Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Great Jazzfest Storm

“I swear, Jazzfest is the only festival where everything is exactly the same every year.”

These are my fateful words, as my girlfriend and I cross under the iconic Jazzfest banner that greets all the festival goers as they make their entrance into the land of Jazz (and of course when I say Land of Jazz, I really mean land of all kinds of music except for jazz, aside from that one tent on the far end). 
Of course, my fateful words are more referring to the fact that every section of Jazzfest, whether it be the location of portapotties, food stands, art tents, or, of course, stages, remain in the exact same spot year after year after year. In my experience, it seems that with each new year, other festivals mix it up at least a little, sometimes a lot (looking at you, FunFunFun fest), but Jazzfest has used the same old template every year, in an attempt to stick to the unofficial motto of New Orleans: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it (and if it is broke, wait until it’s even more broke before you get around to fixing it).
Now, let it be known, I'm not exactly saying this as a complaint, but more as an unsurprised acknowledgment that our experience this year at the festival would no doubt be nearly identical to the experience last year, aside from the actual performances on stage.
Well, the Festival God’s must have heard me, and they must have taken it as a challenge, because this day ends up being a lot different from any jazzfest experience (or any festival experience, period) I’ve ever had.
Not that there aren’t hints before this that something big might be coming our way. The weather above us at the time is strictly overcast, with some gray clouds looking a lot darker than others. And the forecast did reveal that a big storm is lurking just east of us. But at that time all indications are that the storm is going to go up and over us. And by indications, I mean I overhear several people claiming that the weather had been like this (overcast, not raining) for the past four hours. Or, as a beer vendor exclaimed to a girl worried about rain; “Hey lady, it’s been lookin’ like it’s gonna rain for four hours now! But we’ve been drinking for four hours and nothing has happened! So just keep gettin beer and we’ll all be fine!” (So maybe it was that girl’s fault)...
In any case, our confidence that the weather would remain in our favor only grew stronger as Arty (my girl) and I met up with some friends at one of the main stages. In one of those classic “I found you in a crowd of thousands!” we embrace in hugs and laughter and dancing. Everything feels so perfect we just know we are going to be fine. How could go things go sour when they feel so right?? At this point, I might have even givin' the gray sky a taunting middle finger (did I mention we snuck a flask into the festival and I also enjoyed a number of daiquiris?)
Things were still looking good about an hour later when we left our friends at the main stage and headed all the way over to that small nook in the festival where the actual jazz was being performed at the jazz festival. We travel there to meet some of Arty’s middle aged co-workers.  
Walking into the tent kind of felt like walking into a different dimension of festival. One where people don’t scream and dance to the music being played, but sit obediently in chairs and clap politely at the end of instrument solos. We find Arty’s middle aged coworkers doing exactly this, and take seats next to them and acted accordingly. It's a nice, restful break.
Little did I know that this would be the last moment of peace and tranquility I will get until hours and hours later, when I am back home in a bathtub soaking my weatherworn body. But all I know now is after a good twenty minutes of rest, I am ready for some more excitement. I nudged Arty and gave her a “let’s go have some fun” look, she returned the look, and we excuse ourselves from the jazzlovers and went back out to the craziness.
Now up until this point, there has been something I haven’t been telling you, because frankly up until this point it wasn’t relevant. But it’s relevant now. Because right now, as we walk out of the tent, I see someone carrying a container of boiled crawfish, and immediately I realize I want crawfish. This is a bit of an issue because what I haven’t told you yet is that my girlfriend is a hardcore vegetarian. The idea of eating meat is repulsive to her. The idea of her boyfriend eating crawfish… well, let me just share a conversation with you that took place earlier that day, before we left for the festival.

Me: Honey, I want you to know, I fully intend to eat crawfish while at the festival.
Her (makes a face like I just farted a really bad fart): You mean, you’re going to crack open those dead carcasses and shove their rotting meat in your mouth?!
Me: Yes. That’s exactly right. And I’m going to love every second of it.
Her: Fine. But I won’t be around you when you do it.
Me: Yes, I would prefer that too…

So as you can see, an agreement had been made earlier where we would break away from one another and meet again after some terrific shell-cracking and delicious head-sucking (sorry honey). I felt this was the right time to capitalize on that agreement. So I suggest this to her, and with only a small tone of disapproval in her voice, she agrees and tells me to find her at the Congo Square stage afterwards, where Big Freeda would be playing.
So we separate. She heads off to see a large woman with an amazing voice, and I go off to enjoy small crustaceans with amazing taste. I can only assume she has as much fun as I did. I can also assume the less said about the next twenty minutes, the better off I’ll be. So I’ll only add that this moment set up a disturbing trend that would continue into the day. Every time we separate, the weather gets worse.
For before we separate, I had not felt a single drop of rain fall upon me. But once we are separated, I felt the first, second, third, and like, thousandth, drop hit me. For the weather turns from dry but overcast, to drizzling but overcast, to flat out raining. By the time I had finished my meal, it was pouring. And the wind was picking up, causing the occasional droplet to slap me across the face.
Is this new development due to our separation? To the fact that I had devoured helpless shellfish with great gusto? Who’s to say. But at this time, it really didn’t matter. For we are now about to enter the (short) time of the day when nature’s fury perfectly coincides with the beauty of music and the wonder of twerking, creating an atmosphere that can only be known as soaked revelry. For as I make my way through the crowd of Congo Square, trying to find my girl, I realize the people around me have transformed into rain dancing freaks. And that’s exactly what I want to be too. But first, I have to find my girl.
When I finally do, Big Freeda is performing Purple Rain, and everyone is losing their minds. OH MY GOD PRINCE! OH MY GOD THE SONG IS CALLED PURPLE RAIN AND IT’S RAINING RIGHT NOW! IT WORKS ON SO MANY LEVELS!!!!!!!!!!
But please do not think I am mocking these people, for my girl and I were dancing just as wildly, under the heavily leaking clouds in the sky, with the rest of the soaked revelers.
And then after Purple Rain, a twerk session began onstage where audience members are allowed to jump up and do that thing I can’t, and will never be able to, do.  Of course, those left on the ground followed in suit, and I find myself in a twerking, storming madhouse. And It's beautiful.

Fifteen minutes later, Big Freeda’s show ends, and I find out me and my girl must depart once again. For she has to meet a friend at the one small tent over yonder where they sell books, and I have to do anything but that. But she understands, and we come up with a meeting spot to go to in twenty minutes. And then we say goodbye. Little do I know that it will take less than twenty minutes for this weather to turn this entire festival on its head, before slicing the head clean off.
The first five minutes after we depart go great. I randomly bump into a friend of a friend who, due to the whole “I’m meeting someone I vaguely know in some random context!!” thing, becomes my best friend for five minutes, and we hug and laugh and share stories of falling in mud, which now seem hilarious. I end this joyous reunion when I realize that after so many daiquiris, beers and one bottle of water, I need to pee real bad.  So I excuse myself and run off to the nearest row of portapotties. Unfortunately, once I get there, I find the lines are absurdly long to get in (20 people per toilet!), and I curse Jazzfest for it’s a lack of consideration for its paying customers. Then I decide to pay it back by urinating in some place where urine doesn’t necessarily belong. I don’t know exactly where to go, but I do have a foggy memory of being in this same position last year and finding  a collection of trees on the far end of the festival that saved my bladder.
With this heavy rain, I wager pretty heavily that the odds are own my side that I won’t be caught. There are only two types of people out in the festival now, those we are seeking shelter from the rain, and those who have taken a “fuck it, I’m going bask in this all day with no breaks in between”. Neither of those people are focused on anything but focusing on their task at hand, hell I could probably change into my birthday suit and take a deuce at the entrance and get away with it. But I don’t. Instead I run off to find some privacy. The pain below my stomach is getting worse, and I barely notice as each step I take through the mud and puddles drenches my shoes and socks.
Soon after, I find my salvation. And once I have, I scan the festival in front of me and come to a thought that I’m sure most of the attendees had reached at some time that day, “Jesus, this is getting really bad.” For at this point, not only was the rain falling like crazy, but the wind was picking up stronger than ever. I hadn’t noticed it before, I was so focused on peeing, but somewhere in the last ten minutes the wind had gone from a not-so-gentle push, to a straight punch to the body. I could see old people getting knocked off the walkways, little kids holding onto their parents legs for dear life. It was as if the wind wanted the rain to know that it was the real beast of the storm. And then, as if to show both of them who the real king was, a bolt of lightning crashed no more than 200 yards from the festival, immediately followed by deafening thunder.
And this is where shit got real.
Before this, people were scurrying around in a semi-safe and courteous manner. Now they were running with abandon. Where were they hoping to go? Most of the obvious shelter was full by now. And besides, a lot of them didn’t look like they are heading off to somewhere in particular, they just wanted to get out of the now. The now, where the wind and rain was beating them to a pulp. Who knows where they would end up.
Of course, this isn’t everybody. Some people- fewer than before- seemed unfazed by the whole thing. Just a little rain and lightning, what’s the big deal?
As for myself, I am somewhere in the middle. I'm not unphased but I am not panicking either. No, I am one of the odd birds that is loving the whole mess. See, the thing about me is I’ve always had this odd attraction to chaos and nasty surprises. I get all tingly and excited, waiting with bated breath to see what’s gonna happen next.
So there I am, skipping around the muddy festival grounds, loving the insanity forming around me, when I find a huge oak tree that is serving as mediocre shelter for about a dozen people. I go to them and greet them with friendly words of bewilderment.
“Can you believe this?!”
“I guess that storm aint gonna miss us after all!!!”
Some people respond with similar sentiments and affection, while others look away, as if a man so exuberant over such conditions sickens them. Story of my life.
One older man approaches me under the oak tree holding up an umbrella. He greets me with his own big smile and tells me he’s been providing brief shelter to those in need, doing his part, you know? This gives me an idea. It’s been raining so hard that I literally haven’t been able to look at my phone, but with this umbrella I could take it out and see the whereabouts of Arty, who I have a strong feeling isn’t enjoying this weather as much as me. So with the help of the older man and his rain blocker, I take out my phone with full intention of using it to find my girl. But then I see I have one new text. Not from her, but from my friend’s Emily and David. I had heard earlier they would be at the Fest so I had texted them hours ago to find their whereabouts. This new text was from them, telling me they are in the kid’s tent (David is a juggling instructor, among other things.)
The kid’s tent??!! That’s so close to where I am! I check to see when the text was sent, and frown when I realize it was 30 minutes ago. I pray they are still there and run out from the oak tree just as another huge yellow bolt of lightning crashes in the background.
I arrive at the kid’s tent to find it full with a lot of adults, and a few kids, but no David or Emily. I ask the security guards that are guarding backstage if a David or Emily are back there, but they only look back at me dumbly. The ground under the tent as turned into complete mud. Kids are crying. Mothers are shrieking. I start to realize this is nowhere to be during such a clossal storm. As if to confirm this, the rain picks up, spewing down on the outside of the tent with awesome force. The loud, unending sound of the water smacking the tent makes things even more uneasy inside. And then another mighty flash of lightning seeps in through the tent followed by a gutwrenching crash of thunder, and the kids around me cry even harder. That's when I come to a serious realization. In these kinds of conditions, they might stop selling daiquiris soon. So I run out into the mud slop in hopes of getting one more sugary drink before this storm finishes us off.
Once out of the tent, it doesn’t take me long to realize that in the few minutes I was under that tent, the world outside had changed. Puddles have turned into lakes. Mud pits have turned into mass graves for loose shoes. People had taken cover whenever they could, I see twenty of em cramming together under a tiny gazebo, and I laugh at them, not knowing that a similar fate awaited me in the near future.
But before that, I get my daiquari. Oh yes. A rum punch daiquari to be exact, and it was heavenly. Perhaps the fact that I was currently living in a watery hell made it seem so, but I still believe that was one of the best damn diaquaris I’ve ever had in my life. I also believe I’ve never worked harder to get said daiquari, as the simple task of taking out my wallet and handing over a ten dollar bill was far more harrowing than it had any right to be. But the lady vendor hiding in her own hut thanked me kindly regardless, and for a brief second I considered hopping over the barricade that separated her and I and living out the rest of this storm in sweet daiquari heaven. But then another flash of lightning and crash of thunder shook the ground, and I find myself simply running away, drink in hand, looking for refuge. 
More lightning cracks, more thunder crashs. 
I continue to run. Along the way I hear a noise that I can’t believe. Music. Yes, music coming from one of the smaller stages. Impossible, I think. Not with all the dangerous weather around us.
Not believing my ears I headed to the stage in question, where I do indeed find a small group around the stage, and a band on it. Just as I get somewhat close to the stage, I hear the music stop and the singer scream into the microphone: “SEEK SHELTER! THERE IS LIGHTNING EVERYWHERE! STAY SAFE! STAY SAFE! STAY SAFE!”
At that, the last remaining hold outs of music lovers took flight, dispersing into the muddy chaos all around us. The wind was really kicking my ass at this point, and I was worried all the rain getting into my drink was diluting the punch of my rum. So once again, I sought shelter. The closest structure around me that resembled shelter was this grass hut that had no walls and only a tent flap on one side. It reminded me something you might see in a Vietnam War movie. In any case, it's packed with people, but I think I see one square feet of space on the edge of the hut, so I hurl myself into the people and grabbed one  of the above wooden poles for dear life.
“Can you believe this shit!!??” I scream at my new friends. Nobody really answers me, but I have a feeling that they don’t. They especially couldn’t believe it when the wind picks up and begins to lift the poles of the hut right out of the ground. Frantically, everyone uses all their weight to keep the hut from flying off. In the middle of this, inspiration hit me, and I screamed to my new friends:
I’m not bragging (well, I kinda am) when I say that this got a huge laugh. Like Chris Rock at Madison Square Garden laugh. It's pretty sweet.
Anyway, it was under this grass hut where I spend the remainder of the storm, which can’t decide whether it's moving on or not. Sometimes it seems like it's fading away, only for it to come roaring back to full capacity moments later. I keep the people around me entertained during this though, by sharing ghost stories I know by heart from my tour. Admittedly, it wasn’t the best renditions of my stories, as I am constantly being shouted down by the weather, or by someone screaming about something in their eye. But in the end, the group seem appreciative to what I have brought to the hut.
Now, I know I said that I stayed in the hut for the remainder of the storm, but now I’m realizing that’s not true, as I actually left after awhile, because I've grown tired of standing up. I’ve never been a big fan of standing up and even the enjoyment I receive from a terrible storm won’t make me forget that. So I bid my new friends adieu and head to the area where that kid’s tent had been. I fall a few times in some puddles, but eventually make my way there, and then promptly learn that it's been entirely vacated. The storm must have gobbled up the kids and their parents, because they were no longer there. There were, however, a good number of chairs that were now empty, so I took advantage of that immediately.
I only get a brief moment of peace before a woman sticks here head in the tent and shouts:
"Why are you still in here! Haven't you heard?! Jazzfest has been cancelled!"
Cancelled? Damn. No Stevie Wonder? No Beck?? No Snoop??? My heart becomes a soggy, sad mess as I realize I have to leave. But then the thought of leaving makes me realize that I have totally forgot about finding Arty. Oh God. This is going to be bad...
I slowly, fearfully, pull out my phone, only to find 17 new text messages waiting for me.


I will spare you the rest of the messages, but just know that things were not looking good for me at the moment. Even if I did survive this storm of rain and lightning, I would most likely be killed later by the storm that was my pissed off girlfriend. So, having no clue as to how to explain the past half hour with a text message, I decide instead to finish my Rum Punch. And it was delicious. And that’s really what I feel you guys should be taking from this whole story, Rum Punches are delicious. Oh and if you’re girlfriend doesn’t share your enthusiasm for totally ridiculous storms, maybe make it a priority to find her and comfort her. She would like that.


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