by SERGIO MADRID/Staff Writer
NEW ORLEANS — Rich with music and culture, the city of New Orleans has always been very active in the shaping of diversity.
The Big Easy celebrates its culture during the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
The festival takes place within the Fair Grounds Race Course. Though it did not host the first Jazz Fest in 1970, it has been home to Louisiana horse racing since 1852. Jazz Fest started alongside the Jazz and Heritage Foundation, a non-profit organization that operates the festival.
It’s no secret most people are attracted to the music that accompanies Jazz Fest, but I would warn you not to overlook the culture and heritage that surrounds New Orleans. At Folk-life Village, tradesmen forge iron works, craft handmade ornaments, and float-makers create unique carnival designs. Also, the Native American Villages displays tribal crafts, foods, and dancing, while a marching band makes its way through the crowds dressed in black-and-purple Native American clothing.
Featuring around 200 big-name and local artists during the course of two weekends, you will find more than just jazz to satisfy the ear. Headliners Pearl Jam (April 22), J. Cole, and Red Hot Chili Peppers (April 23) cause massive waves of people as thousands fight their way to the best view of the stage. In a place where flags from all over are raised high, no two people are the same among the 150,000 in attendance.
Eddie Vedder (lead singer of Pearl Jam) explains the environment as being “the most colorful place in the world at the moment.”
With two and a half hours to amaze, Pearl Jam does just that, wasting no time on anything except the music. Vedder played all the favorites except for “Just Breathe,” the only red-mark on the entire show. But I’m sure everyone was just as happy to hear “Nothingman.” During their set, Mike McCready pulled off an unbelievable solo, first falling to his knees and adjusting his pedals, then walking off the stage and into the crowd with the guitar held up behind his neck, still soloing while being gulped up by the first row. He then jumped back on stage and finished the solo from his knees by wailing on his pedals. The entire place was in awe, and the cheers masked the music for just a moment.
The festival comes to an end around 8 p.m. You can then either catch some grub and call it a night, or you can follow the crowd down to the historical Bourbon Street. Considering New Orleans is one of the few places where you won’t be arrested for drinking in public, most people choose the latter. Bourbon Street is home to the famous alcoholic drink known as the Hand-grenade and Lafitte’s, which is reputed to be the oldest structure used as a bar in the United States.
While on Bourbon Street, more authentic jazz musicians are strutting their stuff on almost every corner. For the first time in my life, I heard the beautiful sounds of a kora (a West African string instrument resembling a harp). The genius behind the sounds of the Kora was Jonah Tobias, who was accompanied by the rest of his band, “Buku Broux.” Tobias has been on the New Orleans music circuit for quite some time and claims to have been introduced to the kora while in Portland, Oregon. By the time they finished playing, that little corner of Bourbon Street was filled to the brim.
The next day was a different story completely as the Red Hot Chili Peppers somehow drew an even bigger crowd than Pearl Jam did just a day earlier. Thousands of people were stacked in front of the stage hours before the show, maneuvering for the best view of Red Hot. Everyone was anticipating an energy-filled show that has long been Red Hot’s niche for the past 30 years.
Once on stage, the Peppers got things started off right with “Can’t Stop.” It kept going from there, as they played all their favorites and more, including “Californication” and “Suck My Kiss.” The guys did not disappoint, leading into “Give It Away.” The crowd went crazy, and no one was sitting still. The set ended with the same energy that they started it with. Anthony Kiedis invited local musicians to help send them off.
With the end of the Chili Peppers’ set, whoever wasn’t there already headed over to listen to J. Cole on the other side of the Festival, or back to Bourbon Street for another night in the Big Easy, where everyone is a Gypsy.