school choir team that was serenading the crowd with melodic tales about the almighty. The guy up front by himself was actually rapping while the others sung behind him. Their energy was so raw and earnest, it really was rather moving. I've never been big with this whole God business but I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy the Gospel tent immensely.
I know my face looks like I'm mocking the music, but I really wasn't. I honestly enjoyed it.
After twenty minutes or so, my skin stopped feeling so hot, and I hoped that meant I wasn't that burned after all. But I had also finished my daquiri so that might have also been the reason I was feeling better.
I decided to continue to hang out in the Gospel tent for an indefinite amount of time, just to be safe. I'll leave right before the watermelon smash starts, I thought.
But I had a change of heart after I took this picture.
This picture made me realize that had to stop hiding. I mean this guy, a father of a newborn, could have hid in his house and just dealt with his daughter while the rest of the world partied at Jazzfest. But he didn't. Instead, he bought some goddamn earmuffs for daddy's little girl and proceeded to seize the day.
And if he could do all that, than I could go outside and face the burning heat.
So I threw on some more protection and Shorty and I went back out, taking the gospel with us.
I can't say I felt like a new man, but I felt like everything was gonna be alright.
I was wrong. This is me ten minutes later. Shorty was laughing at me mercilessly as I lied there in a state of pitiful ginger. But I didn't even care. The grass felt so good on my skin, I felt like I had finally found home.
But then Shorty bought me some water and convinced me to leave my new haven and go see a truly unique sight.
"Come on man," He said as I chugged the water. "Kermit Ruffins is about to go on stage. He's an incredible Jazz musician. We've been talking about wanting to see some authentic jazz, this the chance. Come with me."
"If I go back out there it's curtains me, Shorty." I said. "You go, enjoy your life."
So Shorty left me in the shade and went back to the land of murderous sun. It wasn't too bad where I was, I could watch the people pass me by while I laid down and relaxed.
But then, after all that drinking of water, beer and daquiris, I discovered that I had to pee really bad. That meant getting up and facing the sun again and going in a disgusting, and disgustingly hot, portapotti. I honestly considered just peeing right there in the shade instead. Let's see if this place really is lawless, I thought to myself.
But of course, I didn't. Instead I walked a good minute or two in the sunlight until I found the line of portable toilets. And then I stood and waited for one of the shit scented ovens to become vacant. Eventually someone did come out of one of them. And it was this man:
I immediately took his picture, without even asking his permission.
He smiled widely at me.
"I look good, don't I?"
He didn't even wait for me to respond. He just strutted past me like the Smooth King of Jazzfest. He didn't even have one bead of sweat on him. I swear, I looked closely.
Once again, I felt like I been filled with hope by a stranger. I mean if that guy can deal with the heat in that heavy, pimptastic, outfit AND can go into that stinky hellhole like it ain't no thing, and not break a single sweat at any point, well then dammit I could do the same.
I held my breath and went in.
I don't wanna talk about what happened to me in that foul vertical coffin. Just know that I did not come out looking as good as the Smooth King; in fact I probably came out looking more like whatever the Smooth King had ejected from his body earlier. And that really isn't the same thing.
Nonetheless, I felt a lot better about everything after I evacuated the portable toilet. I decided that I wasn't going to let the sun spoil my time, I was going to see some sweet jazz.
Once I found the stage where Kermit was playing, I quickly a developed a strategy for my survival. I knew I couldn't stand in one spot because then my mind would focus on the harsh sun rays and I would soon perish; BUT if I walked around, cutting through the crowd, making sure I distracted myself with people-watching and music listening, I could last a whole lot longer out there.
My strategy worked great for awhile.
I was too distracted by all the action to notice the sun, and I was really enjoying the music. I have to say, there is something about great jazz and blues musicians that, 'when they do their thing', it just seems like they are ridiculously cooler than any other kind of musician out there.
I remember thinking that I had reached a turning point. I was going to be alright. "My strategy is working." I thought, "It's really working."
I'm not sure when I realized my strategy was not actually working. But it was probably around the time that I realized I was too weary to keep moving. Yeah, probably then, just before I involuntarily plopped down on the grass and succumbed to the brutality of the sun.
I remember falling to the ground, and then closing my eyes and just listening to the hundreds of people as they passed by me. I noticed that not a single one of them expressed dismay that there was a dying red man laying out on the grass in the sun. They must have assumed that this was a typical sight in the land of lawlessness.
But they won't be so nonplussed when I turn into the lobster madman, I whispered to myself. Then they'll see the monster that this ungodly sun has created.
And then I passed out.
I'm sure I would have died on that oven baked grass if I had slumbered there any longer, but I was saved when the ground started to shake all around me, stirring me from my sleep.
I looked over and saw another marching band marching it's way right passed me. Watching everyone in the band go nuts just like the other one made me realize that life was worth living.
The next thing I know I forced myself onto my feet and started stumbling my way down the field, looking for any kind of shade.
And I found shade, it was being used by others who were also no friends of the sun. Luckily though, it wasn't being completely used up, as I found an empty square of the good stuff on the other side.
After I was securely nestled inside my square, I began to watch the kids around me. I discovered that the group in the bottom picture were trying to hide the fact that they were smoking weed. But they weren't doing a very good job.
One of them noticed that I noticed what they're doing, and he started to look nervous. He nudged his friend and motioned to me. His friend looked at me and saw the weak, tired, delirious red man before him and just laughed. He knew I was probably not long for this world.
I woke up a couple hours later and discovered that I was all by myself, the stoners were gone. But I was feeling a little better, if still a little woozy.
I checked the time, and realized I had missed the watermelon smash. I looked up at the sun and cursed it, but it only blasted me again with its heat and I quickly snaked my way through the festival looking for water to drink.
I ended up finding something better, much much better.
A mist tent! Possibly even more Holier than the Gospel tent. Again, I'm not sure how long I was there, but I do know I shared it with a lot of fellow red heads.
I only left the mist tent when I needed to run to the bathroom. It was during one of these runs where I I encountered this little angel.
She complimented me on my shirt and we had a nice conversation about Jazzfest and New Orleans in general. At some point she said something along the lines of "You know, you're a good kid. I'm glad that there are people like you here today."
And that's when I knew I was going to be okay, that I wasn't going to turn into the lobster madman, not today. This thought made me really happy, and I realized that it was the third time that day that a stranger had helped me out in some way or another. I thanked her kindly and then hightailed it back to the mist tent, just to be safe.
At some point, Shorty called me, wanting to know my whereabouts. When he found me, we both had huge grins on our faces. I wasn't sure why he was grinning, but I was grinning because the sun was finally losing its power and I could feel the surge of energy and excitement return to the crowd.
"Come on," Shorty ushered me. "Let's go to the main stage. Wilco's about to go on."
Wilco was the headlining act of the day. And it occurred to me as we made our way out to the main stage that I really wasn't too familiar with their music. I had no idea if I was going to enjoy them. But when I saw the mass amount of crazy music lovers going nuts as they waited for their favorite band to perform, I could feel the anticipation grow inside me.
Yes, with a collection of people like this as your fanbase, I figured your music has got to be pretty sweet.
And I was right.
In case your unfamiliar with Wilco, here is a link to one of their songs that I enjoyed the most. Play this in a different window, while you continue to read.
By the time show started, the crowd was firing on all cylinders.
But like I was saying, the pictures really don't capture the thrill of the moment; the love that was present among the crowd. The strong urge to hug and needlessly tickle each other. Oh well, I guess you'll just have to take my word for it.
On yet another note, I also took pictures of adorable children who were running around and dancing like madmen to the music of Wilco.
Now were these kids boozed up? I don't know. In a place this lawless and out of control, I don't think anyone could know for sure. But I would like to think that they weren't. I would like to think that as the sun set on the festival, and the great music kept flowing out, and the good vibes just fluttered out of every single person in the crowd, that these kids got carried away by the beauty of the moment and just started running around like tomorrow would never come.
But tomorrow would come. And with it would come Arcade Fire. The band I had been anxiously awaiting to see for so long. Would they put on a show as good as Wilco? Again, I didn't know. But not knowing filled me with anticipation. And anticipation, they say, is everything.